From hosting presidential candidates to featuring a spectacular rotating stage that left me with more questions than answers, AIPAC put its entire heart into throwing the Super Bowl of Israel conferences. Organizers go above and beyond to ensure attendees leave the conference with a better understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future. However, this article isn’t a Policy Conference promotion and I must admit that the majority of my learning came from a more outside source; and by that I mean from physically outside the conference. With unending apologies to AIPAC and my mother, my biggest takeaways from the conference arose from spending time with the scores of anti-Israel protesters set-up in front of the convention center.
I would estimate that there were close to 400 protesters. It seemed their only goal that day was to make our walk to the main entrance slightly more annoying than it would have been otherwise. Conversation with individuals who possess signs equating Israel with the KKK typically goes against my number one rule of valuing my time. However, seeing my friends outnumbered and surrounded made me concerned for their safety.
I ultimately joined them outside. I initially stayed true to my values by keeping to myself and documenting the brawls and arrests on my phone; yet it was virtually impossible to remain unmoved let alone uninvolved. The nature of the protesters’ shared hate revealed itself through bouts of physical and verbal assault with conference goers and police alike. I witnessed a conference participant tripping on a row of police motorcycles while backing away from a fight and lying defenseless as protesters pummeled his face. He was pulled out of the pile by officers and escaped into the side entrance along with a freshly bruised face. Officers were scolded by the more passive protesters and were told that they should be ashamed of themselves for protecting the 18,000 conference attendees. Such a heinous absence of civility is only fostered through hatred. The world must stop fooling itself in believing that such mob mentalities are only found at Trump rallies. An obsessive loathing for the Jewish state instead of an unconditional love for the Palestinian people is what drives a group of people to wanting the police to call it a day in order to overthrow a conference.
Only the most passionate anti-Semites would gravitate to a conference for what they believe is the functioning head of the world’s banks, media, and ISIS. There were the casual calls for the expulsion of Jews into the sea as well as heated rants over their beliefs that Jews control the world. I’ve been referred to as a Zionist pig and colonizer in the past but this was a new experience for me. To hear that they “aren’t falling for our tricks anymore,” that the “anti-Semitism card is played out” and that “you Jews can’t deceive for much longer” was both startling and confusing. I was asked why I hate our country so much that I would attend a conference whose only end game is to destroy Congress. While it’s disturbing that we still live in a society where these primitive superstitions persist it’s vital to understand that this was an overwhelming sentiment shared by the crowd.
The temptation to engage with the protesters eventually overcame me. Watching this living and breathing form of hatred left me with a sense of frustration that could only be absolved through confrontation. I understood I was subhuman to them but rather than provoke the perpetually provoked I attempted practical dialogue.
Each attempt at discourse was discouraged because it was believed that I was only present so I could learn how to more efficiently trick them in the future. In hindsight I see their point considering how I grasped that their narrative is overwhelmingly based on lies and myths. It was common belief that Arab children are routinely dragged from their beds and executed on the streets. When hate is left to fester evidence isn’t needed to believe that the IDF plants knives next to Palestinians after they’re neutralized.
I eventually settled in and spoke extensively with one particular protestor with an oversized Palestinian flag tied around his neck. He believed the lie that Jews kill Palestinian children for sport. Nevertheless, I sensed that he was a person that genuinely believed he was protesting for a noble cause. He was profoundly misinformed; not immoral. As we continued to speak, he was advised by his fellow protestors to walk away from me because I could only be outside for evil, not conversation. Criticizing Palestinian acts of violence was an obstacle for him but he was beginning to understand that each coin has two sides. The circle around us continued to grow and my chief concern became getting sucker punched by any of the surrounding protestors I couldn’t see. I had had enough of the protest. We shook hands and went our separate ways.
That protestors would violently refer to families as “fucking cockroaches” as they were escorted by security into the convention center was as eye-opening as it was frightening. I was called “ZioNazi” and “fascist” and was told that this year’s bouts of stabbings were well-deserved. While flattering I can’t help but wonder if my grandparents believed escaping Nazi occupied Europe would be the end of such a reality.
Although I am still trying to wrap my head around this extreme afternoon, I recognize that the protest itself was a manifestation of the underlying cause of this conflict. Only the ideology that Jews don’t belong in Israel can lead to such detestation; not land disputes. Nevertheless, I now hold my head higher than it has ever been. Meditating on these moments was difficult but I was desperate for a silver lining. By celebrating Purim the day after the conference I was reminded that the Jewish people have seen this hatred before. Ironically, it’s because we continue to encounter this ancient hatred that we must keep pushing forward and nurturing hope; because like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, and Nazis before these protesters, this too shall pass.