Jews and the institutions they support are becoming the receptacle of choice for the anxiety and rage that dominate public discourse in the United States today.
This phenomenon of scapegoating manifested on the streets of Boston during a “Day of Rage” protest on July 1, 2020. The protest, organized by a group that calls itself “BDS Boston,” was ostensibly held to protest the prospect of Israel affirming sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.
As the protest unfolded, the true intention of the organizers became clear. This was not a political protest of Israeli policies, but a religious ritual, a transaction between guilty white college-aged kids and local leaders of Boston’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.
The BIPOC leaders absolved the crowd of 200 or so white kids of personal responsibility for America’s historical sins in exchange for their participation in a campaign to delegitimize the United States and Israel and their willingness to engage in the targeted abuse of Jewish organizations in the City of Boston. It’s a good deal for the guilty white cool kids in the crowd.
The ritual took place on a hot afternoon on the sidewalk in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse on the first day of July 2020 at the height of a global pandemic.
The city wasn’t issuing any permits for large gatherings because of the threat to public health. Nevertheless, a crowd was able to coalesce without interference from the city.
The ceremony began with welcoming remarks by a young man with dreadlocks, a person of color who served as the master of ceremonies. “This is the Day of Rage,” he said to his congregation. “This is the day even more of Palestine is going to be annexed after it had already been annexed in 1967 and in 1948. This is just another layer and a more visible layer and we’re not going to put up with it.” He then reminded the gathered congregation of sinners that they were standing on land stolen from indigenous peoples.
As a non-indigenous person, the young man with dreadlocks admitted he was not qualified to speak about these injustices, so he yielded the microphone to a man dressed in a red t-shirt and pants of a lighter hue. The worship leader said the man, Jean-Luc Pierite, is going to give everyone “an acknowledgment of the land we’re on right now.”
Pierite tells the crowd he’s originally from New Orleans so, “like many of you, I’m a guest here on these lands.” Still, by virtue of his membership in the Biloxi-Tunica tribe, he is somehow able to offer absolution to the ancestral guilt that afflicts his audience. (Apparently, no one from a local tribe was available to conduct the ceremony.)
Pierite begins the rite by telling the people before him to close their eyes. “I want you to imagine the land which you stand on, the land which sustains you at a time centuries ago,” he says, before telling the crowd to think of a time when the river known as the Charles flowed at a different point, and maybe even over the land they are standing on now.
“I want you to think about those people who were born, who lived, who fell in love, who had families, who died during that time,” he says, offering them an Edenic image.
Then he asks them to bring themselves forward, to a point in the distant future, to the time of their descendants,“where all these structures, where these buildings, these roads, all of these societal things that we know about, this world may no longer be here and that change which we have called for and hoped for and demanded and we hope to be the architects of, that change will come to our descendants, because of the word, the positive showing up that all of you have done here.” With language like this, which elicits whoops from the crowd, Pierite sells them an image of a New Jerusalem that they themselves have helped bring about.
Pierite then tells the crowd to come back to the here and now to see that “we are all standing on the traditional indigenous territory of the Massachusetts nation.” He calls on the crowd to make an agreement with these hosts, to promise to support every effort of the host tribe to “re-matriate” the land and natural resources back to the original people. The crowd cheers and claps.
“Do you agree?” he asks the crowd. “Do you accept?”
“Yes,” a few people declare while the rest of the people in the crowd affirm with clapping and hoots.
It’s a deal.
Pierite then leads the crowd in a ritual wail against the evils of the present age. He starts by asking the crowd to call to mind all the violence that is in their bodies right now, all the suffering their ancestors endured.
He then asks them to name all the victims who have died in the struggle against all forms of state violence, the police shootings, the sanctions, the annexations, and the disestablishment of tribal reservations. People in the crowd shout the name of Usaama Rahim, who was shot by law enforcement officials in Boston after he allegedly plotted to behead activist Pamela Geller, and failing that, threatened to kill some “boys in blue.”
After a brief roll call of Rahim and other saints from the crowd, Pierite tells the crowd that it is going to shake the Statehouse and put some cracks in its windows by “shredding our vocal chords just so they know the pain that we are carrying in our bodies today.”
Pierite turns toward the Statehouse with his back to the crowd, counts to three, and then starts a low wail which is mimicked by the crowd. For fifteen seconds the crowd and their leader howl out their anguish. When it ends, Pierite tells the people in the crowd to raise their left hands and to repeat after him.
“I am alive,” he says. The crowd repeats it.
“I have released my pain,” he says. The crowd repeats it.
“I will no longer be silenced,” he says. The crowd repeats it.
“I am the change,” he says. The crowd repeats it.
Pierite ends his ritual of absolution with a benediction.
“So go, protect your land. Be your land, and let the voice of your land be heard,” he says.
Their guilt assuaged, their presence on the land legitimized, their innocence restored, and their cause blessed, the mostly white youth cheer in gratitude for the absolution of the sin of being born in North America.
Now that the crowd had expunged its guilt, the Israel- and Jew-bashing proceeded. During the remainder of the ritual Israel and its Jewish supporters were described just as they always have been — as sinful obstacles to the new millennium. Not only have they done evil, they’ve made Massachusetts leaders complicit in their sin.
Two women from the Palestinian diaspora community in the Boston area recount the alleged sins of the Jewish state against the “indigenous people” in the Levant. According to the story they tell, Israel’s sins include the murder of Ahmed Erekat (who was shot after he attacked Israeli security officers with his car), incarcerating Palestinians (many of whom have been released after prisoner exchanges, despite having murdered Israeli civilians), refusing to let pregnant women into Israel for medical treatment (a Pallywood trope), and of course, trying to “erase” the Palestinian people (whose population has quadrupled since 1967).
“Israel’s effort to displace and erase us reminds me of what happened here and what continues to happen here for the indigenous people of this land,” one of the speakers declared. Israeli sins are now lumped in with the crimes that the white boys and girls in the audience have just been absolved of.
“The institutions and systems in the U.S. are violent and oppressive regardless of how they are trained,” a speaker said. “The first police forces were slave patrols and in 1838 the city of Boston was the first established American police force.”
The crowd booed in disgust.
“We know that the U.S. police force should be abolished regardless of their connection to Israel,” she said before reporting that U.S. police departments visit Israel in trips sponsored by the ADL, which prompted another round of boos.
“So some of the practices we see used by the U.S. police are from tactics used against Palestinians,” she said. “These include chokeholds and the supposed crowd control techniques, the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.”
State leaders are complicit in Israel’s sins. “We know that our leaders in Massachusetts are enabling the ongoing colonization of Palestine,” she said. “Our elected officials and our tax dollars as military aid to Israel support is apartheid policy.”
Lawmakers “have taken all expenses study trips to Israel with the Jewish community relations council, which will be heading to in just a bit. So we will be heading to there to demand that the ADL stop funding militarization trips for police and to demand that the JCRC stop funding propaganda trips to Israel for state and congressional representatives.”
After the two Palestinian women handed the microphone back over to the rite organizers, the young man in dreadlocks called up the next speaker, Queen Cheyenne Wade, an African American Marxist who has been given glowing coverage in the Boston Globe and local news reports on WGBH, the local PBS station.
She is a leader in a group called FTP, which depending on who you talk to means “For the People” or “Fuck the Police.” The group recently vandalized the homes of Boston City Councilors who just voted in favor of the city budget, which includes increased overtime for the police department.
Wade led the crowd in a chant that declared “No one is free until Palestine is free.” She talked briefly about how the struggle for liberation in the United States is intrinsically linked to the people of Palestine and their fight against Israel.
“We see and name the injustices of this illegitimate state of Israel and its continued violence against the people of Palestine, because it’s the same violence initiated and reproduced here in the U.S.,” she says. “The same violence rooted in ethnocentrism, racism, and imperialism.” Again, Israel and its Jewish supporters stood accused of the sins that the crowd was just absolved of.
After Wade finished speaking, Nino Brown, a fifth grade teacher in Boston Public Schools, spoke to the crowd on behalf of Kazi Toure, a former member of a terrorist organization that, whose members killed a police officer and planted bombs in several government buildings in the 1970s and 80s. Brown led a chant, “Fuck your police state/America was never great.” He declared that “Zionism is racism,” that “this social experiment called the United States of America has failed,” and then called for southern states with high populations of African Americans to be “liberated” from the United States. The crowd cheered.
Then Myriam Ortiz, who was introduced as an anti-colonial activist, spoke about the suffering of people in Puerto Rico and called for a unity between her cause and that of the Palestinians, African Americans, and Native Americans. “We must recognize that all forms of resistance against their oppression is legitimate,” she said.
At the end of the speeches, the young man with dreadlocks told the crowd that they were not there just to give their words to the state lawmakers, “who quite frankly never listen to us.” Instead they were going to head down to the JCRC and the ADL to tell them their demands. The ADL, he said, provides funding for police to be trained by “so-called Israel” and the JCRC sends lawmakers to Israel to “learn from that colonialist state.”
On the way to the ADL office, they chanted all the old eliminationist standbys such as “Hey Ho Zionists have got to Go,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “Intifada! Intifada! Long live the Intifada!”
When the crowd got to the sidewalk in front of the ADL, the young man with dreadlocks explained why they were there. “This is where millions and millions of dollars are pouring into the Boston police to learn from the racist, colonial police in Israel,” he said.
The crowd booed.
“This is just stop one,” he said before teaching the crowd a chant it hadn’t recited before – “Not another nickel! Not another dime! No more money for Israel’s crimes.”
Eventually, after a few more chants, the young man declared, “Awright, this is just the first stop, y’all. Fuck the ADL!”
The crowd cheered. Then it marched to the JCRC office a few blocks away chanting, among other things, “Free, Free Palestine,” “No justice! No Peace!” “Fuck Israel!” and “There is only one solution – Intifada revolution!”
When they reached the JCRC, the young man declared that the ADL is responsible for the militarization of police departments in Massachusetts and that the JCRC has brought politicians to Israel “to the detriment and oppression of both the Palestinian people and our black and indigenous siblings.”
The crowd booed.
“You cannot support white supremacy in Palestine and on this continent, the displacement of indigenous people and the militarization of police who murder black and indigenous people and then claim to be a social justice organization in solidarity with people of color!” he yelled.
The crowd really liked that bit of othering.
He then, with the help of the crowd, demanded that both the ADL and the JCRC stop funding trips to Israel. “These investments in the infrastructure of white supremacy harm our community,” he said.
He then demanded that the ADL and the JCRC pay restitution to BIPOC groups in Massachusetts for the sins of their political activism. The symbolic amount and recipients of the money would be determined by activist leaders in Massachusetts. He demanded that politicians work to isolate Israel through BDS and refuse all trips to Israel, defund police and prisons to fund, among other things, jobs for young people, and respect the rights of tribes in Massachusetts and other “self-identified indigenous people” in the state.
“I don’t really need to explain any of these demands,” he said. “They’re pretty fucking basic, OK?”
And the contagion spreads.