•  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

The atmosphere among demonstrators showing support for Israel was, above all else, affirmative and celebratory yesterday in Love Park. Nearly 1,000 people showed up to show American solidarity with Israel in defiant response to recent pro-Palestinian criticism of the conservative Israeli government.

The pro-Israel bloc was likely buttressed by the fact that Philadelphia is home to both an Israeli consulate as well as a robust Jewish-American community. There’s even the National Museum of American Jewish History with exhibits celebrating Jewish contributions to American culture, from Steven Spielberg’s first camera to one of the first Singer sewing machines. Coincidentally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grew up in Cheltenham and reportedly speaks English with a Philadelphian accent.

Most estimates put the Jewish population in and around Philadelphia at several hundred thousand. Even so, the size and affirmative resolve of pro-Israel demonstrators stood in stark contrast to their counterparts across 15th Street: the small number of extremely angry pro-Palestinian protestors.

“The foundation of Israel was a racist, ethnic cleansing process,” declared pro-Palestinian demonstrator Ethan Jury to PhillyNow. Israel is “a settler colonial state, and the construction is based on a Jewish-only state. Palestinians are second class citizens, and they don’t have rights within the country.”

As Jury spoke, pro-Palestinian demonstrators angrily shouted “Free Palestine!” seemingly challenging the pro-Israel demonstration across the street.

Pro-Palestinian protestors, holding balloons, then paraded out children, painted with fake blood and carrying “dead” baby dolls. Ironically and tragicomically following Jury’s statement that the Israelis were racist, the pro-Palestinian adults began shouting and prompted their children to chant what sounded like, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel swine!” [Editor's note: As noted in comments below, protestors dispute this description of the chant, saying they were chanting "Israel's crimes," not "Israel swine." The reporter recorded the chant with an audio recorder and has listened to it numerous times; in any case, it seems clear that "Israel's crimes" was the phrase that the protest's organizers intended, regardless of whether every protestor was in fact chanting the same word.*]

It’s obvious that terrible things are going in Gaza; still, there was a disturbing undertone to the pro-Palestinian rally.

The pro-Israel demonstrators outnumbered the pro-Palestinian protestors by many hundred. Jury attributes this to a powerful government, Israel, having the means and resources to organize. He also says the Israeli military response to Palestinian citizens in Gaza is business as usual. “This is part of an ongoing 40 year occupation and a [several-years-long] blockade of Gaza, which has been systematically starved of basic resources [including] food and water…This is a project of ethnic cleansing that is going on. And it’s not just us activists,” Jury insists. “The United Nations, governments across the world are comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.”

Several governments across the globe, including Iceland, have condemned Israel’s self-defense practices.

The Philadelphia Police Department smartly cordoned off the east perimeter of Love Park along 15th Street, forming a human barricade with bicycles and uniformed bodies. Despite the wide span of 15th Street and accompanying sidewalk as a buffer, tensions began running high, the late afternoon temperature seeming to dramatically increase alongside the passions. Helicopters flew loudly overhead and a small group of pro-Israel protestors began shouting at the pro-Palestinians over the sea of police. One robust pro-Israel demonstrator at the police line carried a giant inflatable hammer with Stars of David on it and began waving it menacingly at the pro-Palestinians.

Several pro-Palestinian protestors made their way through the pro-Israel crowd. Men appearing to be professional security with curious lapel pins followed some of the pro-Palestinian protestors in the Israel crowd; in all cases witnessed by PhillyNow, the pro-Palestinian protestors antagonized the pro-Israel protestors, including one woman holding a sign with the word “Murders!” written on it. She was later detained by police and handcuffed.

It seemed that the PPD was segregating the sides to keep the peace, and those who interloped at either protest were bounced by police, including at least one pro-Israel demonstrator witnessed being bounced from the pro-Palestinian rally. Despite those few combative protestors, both crowds seem to listen to police.

Still, in stark contrast to the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, the pro-Israel crowd within Love Park was overwhelmingly peaceful and happy, singing songs and praying. Ellen Scolnic was one of those peaceful demonstrators.

“I’m here to support Israel,” Scolnic said. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. People don’t know that there are Arab citizens in Israel who serve in the army, get [public benefits], ride the buses, and enjoy all the benefits of living in a democracy.” Scolnic blames the current conflict squarely on Hamas, which while democratically elected by the Palestinian people, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Scolnick1

Hamas wants “the destruction of the state of Israel,” says Scolnic. “The only thing that Israel has demanded as a [condition of] peace is that Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist. And, they refuse to do that.”

Scolnic is partly correct. Hamas, the terrorist organization overseeing the Palestinians in Gaza, does in fact refuse to recognize Israel’s right to even exist. Israel, however, has made demands above and beyond its existence.

And, despite the many civilian casualties suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government, Scolnic thinks that’s partly engineering on part of Hamas.

“Gaza is a horrible place,” insists Scolnic, “but Hamas made it that way. Because Israel builds bomb shelters that [protect] Israelis,” fewer Israeli civilians are dying. “People seem sad that more Israelis aren’t dying, but it’s because they’re living in cement bunkers.”

As Sclonic touched on Hamas’ documented use of civilians, it was impossible not to notice the way the pro-Palestinian protestors were using children as props across the street. While both crowds had their zeal and discrete jingoistic propaganda, one side  seemed to perfect the use of children as props. More to the point: It wasn’t the pro-Israel demonstrators.

Near Sclonic was 18-year-old Gabriel Kaufman.

“I was born in Israel,” explained Kaufman, “and I have family in Israel. My dad and sister are there right now, and I care about the well-being of the Jewish people.” As he spoke, he seemed to touch on Hamas’ refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. “A lot of people just don’t understand that Israel deserves its home.” Kaufman was disturbed by the fact that, globally, many protests against Israeli military action have had anti-semitic undertones, too.

“I just want to say that while I feel for all the civilians who are dying in Gaza,” he concluded, “the main difference between Israel and Hamas is that Israel does everything its power to protect civilians. Hamas, all they do is try to target civilians.”

PhillyNow bloggers Randy LoBasso and Josh Kruger both attended the demonstrations at LOVE Park on Wednesday. Read Randy’s perspective here.

* Further to the editor’s note within this blog post, PhillyNow editors have updated the headline to remove the reference to the word “swine,” as the use of that word has been called into question.

About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the 2014 First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2014 Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the United States and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. He also blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

5 Responses

  1. Matt

    Shame on PW for employing Josh Kruger, and for printing this article. Many of the points made by Kruger, including in the headline, are not true. Why are you printing lies?

    I was among those who were on the “pro-Palestinian” side of the street on Wednesday, and I’ve been involved in organizing in solidarity with Palestinians for a while. The chant that was used was, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.” This is a reference to the more than $3.5 billion that are sent to the Israeli military in US federal tax dollars every year. You can visit aidtoisrael.org to verify this fact.

    Furthermore, Mr. Kruger neglects to note that since Israel began Operation Protective Edge, Israel has killed more than 800 Palestinians. Of these, according to the Israeli military, approximately 70% have been civilians. Conversely, Palestinians have killed 33 Israelis, more than 90% of whom were Israeli soldiers (details: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=716174).

    Given these facts, there’s a good reason that Palestinians and those who are in solidarity with them were angry on Wednesday.

    Reply
    • Tammy

      Given the circumstances, swine is an awfully generous description of the Israeli state committing disproportionate, collective punishment on a people walled into a besieged area of their own land. The globally reverberated chant is what it is but the reporter is making a pathetic attempt to normalize grotesque inhumanity by saying something as innaccurate but actually also ludicrous as the opposition was name calling. I mean they say “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will be never hurt me” but really we know that Israel’s so- called Defense Forces are on yet another genocidal tear through Gaza. Let’s take this pathetic swine comment and put it in its place as a useless distraction from the crimes of war that actually define Gaza and all of Palestine under the seemingly endless Israeli Occupation. May there be peace and restitution in our day.

      Reply
  2. Hannah

    Ok, so I was at the protest- many Jews for Palestine were. This article is disgustingly biased. First of all the quote that stated we were calling Israel swines is was misheard (probably on purpose)- it was actually “not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes”. Secondly, sure the Palestinian protestors showed anger but it wasn’t violent at all. There were a couple of people there who were saying some anti-semitic things but they were immediately dealt with. Thirdly, the children who were holding “dead baby dolls” were just trying to show the effects the violence has had on Palestinian families (maybe even their own if these guys have family in Gaza). This is kinda like how Holocaust museums or memorials have pictures of burnt bodies or starving children- it’s putting a face on what would otherwise just be numbers. Finally, criticizing Israel is not anti-semitic! People criticize Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and Christian countries like Uganda and Armenia all the time. If a nation is hurting or killing people, they should be held accountable- end of story.

    Reply
  3. Werehawk

    What kind of bullshit is this? Where did y’all find Josh Kruger – a highschool journalism class? This shit is a joke. I’m an anti-zionist Jew with friends and family in so-called Israel. Why would I come to a protest where we were going to chant about them being swine? Why would Josh Kruger get to write drivel like this, and keep his job? If I sucked this hard at my job I’d get fired.

    Reply
  4. Werehawk

    Hey Josh,

    In case you’re a fellow tribesman, and feel like you need to write propaganda like this in order to justify the annihilation of the people of Gaza, remember what is written:
    “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9

    As the existence of the Jewish people is used to justify this fresh hell for Palestinians, don’t all of y’all zionists go and forget the word.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Login with your Social ID

Your email address will not be published.