(New York Jewish Week) — As Israel continued to clear the Gaza border area of Hamas attackers, and came to grips with an attack that killed 700 people, hundreds of people came to rally in support of the country outside the United Nations on Sunday afternoon.
But for at least one demonstrator, the focus wasn’t on decrying what happened, but making sure to support Israel if it gets criticized for its response to the violence.
“We’re here to show support for Israel which has been attacked in the most savage way by Hamas terrorists,” said Ofer Jacobowitz, who holds both U.S. and Israeli citizenship and has lived in the United States since he was a child. “Israel needs all the support they can get. As soon as it retaliates for what happens and tries to end the Hamas terror, it will be demonized in the media.”
Israel has declared war following the outbreak of bloodshed, and — judging by another rally just blocks away — Jacobowitz’s concern was not unfounded. At Times Square, hundreds of demonstrators staged their own gathering to condemn Israel.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” one chant at the Times Square rally went. “New York City you will see, Palestine will be free.”
The rallies, just blocks apart in the heart of New York City, came one day after a major attack by Hamas on Israel and resulted in multiple showdowns between demonstrators, including a shouting match across 42nd Street as police stood in the middle of the road to maintain their distance.
The rallies reflected the depth of emotion felt by New Yorkers in the wake of the attack, which left hundreds of Israelis dead, thousands wounded and 100 taken captive to Gaza. Israeli officials have promised an extended campaign in Gaza, the territory that Hamas controls.
Organized by an array of far-left groups including the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Times Square rally drew condemnation from elected officials, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who called it “abhorrent and morally repugnant.”
One organizer who did not share their name called the violence in Israel a “great escalation of a historic struggle” and “not a terrorist attack,” but instead a manifestation of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
Irene Siegel, who carried a sign identifying herself as a Jewish supporter of the movement to boycott Israel, said she had been “horrified” by what happened in Israel — just as she had been for a long time about what was happening to Palestinians. She said she had come to the protest out of concern about Israel’s response to the onslaught.
“Palestinians really need people to stand with them right now,” she said. “It’s a really easy moment for militarist rhetoric and escalations around support for Israeli militarism.”
The rally near the United Nations was called by the group End Jew Hatred. (A separate rally held by UnXeptable, the protest movement of Israelis in the United States, took place 40 blocks south around the same time.)
The two constituencies clashed multiple times. Supporters of Israel jeered at the pro-Palestinian rally and sought to drown out its chants by singing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, loudly from across the street.
Later, pro-Palestinian demonstrators approached the people who had come to the End Jew Hatred rally, screaming, “Hey hey, ho ho, Israel has got to go” from one side of the street while people waving Israeli flags on the other side screamed chants including, “Israel is peace.”
The pro-Palestinian rally had been promoted by New York City’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has long taken anti-Israel stances including asking City Council candidates whether they would commit not to traveling to Israel.
Some in attendance said they supported socialism but opposed Hamas’ attack on Israelis and had come to make sure their perspectives were represented.
“Can we ever condone civilian targets? Never,” said Lea Sherman, a Socialist Workers Party candidate for New Jersey’s General Assembly. “Socialists are opposed to antisemitism and Jew hatred. This has nothing to do with socialism.”
Hannah Simpson, a writer and activist on transgender issues who is Jewish, came to Times Square waving a rainbow Israeli flag.
“I was tremendously dismayed when I saw that the Democratic Socialists of America had co-sponsored the Palestine rally today,” she said. “It baffles me when I think of Hamas as being neither democratic nor socialist, nor anything but reprehensible, especially to members of the LGBT community within the Gaza Strip.”
Simpson added, “I think it’s important to show that New York is not letting this go unanswered.”