Normally accompanied by a substantial but modest amount of protest, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference opened on Sunday to violent crowds protesting against the Jewish State.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the entrances to the conference, preventing attendees from entering the building. The crowd held a mix of anti-Trump, pro-Sanders, and anti-Zionist Haredim. The protests got so turbulent that conference participants were asked to wait outside out of concern the situation would turn violent. In fact, conference attendees were seen on video fleeing angry protesters who shouted ferocious anti-Semitic cries such as “Burn in hell, you Zionist pig” and “baby killer”. Several arrests were made.
Current GOP nominees who attended the pro-Israel event to present their campaign platform, as is AIPAC’s custom on election years, also received harsh criticism by the anti-Israel activists. Bearing hostile messages, protesters claimed the conference was a challenge to free-speech and the democratic process.
Cognizant of the emotionally charged atmosphere, AIPAC organizers have communicated their concerns to participants in an effort to prevent further outbursts. AIPAC President Robert Cohen requested in his opening address that participants show decorum, even while disagreeing.
Petitions by Jewish groups, many of whose signers are attending the conference, threatened to boycott and protest GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s speech, scheduled to take place Monday evening, due to his reputation for intolerance. It is also anticipated that there will be an increase in protests from conference participants during Trump’s address.
Though Cohen’s warning was greeted with applause, it remains to be seen if his advice will be accepted by Trump opponents in the audience.
Petitions were also launched by Bernie Sanders followers, led by journalist and anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal. The petitions called for Sanders to refuse to speak at the pro-Israel conference, labeling Israel’s policies as “racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic”. Sanders announced on Friday that he will not be speaking at the conference, purportedly due to scheduling conflicts. The anti-Israel elements in his constituency lauded this as a victory.
Israel National News reported their on-site news team was threatened by protesters and police were forced to intervene.
— The Real News (@TheRealNews) March 20, 2016
A strong contingent from Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, was present and their message dominated much of the protest. Al-Awda advocates for a Palestinian state comprised of the entire territory of Israel, calling for the complete dismantling of Israel and claiming Zionism is racism. They began in 2000 as a branch of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and openly chant their shared slogan, “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” at the AIPAC conferences.
Hundreds more protested in front of the hotel where Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, is staying during his visit. Danon responded to the violence saying “Anti-Semites are trying to blacken Israel’s name on the international stage,” said Danon. “We will not flinch and will continue to represent Israel everywhere in the world.”