BOSTON – A protest outside Israel’s consular offices in downtown Boston turned ugly Friday when 100 anti-Israel demonstrators “swarmed” some dozen Israel supporters.
Surrounded by pro-Palestinian activists chanting “Jesus killers” and “drop dead,” several pro-Israel students claimed they were “physically assaulted” by the protesters at the rally’s close.
Whereas the pro-Israel supporters were mainly university students, the anti-Israel crowd was largely female, and older, accompanied by a dozen children holding signs and helping chant about “Israeli apartheid” and “war crimes.”
Post-rally, the pro-Israel students immediately took to social media, exposing what they say Israel activists around the US face – to varying degrees – when they decide to publicly support the Jewish state.
Organized by activist Adam Akkad and Jewish Voice for Peace’s local chapter, the demonstrators protested the Israel Defense Force’s current Operation Protective Edge, but made no reference to the hundreds of Hamas rockets targeting Israeli civilians, or the use of Gaza civilians as human shields for Hamas.
“There were eleven of us here, and that was not enough,” said Aviva Malveira, a recent Boston University graduate who was among the Israel supporters swarmed by protesters.
Wrapped in a large Israeli flag and wearing dark sunglasses, Malveira stood in the middle of what she called a “tiny pro-Israel island,” surrounded by screaming protesters. She and other supporters sang the Israeli national anthem “HaTikvah” and Hebrew song “Oseh Shalom” (“Make Peace”), which Malveira said further inflamed the protesters.
“Some phones were knocked out of our hands, Israeli flags were yanked, and a whole lot of disgusting things were shouted at us,” said Malveira, who now works for StandWithUs, a pro-Israel PR outfit.
The incident took place as anti-Israel protesters ended their demonstration outside the consulate and headed to the Boston Common for another rally. As protesters crossed the street outside the consulate, they surrounded the Israel supporters standing between them and the adjacent Public Garden.
After several minutes of hurled insults and physical contact, police officers intervened to restore order.
“School may not be in session, but Israel-haters take no breaks,” said Malveira. “I think the Boston [Jewish] community needs to do a lot more in terms of rallies and public support – actual mobilizing – instead of hiding online or limiting their support to synagogue vigils,” she said.
One of the assaulted students – Chloe Valdary, a University of New Orleans senior – pressed charges on Saturday at the Boston Police Department against a woman related to the incident.
“There were several cops who literally did nothing,” wrote Valdary on her Facebook page after the protest. She also posted videos and photos of the “disturbing” incident, the first of which she has faced in Boston.
“They surrounded us, they swarmed us,” said Valdary, who is in Boston for the summer as a fellow with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA).
“I looked each and every one of them in the eyes,” she wrote. “And I could tell that they’re confused by me because I’m black. But they are such cowards. While they were chanting at me, I was just smiling at them,” Valdary wrote.
Though fewer than a dozen student activists were present, they ran the political spectrum of campus Israel activism from J-Street U to traditional Zionist groups.
“I thought it was important to talk to these anti-Semites and hypocrites, who say they care about the Palestinians,” said Raphael Fils, a Boston University junior.
Last month, Fils founded JUMP, a campus Israel advocacy group willing to partner across the pro-Israel spectrum, said Fils.
“It was scary and I did not feel safe,” said Fils of Friday’s incident. “I don’t understand how these people are pro-Palestinian when they defend Hamas using their own children as human shields. That’s not pro-Palestinian,” he said.
Among the Israel supporters, several young Jewish communal professionals encouraged students to stand their ground and come up with their own chants and banners.
“They said some nasty things, like calling us Jesus killers, asking how many babies we had each murdered, telling us we would burn,” said Samantha Mandeles, a former student activist who now trains students in Israel advocacy for CAMERA.
“There was one woman — the one who assaulted Chloe [Valdary] — who was screeching to me that I should ‘rape my ass with the flag,’ but I ignored her, even as she slapped the end of my flag as it waved it the wind,” Mandeles told the Times of Israel on Saturday.
Perched out of windows high above the protest, Israeli consulate staffers – unable to participate in the event by law – took video of the protest’s jolting finale.
“We would like to thank the pro-Israel students in Boston, who stood there with an Israeli and American flag, supporting Israel’s right to self-defense,” said consul-general Yehuda Yaakov in a statement.
“We appreciate the ongoing support, courage and dedication throughout the year to the state of Israel,” he added.
Following their protest outside the Israeli consulate, demonstrators held another anti-Israel gathering on the Boston Common. Protestors then picketed outside three companies they called “complicit in the genocide” by supporting Israel, including Macy’s and TIAA-CREF, the retirement fund.
A third anti-Israel gathering was held that evening, in front of Copley Square’s Boston Public Library. All three of Friday’s downtown anti-Israel rallies, as well as the hour of picketing companies, included participation from faith and labor groups, some of which distributed fliers mixing local agendas with anti-Israel rhetoric.
“What I saw today was actually less ugly than [anti-Israel protests] we see in California,” said Bea Lieberman, a veteran Israel supporter in town to help her daughter move.
“There were far fewer jihadi young men here covering their faces and holding flags of Nasrallah, chanting ‘slaughter the Jews,’” said Lieberman. “Where I’m from, there would be bars and police physically separating the protesters, because there are jihadi men who literally want to kill you.”
In Lieberman’s assessment, Boston’s pro-Israel community can do more for both rally turn-out and making public statements of support for the Jewish state.
“You also really need to have pro-Israel people of all ages,” she added.