Far-left Jews protest outside AIPAC conference
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Far-left Jews protest outside AIPAC conference

Clashes erupt between anti-settlement group and activists from far-right JDL, who hold a counter-demonstration

Anti-settlement demonstrators hold placards and protest in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference.  (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)
Anti-settlement demonstrators hold placards and protest in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)

Several hundred protesters coordinated by IfNotNow, a Jewish anti-establishment group, spent hours dancing and chanting outside AIPAC’s annual policy conference Sunday.

Their placards and chants targeted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for what the protesters said was its backing of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and for not speaking out robustly against President Donald Trump.

Protesters bore a banner saying, “Jews won’t be free until Palestinians are, reject AIPAC, reject occupation.”

Police allowed the protesters to reach the Washington Convention Center’s glass doors. Some AIPAC activists stopped and took pictures of the protesters, as the protesters looked back, some waving and grinning.

“How can we have a sustained Jewish community in this country and a democratic Jewish community in Israel” as long as an occupation persists, said Jeremy Zelinger, one of the protesters. “AIPAC does not represent us.”

AIPAC does not formally back Israel’s presence in the West Bank and favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit in relatively muted tones. It also blames the Palestinians entirely for the absence of peace talks and refrains from criticizing Israeli policies, including its settlement building.

Anti-settlement demonstrators hold placards and protest in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)
Anti-settlement demonstrators hold placards and protest in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)

Another theme was AIPAC’s supposed failure to confront the Trump administration on a range of other issues, including its restrictive policies on immigrants and refugees. AIPAC has rarely if ever pronounced on any US government’s policy not having to do with Israel or its interests.

Several protesters bore placards imprinted with the image of Dona Gracia Nasi, the 16th-century Jewish entrepreneur, who used her wealth to rescue Jews fleeing the inquisition. “Reclaim, reimagine, resist,” the posters said.

Police rescue a protester during clashes between demonstrators against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its supporters in Washington, DC, on March 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)
Police rescue a protester during clashes between demonstrators against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its supporters in Washington, DC, on March 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)

A dozen protesters carrying flags of the Jewish Defense League occasionally clashed with the left-wing demonstrators in at-times-violent altercations, prompting police intervention.

A supporter of the Jewish Defence League demonstrates in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the AIPAC Policy Conference. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)
A supporter of the Jewish Defence League demonstrates in front of Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, on March 26, 2017, during the AIPAC Policy Conference. (AFP Photo/Andrew Biraj)

Pictures from the event also showed JDL activists stomping on a Palestinian flag. The group was founded by the late far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated for a Greater Israel and for expelling Palestinians from the West Bank.

AIPAC has drawn 18,000 activists to its policy conference this year, the largest ever. The theme is bipartisan support for Israel, and speakers include Vice President Mike Pence and both parties’ congressional leaders.

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