NEW YORK — Pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Sunday in New York celebrated Hamas’s massive deadly terror attack against Israel, as supporters of the Jewish state held rallies to mourn and express outrage over the slaughter.
Several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in Times Square, waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Resistance is justified,” “Globalize the intifada,” and “Smash the settler Zionist state.”
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they chanted.
Several dozen pro-Israel demonstrators, including many Israelis, gathered across the street. They sang Israel’s anthem, “Hatikvah,” bearing Israeli flags, and chanted “Shame” and “Murderers.”
Tensions ran high, with the Israeli group chanting “The people of Israel live” in Hebrew, and the pro-Palestinian group shouting back “free Palestine.” Some made mock crying gestures toward the Israelis to taunt them.
“The whole world should know there was a massacre in Israel. That’s why I’m here,” said Israeli demonstrator Tanya Farhi-Altman.
“In their place, I would be very ashamed to show my face here today, after yesterday they murdered so many of our children, the elderly, women and helpless people,” she said of the pro-Palestinian activists. “I would be ashamed and stay home. I would also say ‘I’m sorry.'”
Some opponents argued on the sidelines but were quickly separated by police. Dozens of officers and metal barricades stood between the two groups.
“This is not a protest, this is a vigil,” said Israel supporter Hannah Simpson. “We’re in a state of mourning, shock, panic and outright fear for the days ahead that are going to get bloodier.”
“We mourn the death of our own and the death of the Palestinians who are going to be collateral damage in what it takes to eliminate this threat to Israel’s sovereignty and security,” she said.
At a second rally across from the UN Headquarters, several hundred Israelis and US Jews gathered for a somber event to mourn and express solidarity.
The crowd sang “Hatikvah” and traditional songs, and chanted “Never again” and “No fear here.” Some in the crowd cried; others carried photos of terror victims.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s horrifying, but also now Israelis of all different backgrounds, regardless of any differences in opinions or about anything, are obviously coming together as Israelis and Jews always do in times of crisis,” Michael Perlman said. “I think people feel good to be together during this time, that’s really important, and to know that we have each other here in America and we have the back of Israel.”
The pro-Palestinian demonstrators from Times Square marched across Manhattan to a street corner near the Israeli group, and the two sides squared off on opposite sides of a two-lane street. Hundreds of police and metal barricades separated the groups as helicopters and a drone hovered overhead.
New York protests during previous rounds of Gaza violence saw some fighting between the opposing sides, and violent hate crimes against Jews. Jewish security officials and the state leadership have said there are no known threats to Jewish communities, but police have stepped up protection of Jewish sites.
Among the pro-Palestinian side, the mood was celebratory and spiteful. Demonstrators chanted “700,” apparently referring to the confirmed number of Israeli fatalities in the attack so far, and held up the number seven on their hands while making throat-slitting gestures. Others flashed victory signs with their hands while shouting insults.
One man held up a picture of an Israeli hostage on his phone and waved it at the Israeli crowd. Another was seen brandishing an image of a swastika. Some taunted the Israelis while tearing up and stomping on an Israeli flag, or danced with a Palestinian flag.
“The oppressed people of Palestine broke out of the open-air prison,” one speaker told the crowd, to cheers. “The White House is telling all of its mouthpieces to tell us a false story, but we know that the real terrorist is the Israeli state.”
The Israeli crowd chanted “Terrorists,” “Murderers,” “Shame on you,” and “Bring them home,” referring to the dozens of hostages taken by the Gaza terrorists.
The pro-Palestinian rally was organized by activist groups that call for Israel’s destruction and the ostracization of Zionists at regular street protests in the city. Some of the groups are affiliated with student organizations at the City University of New York (CUNY), the city’s massive public university system that Jewish groups have accused of allowing campus antisemitism. Several CUNY student groups backed Sunday’s pro-Palestinian rally, and another scheduled for Monday at the Israeli consulate.
CUNY’s chancellor said on Saturday that he was “horrified by Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel and its people.”
The pro-Palestinian protest drew harsh criticism from Jewish groups and the state leadership. Governor Kathy Hochul called it “abhorrent and morally repugnant”; Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said it was “outrageous”; and US Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York said it was “glorifying terrorism.”
The American Jewish Committee said, “Anyone supporting Hamas’s assault on Israel is supporting their war crimes, slaughter, and kidnapping.”
“These protestors openly cheer for atrocities. They’re not pro-Palestinian; they’re pro-bloodshed,” the Israeli Consulate in New York said.
US Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said, “I can’t think of anything more ill-timed and cold-hearted than today’s demonstration in Times Square.”
The protest was also supported by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) political party. The New York branch of the party advertised the event and expressed “solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist.” In response to criticism, the national chapter of DSA doubled down, saying the Hamas attack was “not unprovoked,” adding, “Take to the streets to join a protest.”
“Why does [DSA] support Hamas when it murders Israeli civilians? Why do people only excuse terror when it targets Israel?” the American Jewish Committee said.
“The NYC-DSA is revealing itself for what it truly is — a deep rot of antisemitism that must be universally condemned for celebrating the deadly terrorist attacks against Israel,” Torres said.
Members of the US Congress affiliated with the party, some of whom have condemned the Hamas attack, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
In Atlanta, more than 75 people demonstrated at the Israeli consulate Sunday afternoon, chanting slogans in support of Hamas and calling for an end to US aid to Israel.
“Yesterday was inevitable,” said Anne Belocura, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. She said that the policies of Israel “precipitated an inevitable counteroffensive by Palestinian resistance forces.”
Talia Segal, a student at nearby Georgia Tech, came as a counter-protester, carrying an Israeli flag fringed with the rainbow of the LGBTQ+ pride movement.
“Terrorism is never justified. Their target was Israeli civilians,” said Segal, who is Jewish and said she fears for her family in Israel.
In Chicago, Priscilla Reed was among hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who rallied outside the Israeli consulate. Many waved Palestinian flags or wore keffiyeh, the black and white checkered scarfs that have come to symbolize Palestinian solidarity. Their chants, in both English and Arabic, included, “Netanyahu you will see, Palestine will be free!”
Reed, a retired teacher, said the attacks by Hamas were in response to Israel’s “systemic daily violence against Palestinians.”
Other pro-Palestinian rallies, many lauding “the resistance,” were set to take place around the US and in other countries over the weekend and in the coming days.
Jewish groups have also scheduled solidarity events and efforts to assist Israel, and Israelis in the US.
AP contributed to this report.