BOSTON — Chanting “intifada” and “Free Palestine,” more than 100 anti-Israel demonstrators converged outside America’s oldest public library July 1 for International Al-Quds Day.
Flags did not burn, and Netanyahu was not hung in effigy. Instead, there were numerous calls to implement the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel during the Boston version of the world’s leading “anti-Zionist day of protest.” Demonstrations were held in up to 70 cities this weekend, with rallies countries centered on calls to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Jewish rule. And the weapon of choice? BDS.
Engagement with the holiday has expanded exponentially since 1979, when it was launched by Iranian Revolution leader Ruhollah Khomeini. Calling on all Muslims to observe an Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day on the last Friday of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, the leader urged followers that year “to join together to sever the hand of this usurper [Israel] and its supporters.”
In the Al-Quds Day demonstrations held outside of Iran, Beirut or Gaza, one is unlikely to encounter soldiers marching over US and Israeli flags, or to see puppets of those countries’ leaders set ablaze. Overt expressions of support for the murder of Israeli civilians are also hard to find outside the Mideast, where Al-Quds Day has instead provided a natural platform for the decade-old BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.
In New York City this weekend, activists centered their Al-Quds Day commemoration on “the right” to implement BDS, in response to the state legislature’s decision in May to outlaw state business with companies or individuals who are involved in the anti-Israel movement.
“Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, has moved to silence and repress the right of the people to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel and the Zionist regime for illegally occupying Palestine and oppressing and murdering the Palestinian people,” according to a Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network statement before the demonstration.
“We, the citizens of the United States and in particular residents of New York, reserve the right to boycott any and all parties involved in practicing racist, discriminatory, and oppressive policies,” read the statement.
On Friday, hundreds of anti-Israel activists convened in Manhattan’s Times Square to protest Israel and US foreign policy in the Mideast. Following the rally, Students for Justice in Palestine’s New York City chapter hosted a Ramadan Iftar dinner, “to celebrate Palestinian resistance globally as the fight continues for a liberated Al-Quds.”
In countries such as South Africa and Nigeria, Al-Quds Day participation has surged. In 2014, the Nigerian army reportedly killed 33 demonstrators in Zaria, the center of the Nigerian Islamic Movement. In Iran, millions take to the streets in more than 700 cities, venting animosity toward both “Little Satan” (Israel) and Iran’s other post-Revolution boogie man, “Big Satan” the United States.
Though nominally staged in support of the Palestinians, Al-Quds demonstrations usually center on animosity toward Israel, the US, and other Western countries.
“The ritualistic rally-cries of death to America and Israel, and the burning in effigy of the leaders of Israel, America, and Saudi Arabia underscore the basic lie that underpins Quds Day,” wrote Iran expert Lawrence A. Franklin in a 2015 brief on the holiday, seen as an export of the Iranian Revolution.
“The Iranian regime is focused on Iran’s revolutionary extremist agenda, not on the welfare of Palestinian Arabs,” wrote Franklin, who probed the Iranian government’s use of Al-Quds Day as a propaganda tool during last year’s nuclear negotiations with the West.
Back in Boston, Friday’s Al-Quds Day gathering in Copley Square drew a handful of pro-Israel activists to mount a counter-protest. Loudest among them was Los Angeles-born Yaniv Baron, who used his megaphone’s siren to effectively drown out anti-Israel chants during the 90-minute rally, held a stone’s throw from the site of 2013’s Boston Marathon bombings.
“There is an educated way to promote co-existence and peace, and this is not it,” said Baron, who at one point chanted about Palestinians “stabbing 13-year old girls in their sleep,” a reference to the murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel by a Palestinian terrorist last Wednesday night.
Calling the demonstrators “liars who promote killing Jews,” Baron told The Times of Israel they are also “cowards” for holding their rally just before the start of Shabbat, when it is difficult to organize a counter-protest, he said.
Among organized US Jewry, only the far-right Jewish Defense League (JDL) encouraged Israel supporters to confront Al-Quds Day rallies that were taking place in more than a dozen US cities this weekend. Sources at other Jewish organizations indicated that the preference was not to provide the Al-Quds Day activists with oxygen via counter-protests or condemnatory press releases.
A recurring theme of the Boston demonstrators’ chants and signs was the alleged “mass slaughter” of Palestinian children by the Israel Defense Forces. “Hey, Netanyahu, what do you say, how many kids have you killed today,” was a popular refrain, and just three or four of about two-dozen signs, most of them genocide-themed, mentioned event namesake Al-Quds, or Jerusalem.
In what could be construed as a sign of the ever-tightening ties between the annual protest and the BDS movement, at the rally’s peak, a young demonstrator identifying as Palestinian spoke about her journey between passivity and joining the BDS movement. Using her one-time love for Nestle chocolate bars as a parable, she said that once she became aware that Nestle operated several factories in Israel, the teen could no longer eat the chocolate.
For her, she said, is would forever be tainted by Israel’s “war against Palestinian children.”
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