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Anti-Israel protesters flock to opening plenary of JNF conference in Denver

“Their messaging tends to become a way to get other people to hate Jews,” said Michael Beim, president of JNF’s board of directors in Orlando, Fla.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters gather in front of the Colorado Convention Center, the site of the opening plenary of the Jewish National Fund-USA annual conference, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters gather in front of the Colorado Convention Center, the site of the opening plenary of the Jewish National Fund-USA annual conference, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

“What does it feel like to kill a 5-year-old?” barked a man with dark curly hair, who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s. He stood behind a wire fence, as attendees of the Jewish National Fund-USA Global Conference for Israel made their way into the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver on Thursday evening.

“Baby killer,” “genocide,” “shame” and “free Palestine” were among other words and phrased that some 60 to 75 protesters hurled, as attendees filed into the opening plenary, titled “We Stand With Israel.”

The protesters pounded silverware on cans, waved Palestinian flags and, using a megaphone, attempted to insult everyone who walked by. Denver police officers formed a line separating protesters and attendees.

The number of protesters was more than double that of last year’s rally at the same annual conference, held in Boston the first weekend in November. That anti-Israel march outside the hotel venue took place on a Saturday afternoon—a one-and-done. The Denver rally-goers stated their intention to make their voices heard all weekend.

“Their messaging tends to become a way to get other people to hate Jews,” Michael Beim, president of JNF’s board of directors in Orlando, Fla., told JNS. (He was attending the conference with his wife, Lori.)

Their accusations, he stated, are based on a lack of education and history. “They’re not true,” he said, and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. “But ignorance can go pretty far.”

JNF-USA organizers told JNS that 2,500 registered for this year’s program—more than double the 2022 crowd. They also noted that 100-plus heavily armed tactical police were on hand the first day of the four-day conference and will continue to be through Sunday.

FBI, homeland security, private security, state and Denver-based officers will protect conference attendees, they specified.

Police guard the inside of the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver as anti-Israel protesters harass attendees of the Jewish National Fund-USA annual conference, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

Etty Goldstein, a 21-year-old biology major at Stern College (Yeshiva University) in New York City, came with a cohort of more than 100 students affiliated with the Yavneh on Campus leadership program. Her friend Zach Gold, also 21 and a biomedical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University near Baltimore, serves as the group’s co-president.

“I think they’re very uneducated people, but it’s still really hard to hear,” Goldstein said of the words that pro-Palestinian groups in Manhattan lob at Jewish students. “It makes me feel unsafe.”

From not too far away in Brooklyn, N.Y., she noted that she’s also seen “Kill the Jews” painted on the 28th Street subway station near school.

Gold, originally of White Plains, N.Y., thinks that universities that specialize in engineering and STEM programs haven’t seen the same type of vitriol cropping up at other academic institutions.

Their friend, Andrew Galitzer, 22, a Florida native who attends Drexel University, a primarily engineering and science-based college in Philadelphia, acknowledged that he covers his kippah with a hat when walking the city streets—better to be safe than sorry.

From left: Yavneh on Campus fellows Etty Goldstein, Andrew Galitzer and Zach Gold at the Jewish National Fund-USA annual conference in Denver, Nov. 30, 2023.

And while he said “I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon” in reference to anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment on campus, he also feels that “random people are caught in the middle of it.”

Meaning, it’s a trend, albeit not a pleasant one.

Gold, however, said “the next thing will rise” to capture their attention.

Who knows, he posed? “China could attack Taiwan.”

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