We could look at it as just another day in New York, where protests on behalf of one cause or another have been part of the culture of the place for more than a century. But the organized effort to snarl traffic with demonstrations blocking a tunnel and three major bridges by people chanting support for the killing of Jews ought to be treated as more than just another day in Gotham.
The answer as to why this is happening is linked to recent controversies about college presidents who had trouble deciding whether advocacy for the genocide of Jews violates their academic institutions’ rules of conduct. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, there has been an epidemic of antisemitic incidents throughout North America. Jewish businesses and even Jewish neighborhoods have been targeted for boycotts or harassment. Jewish students are harassed and heckled with vicious antisemitic taunts, most recently during a high school basketball game.
The people committing these antisemitic actions are not right-wing extremists, neo-Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan—groups that Jews have long feared and whose existence was highlighted by the 2017 “Unite the Right” violence in Charlottesville, Va., as well as the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh in 2018 and Poway, Calif., in 2019. Instead, so-called “progressives” are the ones engaged in behavior that seeks, at the very least, to silence and drive Jews from the public square unless they are prepared to join with those opposing efforts to defeat genocidal anti-Jewish terrorists.
The reason for this is no secret. The pervasive influence of intersectional and critical race theory (CRT) teachings, coupled with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), is the cause. These toxic ideas divide the world into two immutable groups: white oppressors and people of color, who are always the victims. It has created an atmosphere in which people who think of themselves as enlightened liberals think it is acceptable to single out Jews for opprobrium and ill-treatment because the woke catechism that is their secular faith falsely labels Israel and the Jewish people as “white” oppressors. The side whose goal is to destroy the Jewish state and slaughter its people are considered the victims, not terrorists who must be defeated rather than appeased.
Peaceful protest or domestic terrorism?
While The New York Times referred to it as a “pro-Palestinian protest,” those who shut down the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, as well as the Holland Tunnel, on Jan. 8— effectively preventing vehicular access to Lower Manhattan during rush hour on a Monday morning—were doing more than demonstrating support for a cause or inconveniencing tens of thousands of people. They were effectively holding a city hostage and creating circumstances that might have led to the loss of life had there been an emergency of any sort during the two hours they blocked these arteries on which the city’s economy and normal life depend.
That, in of itself, ought to dictate that those involved—125 of them were arrested by the New York Police Department, which struggled to regain control of the situation for hours—would be subject to serious punishment. But there is an aggravating factor that also ought to be taken into account.
They and their apologists claim that they are only doing this to show New Yorkers what Gazans are allegedly experiencing during the war begun by Hamas by the Oct. 7 atrocities. While blocking traffic, they were also voicing chants that were a thinly veiled call for more terrorist attacks on Jews, both in Israel and around the world.
That’s what the “long live intifada” and “globalize intifada” slogans heard at these and other “pro-Palestinian” protests mean. Along with the “from the river to the sea” chant, this is ample evidence that what was going on was an antisemitic protest carried on by a coalition of groups, including some like Jewish Voice for Peace that pose as Jewish, which make no secret about the fact that they share a goal with the Hamas terrorists: the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet. It’s also a goal that can only be accomplished by the genocide of the Jewish people.
That ought to mean that such protests would be treated as hate crimes or at least prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Unfortunately, it’s likely those involved will—like those involved in other recent protests in what they themselves describe as an effort to “flood” various sites, a reference to the “Al-Aqsa flood,” the name Hamas gave its orgy of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping—get the usual slap on the wrist that weary city officials have given to most demonstrators in recent memory.
Much like the crowds that participated in the “mostly peaceful” protests in the summer of 2020, the antisemitic traffic disruptors will likely get off scot-free. In the Black Lives Matter riots, many of those who assaulted cops, destroyed property and looted stores went largely unpunished. Indeed, the Times referred to what happened at the bridges and the tunnel as “peaceful.”
Prejudicial double standards
But just imagine if three New York City bridges and a tunnel were similarly shut down by MAGA red-cap-wearing supporters of former President Donald Trump, protesting efforts to prosecute or throw him off the 2024 presidential ballot. They would almost certainly be labeled as “insurrectionists” and deemed by the U.S. Department of Justice to be “domestic terrorists” whose tactics were a threat of civil disorder not to be tolerated. And the treatment they’d get from authorities would be harsh.
But because endangering New Yorkers while calling for the death of Jews is treated by the chattering classes as merely exercising free speech about a topic on which reasonable people ought to agree to disagree, the protesters will likely be free to terrorize some other thoroughfare as soon as they like.
Similar incidents have happened elsewhere in the country, with highways blocked and businesses that the “pro-Palestinians” associate with the Jewish community subjected to harassment with few, if any, repercussions for those engaged in this conduct.
In Toronto, Canada, “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators were even less subtle about their antisemitism. They have been blocking traffic on a highway bridge in a Jewish neighborhood, causing not just inconvenience but creating an atmosphere of intimidation for its residents. Yet rather than throw these people in jail, the police brought them coffee and doughnuts in a vain effort to “manage” the situation rather than restore public order.
To put that into perspective, this outrage is taking place in a country in which truckers protesting COVID-19 policies by parking their vehicles paralyzing traffic in the capital of Ottawa in what they called a “freedom convoy” were treated as insurrectionists. Their bank accounts and those of their supporters were frozen, and their leaders are being tried now on a variety of charges that could land them in prison, even while pro-Hamas protestors were given kid-gloves treatment in the same city.
It’s all part of the same mindset that led to a private Jewish high school’s girl basketball team withdrawing from a game being played in Yonkers, N.Y., against Roosevelt High School—a college-prep magnet school—after they were repeatedly subjected to antisemitic taunts and rough play by their opponents. One Roosevelt High player screamed at the Lefell School players, “I support Hamas, you f**king Jew.” Roosevelt forfeited the game. One player was suspended a day later, and the coach was fired. But again, just imagine, if one of the Jewish girls or any non-minority had yelled, “I support the Klan” at an African-American player. It would have made the front page of the Times and become a national cause-célèbre. But as of this writing, the Times has yet to even acknowledge it in much the same manner that it was late to account for the antisemitic riot that took place in a Queens high school that targeted a pro-Israel teacher.
These incidents and the growing total of opinion surveys that point to a spike in antisemitic attitudes are not just a result of indoctrination in the intersectional lie about the Palestinian war to destroy Israel being analogous to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It’s also a product of the mainstreaming of anti-Zionist invective and barely disguised prejudice against Jews in publications like the Times and the willingness of pop-culture outlets like the “Saturday Night Live” show to take the side of those justifying the advocacy of genocide of Jews rather than those calling it out.
The problem is that the people who are committing the growing list of antisemitic acts on the streets and on college campuses are not part of a tiny radical fringe like the tiki-torch-bearing neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville. These demonstrators are educated “progressives” who claim to support human rights and are often connected in one way or another to the elites who run the institutions of academia, the media, the arts and liberal politics. In other words, the new shock troops of antisemitism are people that liberal Jews are used to considering as allies. That’s why it is so hard for even groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, which is supposed to be protecting the Jewish community, to stop defending DEI policies that are behind this rise in antisemitism.
Jews cannot afford to look away from the main cause of their current woes. Instead, they must focus on why it is that progressives think that Jews are the one minority group that can be discriminated against with impunity. The community needs to mobilize its resources and demand that political leaders start treating those who are carrying out these antisemitic hate crimes in the name of supposed sympathy for the Palestinians with the harshness they deserve. It must also insist that mainstream publications go back to treating anti-Zionism as a form of hatred against Jews. Only then can we hope to quell this dangerous surge of hate.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathns_tobin.