Line dissolves between anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism

Daniel Iken of St. Louis is a senior at Washington University. 

By Daniel Iken

I am not from Minnesota. I am a St. Louisan, interning this summer in Minnesota, a state stereotyped for its citizens’ all-around nice, courteous and caring behavior (this is possibly the best stereotype of any state). Throughout this summer, I have truly experienced “Minnesota Nice,” and I am grateful.

On July 18, this all changed. Not only did I experience the opposite of “Minnesota Nice,” but far worse.  The ugly head of hatred reared itself. Hatred seething, like a rabid dog foaming from the mouth. 

With my friend Danielle, I attended what was said to be “a protest in solidarity with Palestine.” In actuality, it was an Israel-bashing hate-fest. Before we crossed the street and unraveled our Israeli flags, to demonstrate that there are two sides to the conflict in Gaza, it did seem like the demonsration was “in solidarity with Palestine.”

The minute our two Israeli flags began waving, a thousand eyes turned toward our side of the intersection. What might have been a positive “pro-Palestine protest” immediately turned into a virulent anti-Israel platform to spew hate. The land of 10,000 lakes became the land of 10,000 hates.

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Moving to Minneapolis this summer, I can add many new firsts.  The first time I got called a “Zionist Nazi.” The first time I was told to “go burn in hell you f***ing  Zionist.”  The first time I’ve been called a “terrorist.”

Quickly, the “pro-Palestine” demonstrators moved to engulf every side of the intersection to get as close to us as possible.  They wanted us to know they hated us. A young man, eyes on fire with hatred, glared at us from the median while stomping and spitting on an Israeli flag.

My friend and I stood quietly, simply waving our Israeli flags. Within 15 minutes of standing on that street corner, droves of “pro-Palestine” demonstrators attempted to cross the street and confront us. And they did. Three girls were jumping and shrieking in Danielle’s face, and two men tried to block me from view – chanting and yelling in my face.

A woman walked by us and said, “Itbach al-Yahud.” “Death to the Jews” strikes the same fear in any language.  Are we in Paris, where Jewish businesses are being ransacked and Jews attacked in the street, reminiscent of Berlin 1938, as the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism continues to blur?  

This was the first time I felt threatened to be a Jew in America.

Is this what you call a “protest in solidarity with Palestine” or an attempt at confrontation and incitement?

How did I respond to my confronters? Simply with: “This is my right to stand here.” Enshrined in our First Amendment is my right to peacefully assemble, just as the “pro-Palestine” demonstrators had their right to, in my opinion, not so peacefully assemble and the right to free speech.  

If only that right of free speech was utilized with more constructive chants. Maybe they should chant against Hamas, the U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization that forced Israel to enter the Gaza Strip to defend itself against and prevent rocket fire on its citizens. 

Or maybe they should chant against Hamas for endangering the lives of Palestinians by dragging the fighting into densely packed, civilian areas and using Palestinian civilian deaths as political pawns in this sadistic cycle of tyranny and death.  

Or against Hamas for forcing Israel to blockade the Gaza Strip because the tons of cement allowed in have been used to build an extensive tunnel and bunker network – exclusively for Hamas – instead of schools, roads and hospitals for the Palestinians. 

Or why not chants pleading for peace and dialogue. 

Thankfully, some apparent leaders of the “pro-Palestine” demonstration crossed over and repeatedly told the crowd to stop trying to confront us and to stay on the other side of the street.  Unfortunately, these leaders had to do this every 15 minutes.  Again, I thank them for what they did.

Every death tears at me.  An Israeli child and a Palestinian child are still simply children.  Respectful dialogue is needed, not hate-infused speech. 

I want peace. But how can we get to that point, when across the street a 5-year-old child sits on his father’s shoulders and calls me a murderer?