Activists disrupted a speech by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in Chicago on Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile outside the synagogue where he was speaking, dozens more, among them many Palestinian and Jewish activists, protested Israel’s recent massacres of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Several people were barred entry to the venue apparently because they were of Arab ancestry.
Dermer’s visit to Chicago was part of what organizers called “a damage control PR tour” to several Midwestern cities in the wake of growing outrage over Israel’s killing of more than 120 Palestinians and the injuring of thousands more since the beginning of the Great March of Return rallies on 30 March.
“We stand here today to challenge the Israeli ambassador’s attempts to rally Americans to give blind support to the Israeli army,” Jennifer Bing, of the American Friends Service Committee, said at the protest. “The same army that shoots and kills Palestinians in Gaza and continues an immoral and unjust blockade.”
Bing’s group, along with the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace called for the protest.
There was a heavy police presence in and around the Anshe Emet Synagogue on Chicago’s North Side as activists chanted and listened to speeches demanding an end to Israel’s siege of Gaza and killings of Palestinians.
Several counter-protesters holding anti-Palestinian signs and an Israeli flag stood across the street from the rally.
Arabs denied entry
The Dermer speech was advertised as “free and open to the community,” but required advanced registration. However, registration did not guarantee entry.
“There were five Palestinians and Arabs who registered to be inside [but] all five of them were kept out of the event by the security,” Hatem Abudayyeh of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine said at the protest. “We had a number of people organized to go, and the only five that got kicked out were the Arabs with Arab surnames.”
One attendee who asked not to be named told The Electronic Intifada he was turned away after security guards identified his face from a list of names and pictures of those presumably banned from entering the venue.
“I got through security, they checked my ID. I thought I got in,” Lara Haddadin, who was also turned away, told The Electronic Intifada. Security guards then stopped Haddadin, told her she was on “a list” and ordered her to “leave the property immediately,” she said.
Participants who got in disrupted the event multiple times, chanting “Free Palestine” and “End the siege on Gaza now.”
All were removed, some grabbed and manhandled by security guards.
Following one disruption, Dermer said that “You couldn’t yell out what those two women yelled out in Ramallah” – an attempt to portray Israel as tolerant in contrast to a supposedly more repressive Palestinian Authority.
And unsurprisingly Dermer made no mention of how Israel shot dead unarmed civilians in Gaza for protesting for their fundamental rights.
More protesters than attendees
Jessica Kursman, who took part in the disruptions, told The Electronic Intifada, “there were around 10 security guards pacing the entire time and we had IDs checked three times.”
Kursman said that what she found “most insidious is the entire hasbara rhetoric [and] Israeli propaganda of a vulnerable state.” Hasbara is the Hebrew term frequently translated as propaganda.
Dermer’s comments “were standard Israeli talking points,” Eli Massey, who filmed the disruptions, told The Electronic Intifada.
The ambassador told Jews in the audience that “whether you like it or not, you are potential citizens of Israel” – an acknowledgment of Israel’s racist practice of granting Jews from anywhere in the world instant citizenship while shooting dead indigenous Palestinians who attempt to return to lands from which they were expelled.
Dermer himself is a Florida native who renounced his US citizenship in order to become Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Organizers noted that there were significantly more protesters than people attending the event.
After several disruptions, Massey said, Dermer “joked about hoping there was enough of an audience left for a minyan” – the minimum number of worshippers required to hold a Jewish prayer service.
Earlier, Dermer was at Wrigley Field where he threw out the first pitch in a Chicago Cubs baseball game – part of Israel’s strategy of using sports and cultural events to seek popular appeal.
That strategy suffered a spectacular setback this week when Argentina pulled out of a high-profile exhibition football match with Israel that had been scheduled for Saturday.
Both Dermer and Israel’s consul-general Aviv Ezra wore Cubs jerseys with the numbers 70 and 48 printed on the back – marking 70 years since Israel’s founding, which came about through the 1948 Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians.