NEW YORK - The night after the first historic meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hundreds marched through midtown Manhattan to gather near Trump Tower and protest the meeting. They carried signs against Israel and Trump, chanting “We don’t want no Jewish States, let’s go back to 48,” and sang songs in Yiddish.
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The few hundred protesters were of all ages: Sara Flounders, who refused to give her age but laughed that she has “been to this protests for decades” said "We are here in complete solidarity with Palestinians, Muslims in the U.S., and refugees. White nationalism, white supremacism, and Zionism have all been historically linked.”
Unlike many other protests against Trump, and the protests against Netanyahu that were organized by the Jewish organization IfNotNow, and took place at the same time in D.C., the demonstration in New York Wednesday night was part of the Antifa movement (Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist). Antifa activists have gained a lot of media attention last week, after Antifa demonstrators in Berkeley disrupted a lecture by Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart star who has a reputation for vicious attacks on feminists, Muslims, and even SNL African-American star Leslie Jones.
Many of the Antifa activists of prefer anonymity and keep the media at a distance, yet Michael Alexander, a New York writer who organized Wednesday night’s protest has agreed to share his perspective on the importance of the demonstration with Haaretz.
Alexander said that there are about 2,000 members in his Anti-fascist network, “MuJew Antifa: a Muslim Jewish Anti-Fascist Front,” and that they communicate with each other mostly by using the encrypted messaging app Signal and other encrypted communication systems, to avoid Neo-Nazis who might target them.
“We are not affiliated with any other Antifa groups, we have our own understanding of Fascism. We are paving our own way as Jews and Muslims. We were formed in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, first as a support network but also for big public events like the one tonight."
In the weeks following Trump’s inauguration, there have been a few demonstrations each day in New York, and with all the different reasons to protest against Trump, it’s not clear that there is time to protest Netanyahu as well. Yet Alexander explains that the protest against the Trump-Netanyahu meeting is crucial for creating unity among minorities, a process that has already been taking place over the past few weeks, as Jews and Muslims united to protest the Muslim ban.
“We oppose nationalism in any form it takes, whether it is white nationalism, Christian nationalism here in the U.S., or Jewish nationalism in Israel. The fact that Bibi saw fit to announce that he is building 500 new settlement housing units in the West Bank was a call to action. We see it as the same struggle against oppression."
Moreover, Alexander sees the unity between Muslims and Jews in opposition to Trump and Netanyahu as a key part of the resistance to the rise of the so-called "Alt-Right" in the U.S.
“We are trying to strengthen the ties between us as minorities, so that we can win over a majority to the politics of liberation. Bibi and Donald Trump have a lot in common, and we have quite a lot in common with the resistance in Israel and Palestine. Those communities are going to be crucial to confront the united front that the nationalist and Fascist are forming, one that threatens the fabric of democracy.”
Although Antifa activists have been called “Anarchists” in the media, Alexander explains that members of his network maintain a set of different ideologies. “We have Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, people who have never participated in a protest in their lives and don’t identify as anything in particular. As opposed to the more underground and confrontational groups across the U.S. who are operating in secret, we are more open to new people who are just coming in and becoming radicalized and politicalized.”
He also objects to the focus on the disruption caused by the Antifa protest. "The record levels of violence against Jews, Muslims and immigrants from the Alt-Right and the administration, vastly overshadow any violence Antifa individuals are going to make. I think what we stand for is mass protest, strikes, shut downs. We see the solution coming from collective forms of resistance.”
Alexander supports protests against speeches and public appearances by leaders of the so-called "Alt-Right." “Free speech is one thing and hate speech is another. Hate speech that incites violence against people that are already oppressed and facing violence here in the U.S. The impulse is to reduce the presence of people who say that we do not have a right to exist as non-whites, non-Christians. I feel that this is perhaps necessary, at this point in time, with the wave of hate crimes and from the Alt-Right, I feel like we have to exercise this right or we will lose it.”