A pro-Palestinian protests against the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting, in New York City, November 29, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Protesters brandish swastikas at pro-Palestinian rally outside Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting

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Protesters brandish swastikas at pro-Palestinian rally outside Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting

A pro-Palestinian protests against the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting, in New York City, November 29, 2023. (Luke Tress)

(New York Jewish Week) — At least two protesters brandished signs with swastikas at an anti-Israel protest targeting the annual Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday night.

One demonstrator held a sign with the Nazi symbol and the words “Israeli military.” The protester was forcibly ejected from the event by other participants who shouted at him and trampled his sign, prompting police to separate the two sides.

Another protester carried a sign that compared Jews to Nazis via a blood-spattered swastika intertwined with a Star of David and the words, “The irony of becoming what you once hated.”

The protest took place at 47th Street and 6th Avenue, near but not at the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which was attended by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and featured performances from Cher, Barry Manilow and others. More than 1,000 protesters instead crowded onto the block next to another massive Christmas tree at the News Corp. company headquarters. The protest coincided with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on Wednesday. Dozens of police cordoned off the crowd on the sidelines of the event as tourists passed by, and traffic was blocked off on adjacent streets.

The organization that led the protest, Within Our Lifetime, has led near-daily protests of Israel during its war against Hamas in Gaza. The group calls for Israel’s destruction and endorsed the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel in which terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped some 240, along with committing other atrocities. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s counter-offensive, a figure that is not verifiable and does not distinguish between combatants and civilians or denote casualties from misfired Palestinian rockets.

The leader of Within Our Lifetime, Nerdeen Kiswani, indicated her support for Hamas on Instagram last week, posting a picture of a boy kissing a Hamas fighter under the caption “Do you condemn Ham-.”

“We must defend the Palestinian right to resist zionist settler violence and support Palestinian resistance in all its forms. By any means necessary. With no exceptions and no fine print,” the group said on Instagram on Oct. 7.

Within Our Lifetime billed Wednesday’s protest as “Flood the tree lighting for Gaza,” evoking Hamas’ name for the Oct. 7 attack, “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.”

A passerby who questioned protesters about the Hamas attack was berated and driven away from the rally, with police intervening between the two sides.

“NYPD, KKK, IDF they’re all the same,” the protesters chanted at police.

After protesters started marching, scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police. The NYPD said seven people had been taken into custody for one felony, five misdemeanors and one juvenile report.

In addition to the swastikas, other rhetoric and signs at the demonstration employed antisemitic imagery. Signs at the event said, “Zionist donors and trustees hands off our universities,” and showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding President Joe Biden on a dog leash, evoking stereotypes about Jewish money and power.

Protesters also lashed Biden for his support of Israel, chanting, “Genocide Joe has got to go.”

Protesters explicitly called for the destruction of Israel, chanting, “End the settler Zionist state” and “We don’t want no two states, we want all of it.” Signs in the crowd read “Victory to the Palestinian resistance” and “Globalize the intifada,” which protesters also chanted, a reference to a campaign of terror attacks 20 years ago that killed an estimated 1,000 Israelis.

The crowd also chanted in favor of a ceasefire. A temporary ceasefire, agreed upon in exchange for Hamas releasing Israeli hostages, was in effect at the time of the protest.

Organizers claimed Jesus — a Jew who, according to Christian scripture, was born in Bethlehem in what is today the West Bank, and lived in the Galilee in what is presently Israel — as a Palestinian. They called to “suspend Christmas celebrations” due to the war alongside a protest by some churches in Bethlehem.

“Palestine is the birthplace of Christianity, Jesus was a Palestinian, how can celebrations go on as normal when his birthplace is being attacked,” Within Our Lifetime said in a post announcing the event. One protester carried a sign saying, “Jesus was a Palestinian Jew.”

Within Our Lifetime also targeted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. During that event, protesters defaced the facade of the New York Public Library, causing $75,000 in damage.

The group sparked backlash earlier this month by posting maps online showing the location of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in New York and encouraging its followers to target the institutions.

Jews are consistently targeted in hate crimes more than any other group in New York City, with over 230 antisemitic incidents reported to police so far this year. Anti-Jewish hate crimes have surged since Oct. 7, according to NYPD data.

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