On April 25, over 1,000 New York-area Jewish extremists gathered in midtown Manhattan to rally against the Barack Obama administration's call for a freeze on construction in occupied East Jerusalem and to demand unlimited rights to colonize the West Bank. With Obama and top White House officials engaged in a charm offensive to repair their relationship with mainstream American Jewish organizations, speakers at the rally lashed out at the Jewish groups and Democratic politicians, warning that cozying up to Obama would endanger Israel and imperil their cherished settlement enterprise.
Schumer and another major New York-area Jewish Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner, have scrambled to appease the extreme pro-settler elements railing against Obama. On the radio show of Nachum Segal, a right-wing Orthodox Jew popular among the demonstrators, Schumer called Obama's demands to stop the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem "counter-productive" and boasted about warning White House aides that he would "publicly blast" them if the President did not relent.
But Schumer's pandering appeared to be futile. At the rally, demonstrators waved placards reading, "Where's Schumer?" and complained to me that the senator's criticism of Obama was too little, too late.
Meanwhile, according to the New York Jewish Week, Weiner had begged organizers for a chance to speak at the rally but was rebuffed out of fear that he might put "some sort of Democratic 'spin' on the president's policies." Beth Galinsky, a rally organizer, claimed Weiner was waiting in a nearby car during the rally, hoping that his desperate pleas would provide him an opportunity to address the crowd.
While the Democratic congressman was shut out, the Republican Jewish Coalition was afforded a prominent role at the demonstration beside far-right groups like the Zionist Organization of America, Z Street, Americans for a Safe Israel, members of Christians United for Israel, and Manhigut Yehudit, an anti-democratic group that calls for theocratic rule over Israel.
Supporters of Manhigut leader and Likud politician Moshe Feiglin distributed fliers promoting Feiglin's upcoming campaign for prime minister of Israel. An open advocate of ethnic cleansing who has proposed depriving the Palestinians of drinking water, Feiglin recently called Vice President Biden "a diseased leper."
While the pro-settler elements rallied in Manhattan, their counterparts from the radical Kahanist movement in the Hebron-based settlement of Tel Rumeidarampaged through Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, inciting violent confrontations while announcing their intention to rid the area of its historical Arab presence.
Dov Hikind, a Democratic New York Assemblymember who represents Orthodox Jewish areas in Brooklyn, is a longtime supporter of Baruch Marzel, the settler leader who orchestrated the provocations in East Jerusalem. "These are people who love us and help us, they are real lovers of Israel," Marzel once said of Hikind and his allies. Hikind's role as a keynote speaker at the New York rally was one of many hints that the events in Manhattan and Jerusalem were closely coordinated.
The Manhattan rally took on a distinctively Tea Party-flavor. Besides issuing maximalist calls for the expulsion of the Palestinians, demonstrators assailed Obama as a secret Muslim with no legitimate right to serve as President of the United States. When I was identified by a particularly ornery rally participant as "the self-hating asshole Max Blumenthal," I decided it was time to make my exit.
However, as I walked down 44th Street towards the subway, an elderly man grabbed me and attempted to snatch my camera (I had seen the gun-toting Marzel use similar tactics on anti-settlement activists documenting his exploits in the West Bank). "You're not a Jew! Give me the film!" the man exclaimed. A mob of demonstrators suddenly formed and began advancing towards me. Luckily, two NYPD officers were nearby. They pried the man off me and gave me enough time to escape. I paced for two blocks until I reached Grand Central Station then disappeared into the crowd.