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Attacks on the Pro-Palestine Movement Are Attacks on the Right to Protest

As the movement for Palestine against Israel’s brutal military invasion of Gaza and attacks on the West Bank continues at a lower intensity than last fall, the State is cracking down on the leaderships of the movement and rolling back gains made by the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020. The movement must grow in order to fight back against repression and protect our democratic right to protest.

Carmin Maffea

February 10, 2024
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A NYPD officer arrests a masked pro-Palestine protestors wearing a kaffiyeh while other cops and masked protesters look on.
NYPD Arrest a Pro-Palestine Protester on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo Credit: Luigi Morris

On February 2, police brutally repressed a pro-Palestine march at Columbia University that was organized in protest of the Columbia administration’s (lack of) response to ex-IDF members spraying skunk water at students during a previous protest.  Police arrested multiple protesters, including Nerdeen Kiswani, a prominent leader of the Palestinian liberation movement through Within Our Lifetime (WOL). This is the second consecutive targeted arrest of Kiswani in the few weeks. Last time, the charge was using a sound system without a permit; this time, the charges are unclear at the time of this writing. On Friday, February 9, Instagram permanently deleted the accounts of both Kiswani and WOL, another clear sign of targeting, which goes hand-in-hand with the way the NYPD has been targeting other protest leaders, such as those organized with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and the targeting of student groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) which have been banned at multiple universities – including at Columbia.  

As socialists and members of the Pro-Palestine movement, we condemn these attacks and call on everyone to come to the defense of Kiswani, WOL, and other targeted groups and individuals. If they touch one, they touch us all and we must fight back these attacks collectively. 

The specific charges brought against these protest leaders are arbitrary, as the NYPD searched for any excuse to make an arrest, but they are also an attempt to demoralize the movement by targeting Kiswani and others. Additionally, these arrests and more active repression by the NYPD are an attack on the right to mobilize and an attempt to dissuade social movements from organizing when and how we see fit. 

Since Israel’s genocidal assault of Gaza through indiscriminate bombardment and land invasion that began in October, people all over the world have taken to the streets in their respective countries to denounce the genocide with a wide array of demands, some calling for a permanent ceasefire, others calling for the complete liberation of Palestine and the end of Zionist occupation. In the heart of imperialism and Israel’s greatest ally, the United States, these mobilizations have been especially prevalent. With marches in the thousands in cities like New York and tens of thousands in Washington DC, those residing in the belly of the beast have made it abundantly clear that we will not sit back and let the imperialist monster that is the United States continue its onslaught on the oppressed peoples of the world. 

This fervor to fight back against Israel is the latest example, following other expressions like Black Lives Matter and union campaigns across the country, of the combative phenomenon that some have dubbed “Generation U” that has been developing from youth and workers’ latest experiences with racist capitalist oppression, exploitation, and disparity in the crisis of neoliberalism. In this latest example, the people of this generation are having a profound experience with imperialism, and Jewish activists are dispelling the lie that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are the same. 

While we offer support to all the organizations that are leading the movement in their fight for a Free Palestine and support them unconditionally against repression, we believe that the movement is lacking a clear strategy to unify our forces and to massify the movement. The leaderships of some sectors  do not have a clear strategy to massify the movement to more powerfully confront the state and win our demands, and as the bombardment and invasion rages on with greater intensity, the movement for Palestine, though still present, has been in a state of retreat. Similar to the process of the BLM uprising in 2020, the state is using the fact that the movement has retreated to make a more aggressive advance to suppress what remains and send a message to future social movements.

In the case of the Black Lives Matter movement, though it eventually retreated from the streets, it changed the culture of mobilizations. First, alongside lessons learned from experiences during the onset of the pandemic, it inspired people to mobilize in their workplaces to fight for union recognition due to the realizations that oppression is multifaceted from blatant murder by police to harsher exploitation of Black and Brown workers by the bosses. Second, protests became more confrontational with the state, rather than just demonstrations of discontent. Prior to the uprising, the common process to organize an action included requesting a permit to take the streets or a bridge and being told what is and what isn’t allowed such as drums and sound systems. After BLM, it became commonplace to take a bridge or the streets at any moment using drums and sound systems whenever protesters decided they had enough people to effectively do so regardless if they received permission or not — a significant gain in the relationship of forces in the street.

People recognizing their power in this way is something that inspired the greater militancy we see in Generation U and represents a form of retreat the state apparatus was forced to take.

The current repression we are seeing towards the Palestinian movement with the arrests of Nerdeen Kiswani and other protesters — first for the use a sound system, then simply to repress an action — signifies, in particular, the NYPD’s attempt to reestablish the dominance they had pre-BLM where their repression had more free reign. Not only is the specific targeting of Kiswani and other leaders such as those in the PSL an attempt to demoralize prominent leaders of the Palestinian movement through arrests that are becoming more common and charges that will likely become harsher; this strategy by the police also has greater implications of an attempt to smother the growing militancy of Generation U. The state, with the greenlight of both parties, is attempting to make an example of Kiswani and the other leaders and discourage those active in the movement from standing with them and accept the state’s boots on our necks and those of our Black and Brown working class siblings of the world. 

Our response must be nothing less than the complete opposite. When they try to beat us into submission, we need to stand with our hearts full of fury and strike back with every ounce of strength we have and show that the gains we’ve made didn’t come from bowing our heads. 

Now, more than ever, the movement needs to be massified. Student groups like SJP, social movement groups like JVP and WOL, and labor unions — whose memberships oppose the genocide and who face similiar forms of state repression — need to band their forces together to respond with the power of one fist and devastating blow against the growing draconian measures of state repression being used to smother each one of them. 

Most importantly, this must be done through the self organization of students, social movement groups, and workers, independent of the bourgeois misleadership that is the Democratic Party, which is spearheading not only the genocide but also the repression of the movement. That is why unions like the UAW must rescind their endorsement of “Genocide Joe” Biden, whose administration is acting as the leading butcher of the Middle East by supplying funds for the genocide in Gaza and stoking a regional war with other countries in the region such as Iran and Yemen. Union members must call on their leaders — many of whom have already been forced to call for a ceasefire — to establish these modes of self-organization and, if and when the bureaucracies of the unions do not, fight to form them on their own. The social movement organizations must begin to hold assemblies — open to members of the movement, community members, and workers — to decide the course of the movement and how to organize the fight back. 

Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Republicans and Democrats, the parties of capital and imperialism, are the enemy, and we must organize independently of them if we are to have any hope of actually ending the genocide and ultimately ending the occupation. 

If the state is going to consolidate its forces to advance genocide and imperialism as well as repress our movement and take our gains, we as workers of Generation U need to consolidate our forces against theirs in the places we are strongest–- in our workplaces, where we can stop the production and shipping of their weapons of war and shut down production in every industry these exploiters and warmongerers derive their profit from. With that, we as the movement will not only make clear who really calls the shots, but defeat our oppressors, win back our lives and truly liberate Palestine.

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Carmin Maffea

Carmin is a revolutionary socialist from New York.

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