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02:51

13 APR 2024

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  • Jenna Romano

Who Is Pulling the Strings Behind Pro-Palestinian Protests in the US?

palestine flag with puppet strings

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, tens of thousands of participants have joined pro-Palestinian protests across the US. Drawing in crowds in the thousands on university campuses and marching in some of the biggest cities in the US. Although these aren’t the biggest anti-war protests the country has seen in its history, the pro-Palestinian movement is suddenly drawing more attention than ever. 


Today, there is growing support for Palestinians—especially among younger generations. This stands in sharp contrast to the past where the majority of attendees at pro-Palestinian rallies were generally those who identified as Palestinian or Muslim or those on the political fringe. Experts have weighed in on what unites these pro-Palestinian crowds and why it seems more impassioned than ever, noting that generations such as GenZ have experienced an increased sensitivity to racism and discriminatory policies. This is in addition to the influence of social media on sentiment around the issue. 


In the two months following the start of the Israel-Hamas war, there have been more than a million Americans participating in nearly 2,600 pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests, marches and vigils since October 7. The tens of thousands joining pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been met with scrutiny as leaders question who is organizing and funding the rallies, which have sometimes become violent.  “While nearly all of the early actions were demonstrations, rallies, marches, or protests on public sidewalks and streets, we’ve also seen a significant increase since mid-October of acts of civil disobedience and other deliberately disruptive actions,” Jay Ulfelder, wrote in a Counting Crowds blog post.  



Who Is Organizing Pro-Palestine Protests?


What follows is a review of some of the more prominent pro-Palestinian organizations in North America and their activities in the months following the start of the Israel-Hamas war. This includes an examination of who their members are, where they are based, and where the majority of their funding comes from. All in the context of their involvement and influence on the pro-Palestinian rallies popping up all over the US and beyond.   


Here are the groups that are behind these rallies:



1. Students for Justice in Palestine 


Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is an organization originally founded at UC Berkeley whose mission is “to develop a connected, disciplined movement that is equipped with the tools necessary to contribute to the fight for Palestinian liberation.”  The organization, which has fueled activism for Palestinians across university campuses in the United States, has over 200 chapters nationwide


Pro-Palestinian Protests Organized by the SJP And Its Support of Terrorism 

 

After the Hamas attacks on October 7, SJP was scrutinized for distributing a “Day of Resistance'' tool kit.  The five-page packet appears to support the assault by the terrorist organization, stating that members of SJP are “PART of this moment, not in solidarity with this movement,” and included an advertising template featuring an image of a Hamas paraglider. 


Since then, SJP chapters have organized protests and walkouts in support of Palestine on numerous campuses—and they have drawn fierce criticism. Some of these chapters have been called out by college students, administrators and the wider Jewish community for inciting violence, promoting antisemitism, and igniting campus tensions.


In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis deactivated SJP chapters at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida for “providing material support for a foreign terrorist organization.” 


Columbia University and George Washington University suspended their chapters until the end of the fall semester for violating campus policies, while Brandeis University banned the organization from its campus. 


One of the most prominent events organized by SJP was on October 12, 2023, as more and more colleges became points of protest concerning the Israeli-Hamas war. Here, SJP called on students for a “Day of Resistance,” sparking tensions as many critics called out the group for “condoning terrorism by Hamas by repackaging it as justified acts of resistance.” 


Who Funds SJP? 


Because the organization is not registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, there is not much financial information they are required to disclose. Pro-Israel organizations believe SJP is supported by the anti-Israel organization American Muslims for Palestine, which is known to have ties with pro-Hamas individuals. 



2. Jewish Voice for Peace  


Based in the US, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was formed in 1996 and today is the self-proclaimed “largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world” for left-wing Jewish activists. They are an anti-Zionist movement that also supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. At the same time, the group rejects the idea that their organization is antisemitic.  


In the days following the October 7 attacks in Israel, JVP attributed the massacre carried out by Hamas to Israeli “apartheid and occupation.” They stated that “inevitably, oppressed people everywhere will seek—and gain—their freedom” and called the attack “the latest unprecedented wave of resistance” by Palestinians. Its chapter at Columbia University was suspended in November for violating campus policies during one of its events. 


Pro-Palestinian Protests Organized by JVP And Questions About Dark Money Funding 


There have been a number of pro-Palestinian events in the US headed by JVP since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. While these are generally termed by their organizers as anti-war protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, JVP has been cited by critics for promoting antisemetic rhetoric and defending Hamas following the October 7 terrorist attacks.


Alongside IfNotNow, JVP led a rally in Washington DC on October 16, 2023, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Also in Washington, the pro-Palestinian group demonstrated outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The protesters criticized President Joseph Biden and his administration for providing support to Israel.


In New York City, JVP has organized protests attended by thousands. Toward the end of October, one of the protests ended with over 300 people arrested as members occupied Grand Central Station in protest of the Israel-Hamas war. On November 6, 2023, 500 members held a sit-in at the Statue of Liberty demanding a ceasefire


Who funds the JVP? 


In its 2021 federal tax returns, JVP reported revenue of nearly $2.9 million. Most of the organization's funding comes from individual contributions, but it is also known to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from organizations including the Kaphan Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Open Society Policy Center (backed by George Soros). Critics question the dark money being given to organizations like JVP to boost attendance at pro-Palestinian events.


 

3. IfNotNow 


According to their mission statement, IfNotNow is “A movement of American Jews organizing our community to end US support for Israel's apartheid system and demand equality, justice, and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis.” 


The activist organization was started during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Its founding members include Yonah Lieberman, Kara Segal, Max Berger, and Simone Zimmerman. Today, with thousands of members, its primary activities include protests and sit-ins at the headquarters of leading American Jewish communal organizations. 


Pro-Palestinian Protests Organized by IfNotNow Blame Jews October 7 Massacre 


IfNot Now has been criticized in the past for a lack of dialogue with those it criticizes in the Jewish community. While they condemned civilian deaths on both sides, spokespersons had strong criticisms of Israel on October 7. On social media, they posted the following statement: “We cannot and will not say today’s actions by Palestinian militants are unprovoked, the strangling siege on Gaza is a provocation.” 


Since then, the organization held anti-Israel protests in major cities across the country. Along with JVP, the group held a demonstration outside of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington on November 15. Although it was promoted as a candle-lighting event, protesters clashed with Capitol Police and a number were arrested for violence and assault. In December 2023, the group demanded a ceasefire by blocking traffic on the busy 110 freeway in Los Angeles, bringing traffic to a complete halt as they chanted and wore shirts reading “Not In Our Name.”   


Who Funds IfNotNow? 


According to tax forms, IfNotNow’s total revenue in 2021 was just under $397,000. In addition to individual donations which are processed through ActBlue Charities, it also receives funding from organizations including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Foundation for Middle East Peace,  Sixteen Thirty Fund, and the Tides Network



4. Within Our Lifetime


Within Our Lifetime is a Palestinian-led community organization based in New York since 2015. It was founded by anti-Israel activists Fatima Mousa Mohammad and Nerdeen Kiswani, who have both been criticized in the past for using blatant antisemitic expressions and rhetoric aimed at vilifying Zionists. 


Over the past eight years, its focus has been on running campaigns aimed at boycotting Israel, “globalizing the intifada” and other forms of what they deem pro-Palestinian activism. Their website includes rally toolkits with lyrics for chants many have denounced as antisemitic, such as “From the river to the sea! Palestine will be free!” and “From New York to Gaza! Globalize the Intifiada!”  


On October 7, the group was blasted for publishing a map of New York City detailing locations of Jewish organizations. The post, which was deleted later that week, called for an “intifada” writing the words “KNOW YOUR ENEMY” in all caps. 


Pro-Palestinian Protests Organized by Within Our Lifetime Are Funded By Pro-China Propagandists 


Since October 7, the organization has led attention-drawing demonstrations throughout New York City drawing in thousands of participants. These demonstrations have often been criticized for their disruptions. Toward the end of October 2023, a “Flood Manhattan for Gaza” rally led thousands of people to call for a ceasefire through largely Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn into Manhattan. As the group marched over the Brooklyn Bridge it became so crowded by participants the city had to close it to traffic temporarily. 


On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the organization held similar protests, the latter blocking the entrance to JFK Airport as participants likened the IDF and NYPD to the KKK. Along with the organization CodePink, the group organized another “Flood Manhattan” event on Martin Luther King Day in New York City. Accusing Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of somehow being an institution complicit with genocide, protesters walked past the hospital shouting “Shame” and “Genocide” as children, healthcare workers, and patients watched from the entrance and windows. 

 

Who Funds Within Our Lifetime? 


The organization’s website says that Within Our Lifetime has been entirely funded by grassroots donations. The People’s Forum, run by Neville Roy Singham and his wife, are some of the main financial drivers behind many of the protests organized by Within Our Lifetime in New York City. 


Singham’s network is known to influence liberal mainstream discourse concealed in philanthropy. Through a network of nonprofit groups and shell companies, Singham is known to disguise pro-Palestinian advocacy as independent content and works closely with Chinese government media outlets, providing worldwide funding for its media operations. 


5. Party for Socialism and Liberation 


The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is a Communist-party-affiliated organization in the US established in 2004. Although the organization does not release member numbers, it claims to have over 100 chapters across the United States. On October 7, the organization released a statement in support of the Hamas terror attacks. In response to the acts of the terrorist organization, PSL’s statement read that “resistance to apartheid and fascist-type oppression is not a crime” and claimed it was inevitable within the context of the ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict. 


Pro-Palestine Protests Organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation   

 

Following October 7, PSL has sponsored several anti-Israel rallies, drawing hundreds of participants. Following the attack, rallies in cities including Denver, Seattle, and Raleigh held throughout October 2023 were criticized by pro-Israel groups for promoting antisemitic slander. The Anti-Defamation League reported slogans stating “Zionism = Hitler,” and “Israel has holoCOSTED us 7000+ children” on rallygoers’ signs.



6. Palestinian Youth Movement

 

The Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM)  is a “transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians dedicated to the liberation of our homeland and people” with chapters across the US and Canada.  


It has expressed support for terrorism against Israel and frequently engages in inflammatory rhetoric about Zionism, including calls to stigmatize and ban Zionists from community spaces. 


The group has organized protests in the Bay Area, New York, and San Diego. On their website, they state that their “vision is to mobilize Palestinian youth, strengthen our role and assume responsibility and accountability to our national struggle.” 


Pro-Palestinian Protests Organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement   


PYM’s Shut It Down For Palestine events brought in thousands of protesters in cities across the United States. The day before Christmas Eve, protests in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago decried Israel’s war in Gaza and vowed there would be “No Xmas as Usual in a Genocide” and “organized actions to boycott, disrupt and rally at commercial centers.” These were similar to protests held on Black Friday when the group called for tens of thousands to “boycott, disrupt and rally at commercial centers.” 


7. Samidoun


Samidoun is a pro-Palestinian group based in Canada acting as a “main advocate for the release of Palestinian prisoners.” The organization has proven to have ties with the controversial Boston Mapping Project as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was designated a terrorist organization by Israel’s Defense Ministry in 2021. On October 7, Samidoun posted photos on Instagram showing pro-Palestinian activists celebrating the Hamas attack in Israel.


Pro-Palestine protests organized by Samidoun Call for Defeating the US And Canada 


Samidoun has international reach and is known to back protests in Europe as well as in North America. In coordination with groups including the Palestine Campaign, they have held National Day of Action protests in some of the world's biggest cities, including New York, Washington DC, and London, in addition to drawing thousands to rally in Canada. In October 2023, Germany banned the group from publicly protesting and holding events. Organizers also made headlines in Brussels in 2022, when one of its members, Mohammad Khatib, told reporters “Defeating Israel means defeating the US. Defeating Israel means defeating Canada.” 

 

Jenna Romano

Jenna Romano


Jenna Romano is a writer, editor and blogger. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Telavivian, Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Portfolio, Wix Blog, and more.

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