AIPAC Dinner Protest in Oakland, Monday, December 13, 2004
These photos and videos were taken at the protest outside the "East Bay Annual AIPAC Membership Event," a dinner hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. The event was held at the Oakland Marriott City Center Hotel in downtown Oakland, at 6pm on Monday, December 13, 2004.
A coalition of five anti-Israel activist groups -- the International Solidarity Movement, Justice in Palestine Coalition, United for Peace and Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Middle East Children's Alliance -- put out the call for a major protest outside the event.
As the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States, AIPAC has recently come under fire from radical groups who want to end all US aid to Israel. At the same time, AIPAC has become embroiled in a controversial espionage scandal, in which a Pentagon employee is said to have supplied classified documents to AIPAC representatives. AIPAC denies any wrongdoing, and recent evidence suggests that the entire "scandal" is part of a set-up intentionally designed to embarrass AIPAC, which was then (naturally) blown out of all proportion by the media.
To add to the tension, US Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Howard Kohr, AIPAC National Executive Director, were the scheduled speakers at the dinner. Security was going to be very, very tight.
I had expected a huge turnout, but when I arrived I was a bit surprised at how small the protest was. There were only about 100 people in the crowd.
The protesters seem to have perfected the science of making signs that border right on the cusp between being anti-Israel and being anti-Semitic.
I had a hard time visualizing the concept "Prostitutes Against Compromise."
It didn't take me long to realize that most of the protesters were the same crew of professional agitators who show up at every event. This nut, who seems to have no life whatsoever aside from dressing up as Uncle Sam and haunting every protest with anti-Semitic signs, had spruced up his usual message with a couple of skulls.
Here's a close-up of the back of his hat.
I waded into the crowd.
Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs were much in evidence.
But when I got to to other end of the crowd, I noticed a proliferation of American and Israeli flags. Apparently San Francisco Voice for Israel (a pro-Israel activist group) had also gotten wind of the event and rallied about 40 counter-protesters.
This guy was not about to cower in the face of the Israel-haters. He stood his ground and argued with anyone who waved a Palestinian flag at him.
Another professional anti-Semite who attends all the rallies was harassing cars that were dropping off hotel guests. A couple of Israel-supporters went over and tried to neutralize his message.
Before long the chanting started. The Israel-bashers landed the first blow. Click here to see and hear protesters chanting "AIPAC, AIPAC, You can't hide, We charge you with genocide!" (QuickTime movie, 1.1mb).
But the Israel-supporters had brought a bullhorn too, and countered with their own slogans. Click here to see and hear counter-protesters chanting "Racist, sexist, anti-gay: Islamofascists go away!" (QuickTime movie, 1.3mb). This is the first time I've ever heard the word "Islamofascist" used in a protest chant!
Soon, tensions boiled over and the groups were chanting at each other simultaneously. Click here to see and hear duelling protesters chanting "2, 4, 6, 8, Stop the jihad, End the hate!" (on one side) and "2, 4, 6, 8, Israel is a racist state!" (on the other). (QuickTime movie, 2.8mb).
I changed personas and entered the hotel -- not as a protester, but as an event guest.
Turns out the dinner itself was on the other side of the hotel. The guards made sure no unauthorized visitors entered.
Security was everywhere. All attendees had to pass through metal detectors and the scrutiny of several security agents.
I retreated back outside to discover that a man was performing a Muslim prayer ritual directly in front of the Marriott Hotel entrance. Was he part of the protest?
It soon became clear why he chose this exact location to spread out his prayer rug: many of the invited banquet attendees were arriving at this entrance, and had to step around him as he knelt down to pray.
He kept at it for several minutes; none of the employees did anything to disturb him, nor did they ask him to move.
Passing cars honked at the protesters, though it wasn't clear which side the drivers were supporting.
It wouldn't be a real protest without at least one Rachel Corrie shrine.
A parting message.
The protest started to break up after a couple hours, and I called it a night.