May 21, 2021
Intimidation of and violence against Jews in Seattle is once again being met with deafening silence. A pro-Palestinian rally at Westlake Park last Sunday quickly turned into a frenzy of hate against supporters of Israel who had peacefully gathered nearby and those quietly in the crowd, identified and deemed to be Zionists.
Rhythmic chants reverberated loudly among those in attendance. “Hey hey, ho ho, Israel has got to go,” “free free free Palestine” and “the Palestinians are oppressed, boycott, sanction and divest,” and more on the desired eradication of the State of Israel.
Elected officials and current candidates for public office were among the speakers. One speaker called on the crowd to remove a couple holding an Israeli flag and a sign which read “Make Peace Not War.” In response, a group of 40, several dressed in black paramilitary gear, surrounded the couple, ripped away their Israeli flag, stomped on it and set it ablaze. As the couple tried to flee, the young woman was grabbed and dragged from behind. Others who had come in peaceful support for Israel were similarly assaulted.
For most Seattleites, the horrors of the “Nakba 73” rally went unnoticed. Media coverage has been almost nonexistent, and no elected officials representing the city have spoken out to condemn these violent attacks and rhetoric against religious minorities in our city.
Why do individuals proclaiming to be the keepers of openness, liberalism and justice not reject Hamas, a murderous terror organization? Why is this terrorist organization not broadly condemned here? Why do many in this region remain impassive when facing some forms of hatred and discrimination and not others?
The Westlake rally took place the day after the anniversary of the end of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948, the same day as Israel’s independence was declared. This marked the 73rd anniversary of what many Palestinians call the Nakba, or disaster. At the time of the rally, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization that currently governs Gaza, already had fired more than 3,500 rockets into Israel.
Founded in 1987, Hamas is dedicated to eliminating the State of Israel and has opposed Arab leaders who have expressed a willingness to deal with Israel, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before,” states the Hamas charter. President Bill Clinton designated Hamas a terror organization in 1997, and the 27-member European Union, Canada and Japan have applied similar designations.
Israel, a democracy governed by the rule of law, has made every effort to seek peace with its neighbors. In 2005, Israel completely withdrew its forces and citizens from Gaza, and handed the coastal territory over to the Palestinian Authority (PA), its partner in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Hamas, however, violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007. PA President Abbas does not dare to visit Gaza, especially since Hamas attempted to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in 2018.
Instead of investing in bettering the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas has invested in developing tools of warfare to attack, maim and kill Israelis — rockets, missiles, vests for suicide bombers, and an elaborate tunnel network through which it moves weapons and terrorists. Every Hamas attack is intended to advance its ultimate goal of eliminating Israel and establishing an Islamic state on what today is Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
When President Abbas canceled the Palestinian elections slated for May 22, fearing Hamas might emerge victorious, Hamas saw an opportunity to challenge his leadership. It began to incessantly bombard Israel with rockets and mortars. Hamas’ assertions that it is defending the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, or opposing the possible eviction of six Palestinian families in east Jerusalem are diversions from its primary goal — the eradication of the Jewish state.
Imagine for a moment if a terrorist group was operating out of British Columbia and firing rockets into our state. Washington would have no choice but to defend itself. Israelis have at most 90 seconds to retreat to shelters after sirens warn of incoming rockets.
Israel has no choice but to defend its citizens. This defense includes unprecedented efforts to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, including warning civilians in advance to leave targeted areas before a strike. Hamas instructs civilians in Gaza, many of whom live in fear of violent reprisal, to stay put. Arms are deliberately stockpiled in hospitals, mosques, and schools. The essence of Hamas, its ideology and policies are antithetical to what everyone in our city and region purports to stand for.
In Seattle, we go to great lengths to fight for equality and to oppose racism and discrimination. And yet, when the actions of Hamas, a potent symbol of Jewish hatred and antisemitism, demands condemnation, its actions here are met with silence. Heinous acts of anti-Jewish hate and discrimination must be met with immediate and collective outrage. In our Seattle, where we see no room for hate, antisemitism should not and must not be an exception.
Regina Sassoon Friedland is director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Seattle region.