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Activists confront pro-Israel rally at University of New Orleans

By Jacob Flom

New Orleans, LA – Students and community members confronted a pro-Israel rally titled “Declare Your Freedom” at the University of New Orleans (UNO) on Jan. 28. The event featured right-wing Zionist and notoriously anti-Arab speaker Daniel Pipes. About 30 young people were bused to the campus to support the Zionist rally.

But about two dozen UNO students and members of the General Union of Palestinian Students at UNO, joined by the community group Palestine Solidarity Committee, also showed up. These protesters staged a silent walk-out in the middle of the event, some holding signs. As they walked out en masse, they were joined by many others who were upset by anti-Arab and anti-gay marriage comments from the rally's speakers.

“The way they promoted it I found it a bit hateful,” said Maiadah Bader, a Palestinian UNO student, “they were trying to instigate us but we held our ground.”

“The rally was a mousetrap set up to incite a provocation from us,” said Palestine Solidarity Committee member Olga Rocheeva, “They were photographing protesters up close trying to provoke a response, in a political climate where Arabs and Muslims are facing repression.”

Members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee of New Orleans handed out informational fliers detailing life under Israeli apartheid and occupation. The flier included information on the hummus brand Sabra, a product sold on UNO's campus which has been widely criticized for its connection to Israeli military groups. Sabra and Tribe hummus brands have been the targets of successful boycott campaigns at numerous campuses across the country.

Jazz musician enters boycott debate

Renowned trumpet player and New Orleans native Kermit Ruffins played the national anthem for the event hosted by the “Allies of Israel” organization. Ruffins is purportedly considering a tour date in Israel, despite growing international pressure on musicians to respect the cultural and economic boycott of the apartheid state. Palestinian civil society made the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions – “BDS” – of Israel in 2005 based on the model that helped topple South African apartheid.

In recent weeks the mega-music festival Lollapalooza was forced to cancel their event in Israel due to lack of participants and Stevie Wonder cancelled a show for an Israeli Defense Forces fundraiser after a huge public outcry. Activists are hopeful that Ruffins will join hundreds of artists and musicians who refuse to endorse apartheid and occupation.

Palestine solidarity activism on the rise

In 2010, activists in New Orleans disrupted a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and held many large rallies in 2012 during Israel's Operation Pillar of Cloud, which killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza.

As the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement continues to gain momentum, activists in New Orleans look forward to local victories. In reference to the Jan. 28 rally, one protester remarked, “They don't know it yet, but they have awoken a sleeping giant.”

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