May 31, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 605

MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky In 'Wall Street Journal' Op-Ed: 'Who's Behind the Anti-Israel Protests – Hamas, Hezbollah, The Houthis And Others Are Grooming Activists In The U.S. And Across The West'

May 31, 2024 | By Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D.*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 605

On April 22, 2024, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky titled "Who's Behind the Anti-Israel Protests," subtitled "Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and others are grooming activists in the U.S. and across the West." The following is the op-ed in full.

Protests against Israel expanded on college campuses last week, sometimes turning violent. At Columbia University, demonstrators chanted support for terrorist organizations, burning the American flag and waving Hezbollah's. They called for Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades to attack again, and taunted Jewish students: "Never forget the 7th of October," and "That will happen... 10,000 more times!"

It isn't only on campuses. Three men interrupted the Easter vigil at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, unfurling a banner and shouting "Free Palestine." Since Oct. 7, countless religious and national, political and sports events have been disrupted by such demonstrations, whose organizers know how to maximize exposure and sway public perceptions. What is most discouraging is the lack of attention to what the protesters are demanding, which goes far beyond a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Take the March 28 re-election fundraiser for President Biden in New York featuring Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, which was disrupted by shouting in the auditorium. That made headlines, yet the protesters' chants, including "Down with the USA" and the "Al-Qassam are on their way," a reference to Hamas's miliary wing, received no coverage. Neither did their physical threats to attendees outside, a common tactic. Also ignored are the flags and posters of designated terrorist organizations—Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—displayed at protests in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Major terror organizations have expressed support for these protests and disruptive actions, which have long been a key part of Hamas's plan to win hearts and minds in the West. As early as a decade ago, during the July-August 2014 Israel-Gaza war, Hamas's Interior Ministry issued guidelines to social-media activists on framing events for a Western audience.

It is no coincidence that official statements by Hamas and major jihadist groups about the protests are nearly identical. The statements seem like talking points for pressuring U.S. and Western decision makers. They appear to be working. On April 4 President Biden, under massive pressure for supporting Israel, warned Israel of major changes to U.S. policy if it didn't ease its military campaign in Gaza. Hamas seized on the U.S.-Israel dispute with a statement calling on "all free people of the world" to protest.

A blatant example of jihadist talking points came from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on March 13, when he lauded the political activity of American Muslims in Michigan as "very influential." He said of the "many people demonstrating in America" that "we should salute them" and called the "uncommitted" primary campaign against Mr. Biden, which originated in Dearborn, Mich., "the most important means of pressure on the Biden administration." Mr. Nasrallah had already cited the effect of protests "in Washington, New York, London, Paris and Western Europe" in a Nov. 11 speech, lauding their power to "apply pressure on their governments."

Every senior Hamas leader has also acknowledged the importance of the protests and said that influencing U.S. and Western policy is part of the organization's strategy for destroying Israel. Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader abroad, on Oct. 10 urged supporters to protest "in cities everywhere." On Oct. 31, he said that the organization's friends "on the global left" were responding to its appeal. On March 27, he called for millions to take to the streets in protest, saying there had been an unprecedented shift in global public opinion.

On Oct. 7, Hamas leader and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh alluded to this on Al Jazeera TV. He exhorted the "resistance abroad," "strategic allies" and Muslims worldwide—all "partners in creating this great victory"—to "join this battle any way they can." Hamas political bureau member Osama Hamdan underlined the "large impact" of the protests "in pressuring the decision makers in the world" in an interview on Nov. 12.

Six months after the attack on Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and others aren't merely cheering those protesting in the streets. They are working with and grooming activists in the U.S. and the West, through meetings, online interviews and podcasts.

Haytham Abdo, a PFLP representative, highlighted this cooperation in a Jan. 31 interview with Brian Becker, national coordinator of the Answer Coalition, a hard-left antiwar umbrella group. Mr. Abdo said this is the "first time" there has been such a "massive demonstration" of support in the U.S. Claiming that more than 50% of young Americans are now pro-Palestinian, he said, "We see that the Biden, or the American, administration, now, [is] affected by this transformation in the U.S. people."

On March 25, the Columbia University Apartheid Divest student group hosted an event called "Resistance 101" on campus. It featured leaders of the PFLP-affiliated Samidoun, Within Our Lifetime and other extremist organizations. At the event, former PFLP official Khaled Barakat referred to his "friends and brothers in Hamas, Islamic Jihad [and] the PFLP in Gaza," saying that particularly after Oct. 7, "when they see students organizing outside Palestine, they really feel that they are being backed as a resistance and they're being supported." On March 30 on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, Mr. Barakat said "the vast majority" of young Americans and Canadians now "support armed resistance" because of "the introduction of colonialism, racism, and slavery studies into history curricula."

At a Jan. 21 New York event held by the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party, an official Hamas statement was read and videos were screened from PFLP, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Houthi officials. Ibrahim Mousawi, a Hezbollah member of Lebanon's Parliament, underscored his organization's support for the protests, saying they are "much needed and very much appreciated by our people here" and that "we really support this work." Hezbollah and Western activists, he said, stand "together, one front" against Israel, against the U.S. and its "tyranny," and against "Western hegemony and imperialism." Houthi leader Nasreddine Aamir also thanked and commended the protesters in the West who "take a stand and participate in marches and go out in the streets."

The collaboration between senior terrorists and their growing list of friends in the U.S. and the West has real-world consequences. These groups are designated terrorist for a reason. They don't plan marches and rallies—they carry out terrorist attacks. And when the U.S. and Western activists, including college students, see that their marches and protests aren't achieving their goals, they may consider their next steps—which will be influenced by the company they have been keeping.

*Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D., is Executive Director of MEMRI.

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