Two demonstrations, one in support of Israel and another in support of the Palestinians, were held in Nassau County on Sunday afternoon after days of violent clashes between Israel and Hamas.
In Great Neck’s Firefighters Park, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, among other local elected officials, attended a demonstration to show support for Israel.
Further south, demonstrators in support of the Palestinians closed part of the intersection of Old Country Road and Glen Cove Road after marching from U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice’s office in Garden City.
Adele Tehrani, who worked to organize support for Israel in Great Neck, said to the crowd: “We are all here today for one sole purpose: to recognize and express our love and support for Israel and demand that she has the God given right to defend herself. Recognize we are a peaceful people who value life, and just desire the same level of respect and awareness that others receive when their people come under fire.”
At the demonstration for the Palestinians, Toufique Harun, an organizer with Muslims for Progress, gave his reason for attending the march, saying though he doesn’t want Israelis to die, he also doesn’t want Palestinians to die. “We reject this notion that human rights and the existence of one people requires taking away the rights and existence of other people,” he said.
Police estimates put the attendance in Great Neck at around 800. The Palestinian march along Old Country Road was estimated at 400 people.
Karen Lichtbraun, a member of the New York-based organization Yad Yamin, said she thought an incorrect media representation of Israel was resulting in violence against Jews.
“The false narrative is that what Israel is doing is illegal, Israel is the aggressor, Israel is an apartheid state,” she said. “It gets translated to Jews getting beaten up here in the United States.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told those at the Great Neck rally that an increased police presence is possible if necessary, saying “we will do everything we can to keep you safe.”
Curran, a Democrat who recently announced her re-election campaign, went on to say, “If it is OK to attack Jewish people, it is open season on all of us.”
Mary Shatara, a Palestinian-American, attended the other demonstration, and said, “The country Israel [is] doing horrible things to the Palestinians and suppressing their voices and suppressing their livelihood. That’s something that we want corrected.”
Stefanie Nanes taught Middle East politics for Hofstra University’s spring semester as an associate professor of political science. The most recent violence escalated on her last day of class, and although she spent the semester reviewing the complex history and various aspects of the region’s internal politics, she still felt there was more to cover.
“Even by the end of the class, I honestly felt that I still hadn’t equipped my students with what they needed to know to understand,” Nanes said.
In addition to Curran, Great Neck’s demonstration featured county Legislator Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) along with Ted Rosen, mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza.
“I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world,” said Rosen. “How desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”
No politicians attended the demonstration in support of the Palestinians.
“That should be your first clue of at least where the politicians see the votes,” Nanes said. “And they’re probably right.”
But for Tehrani, her focus while organizing the event was to take no notice of politics and focus on supporting Israel.
“Put everything that usually divides us aside,” Tehrani said. “Today we’re just here to support Israel, and our love for the Jewish people and address the fight against anti-Semitism.”
Tehrani said it was urgent to address this behavior, adding, “If you’re Jewish you’re now a target.”
Ron Wasserman, chairman of Fuel for Truth, a nonprofit that combats misinformation about Israel, said: “Anti-Semitism over the centuries has mutated. There is a new mutation today, and that is this anti-Israel rhetoric.”
And while hostile behavior against American Jews was a focal point of Sunday’s demonstration, Wasserman noted the deep relationship between the Jewish community and the biblical holy land.
“Every Jew is connected to that land,” Wasserman said. “We are not colonial settlers; Jews came back to their ancestral homeland.”
A similar relationship was expressed by Shatara, who hopes to return land to the Palestinians and pause people’s displacement.