CAMERA Fellow Ben Suster.
CAMERA Fellow Ben Suster.

From presidential candidates to a spectacular rotating stage that left me with more questions than answers, AIPAC put their entire heart into throwing the Super Bowl of Israel conferences. Organizers go above and beyond to ensure we leave the conference with a better understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future. However this isn’t a Policy Conference promotion and I must admit that the majority of my learning came from a more outside source; and by that I mean from physically outside the doors of the conference.

With unending apologies to AIPAC and my mother, my biggest takeaways from the conference arose from spending time with the scores of anti-Israel protesters set-up in front of the convention center.

I estimate that there were close to 400 protesters whose only goal that day was to make our walk to the main entrance a dash more annoying than it would have been otherwise. Conversation with individuals who held signs equating Israel with the KKK typically go against my number one rule of valuing my time. But seeing my friends outnumbered and surrounded by these bigots inevitably had me concerned for their safety.

I ultimately joined them outside and initially stayed true to my values by keeping to myself and documenting the brawls and arrests on my phone. However, once outside, it was virtually impossible to remain unalarmed.

Ben Suster with protestors before things got really ugly.
Ben Suster with the protestors outside the AIPAC conference before things got really ugly.

The nature of the protesters’ shared hatred revealed itself through bouts of physical and verbal assault with conference goers and the police.

I witnessed a conference participant tripping on a row of police motorcycles as he was backing away from a fight, who then lay defenseless as he took blows to the face by protesters. He was pulled out of the pile by officers and escaped into the side entrance along with a freshly bruised face.

A photo taken by Ben Shuster of protestors.

Officers were scolded by the more passive protesters and were told that they should be ashamed of themselves for protecting the 18,000 conference attendees. Such a heinous absence of civility is only fostered through hatred and the world must stop fooling itself into believing that such mob mentalities are only found at Trump rallies.

An obsessive loathing for the Jewish state, instead of an unconditional love for the Palestinian people, is what drives a group of people to demand that the police to call it a day, subsequently enabling protestors to overthrow a conference.

Only the most passionate anti-Semites would gravitate to a conference for what they believe is the functioning head of the world’s banks, media, and ISIS. There were the inevitable casual calls for the expulsion of Jews into the sea as well as frustration expressed over their beliefs that Jews control the world.

I’ve been referred to as a Zionist pig and colonizer in the past, yet this was a new experience for me. To be informed that they “aren’t falling for our tricks anymore,” that the “anti-Semitism card is played out” and that “[us] Jews can’t deceive for much longer” was both startling and confusing. I was asked why I hate our country so much that I would attend a conference whose only end game is to destroy Congress. While it’s disturbing that we still live in a society where these primitive superstitions persist, it’s vital to understand that this was an overwhelming sentiment shared by the crowd.

The temptation to engage with the protestors eventually overcame me. Watching this living and breathing form of hatred left me with a sense of angst that could only be absolved through confrontation. I understood I was subhuman to them but rather than provoke the perpetually provoked I attempted practical dialogue.

Each attempt I made to engage with the protestors was discouraged because they believed that I was only present so I could learn how to more efficiently trick them in the future. In hindsight this is partially true considering how I grasped that their narrative is overwhelmingly based on lies and myths. It was common belief that children are being dragged from their beds and executed on the streets. When hate is left to fester, evidence isn’t needed to believe that the IDF plants knives next to Palestinians after they’re neutralized.

Violently referring to families as “fucking cockroaches” as they were escorted by security into the convention center was as eye-opening as it was frightening. I was called a “ZioNazi,” “fascist” and was informed that I am worthy of being stabbed along with everyone else who supports Israel. While flattering, I can’t help but wonder if my grandparents believed escaping Nazi occupied Poland would be the end of such a reality.

Although I am still trying to wrap my head around this extreme afternoon, I recognize that the protest itself was a manifestation of the underlying cause of this conflict. Only the ideology that Jews don’t belong in Israel can lead to such detestation; not land disputes.

Nevertheless, my head is held higher than it has ever been. Meditating on these moments was difficult, but I was desperate for a silver lining. Celebrating Purim the day after the conference, I came to understand that we have seen this hatred before. Ironically it’s because of this reason alone that we must keep pushing forward and nurturing hope; because like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, and Nazis before these protesters, this will pass.

Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at UCF Ben Suster.

Apply for the 2016-2017 CAMERA Fellowship here!

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