Protestors wearing sweatshirts with the logo of the right-wing Jewish Defense League attacked members of two groups protesting peacefully outside the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington on Sunday, leading to two arrests.
As 15,000 people attended sessions inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the annual gathering of protesters including groups that want Israel to be replaced by a Palestinian state, critics of Israeli settlement building and Satmar chasidim who believe Israel is an affront to God, was augmented by 1,000 members of IfNotNow, a Jewish group advocating an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Tensions began when IfNotNow demonstrators arrived at the convention center. About 20 people carrying Israeli flags and yellow flags with the fist logo of the JDL began yelling at them, calling the IfNotNow protestors anti-Semites and the pejorative “kapos,” and at one point chanting “Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, a couple dozen IfNotNow members chained themselves together in front of two main entrances to the convention center. As the group beat drums and chanted “Which side are you on?” shoving matches broke out with members of the JDL.
Police separated the two groups. But hostilities escalated a few hours later when several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators arrived and were addressed by activist and Union Theological Seminary professor Cornel West.
Video posted on Twitter by a French TV station shows a scuffle in which a man is on the ground, another man hits him with a flag pole and two men in black JDL sweatshirts with yellow writing kick the man on the ground.
— FranceNews24 (@FranceNews24) March 26, 2017
The Metropolitan Police Department identified the two people who were arrested as Yosef Steynovitz of Vaughan, Ont., and Rami Lubranicki of Howell, N.J. An article on the conservative news website Politichicks described Lubranicki as an “Israeli-born Jewish American and a proud American patriot” and the creator of the group American Bikers United against Jihad.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, said Steynovitz was charged Monday with assault with significant bodily injury, which is a felony, and Lubranicki was charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor.
Kamal Nayfeh, 55, who was identified in police documents as the man who was attacked, told WJW that he received treatment in the George Washington University emergency room for a cut near his eye and other injuries. He said the video posted on Twitter was the video of the event.
Nayfeh, who lives in North Carolina and teaches at a community college, described himself as Palestinian-American. He said that he was in Washington to visit his daughter, a law student, and he went to the protest to make sure she was safe.
The JDL did not respond to a request for comment.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the JDL’s violence is typical of the group, founded in the 1960s by Rabbi Meir Kahane.
“The JDL’s position and activities have always been violent counter-protests,” she said. “Their attitude is to take it to the streets and do in-your-face protest actions.”
Meir Weinstein, who described himself as the coordinator of the JDL, told WJW before most of the violence occurred that his organization was “primarily here to counter the anti-Israel mobs that are going to show up” and to protect Jews attending the conference, who he said were in danger of being attacked.
Earlier in the day, Weinstein posted a video to his Facebook page of himself on a flight from Toronto to Washington in which he said that “we operate 100 percent within the law, but we prevent people from being harmed.” He told WJW that members of his group had traveled to Washington from Canada, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
The Forward and other news outlets reported that the JDL is seeking to re-establish itself in the United States after a few years of inactivity.
Yonah Lieberman, a 25-year-old leader of IfNotNow, called their attackers “the worst of humanity. They’re holding onto a worldview that promotes nationalism and violence while we are furthering a worldview that supports freedom and dignity for all.”
On Sunday morning in front of the convention center, IfNotNow leaders read out names of the politicians who were scheduled to speak at AIPAC, and the crowd yelled, “shanda,” Yiddish for shame, in response.
On Monday night, they projected a large image of people protesting and the words “IfNotNow Jews reject Islamophobia” and “IfNotNow Jews reject AIPAC” onto AIPAC’s office building in Washington.
AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann declined to comment for this story.