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Pro-Palestinian events across the U.S. trigger outrage from many politicians

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People around the world showed support for Israel in recent days. Landmarks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the White House in Washington were lit in blue and white, the colours of the Israeli flag.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But some Americans also marched in support of Palestinians or issued statements blaming Israel. These activists highlighted Israel's ongoing treatment of Palestinians in the generations-old conflict over land.

INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann has been tracking this. Brian, good morning.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who's marching for the Palestinians?

MANN: Well, these are progressive and far-left groups and Islamic political organizations that have long advocated for Palestinian independence. Here's the sound of a protest in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) From the river to the sea.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Palestine will be free.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Palestine will be free.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Be free, Palestine.

MANN: And it's worth pointing out, Steve, that song, that chant, by some interpretations, calls for establishment of a Palestinian state with borders that could effectively erase Israel from the map. There were pro-Palestinian protest marches with hundreds of people in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, San Diego and Washington, D.C. At some of these rallies, pro-Israel protesters also gathered, and in some places, scuffles broke out between activists.

INSKEEP: Weren't there also student groups at Harvard University that issued a statement on this?

MANN: Yeah, that's right. Roughly 30 Harvard student groups, many led by Arab or Muslim activists or students with ties to predominantly Muslim countries - they co-signed this letter which reads - and I'm quoting here, Steve - "We hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence." These groups described Israel as a colonial apartheid country.

INSKEEP: OK. I understand the political argument or the historical argument they're making. In the 1940s, Israelis and Palestinians, according to the U.N., were both supposed to get a state. Israelis got theirs. The Palestinians didn't. In more recent times, Gaza has been isolated and surrounded by giant walls put up by Israel. But the most recent news here is of Hamas fighters killing or kidnapping women and children. How did the activists account for that?

MANN: Yeah, the timing of these marches, Steve, as some Israeli neighborhoods were still under siege, sparked rage from many politicians. You know, Democrats and Republicans spoke out, especially here in New York. Governor Kathy Hochul called the New York City march abhorrent and morally repugnant. Senator Chuck Schumer described the rally as cold-hearted. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Harvard graduate and a Republican, condemned that student statement as abhorrent and heinous and called on Harvard officials to denounce the letter. I did reach out to Harvard officials for a comment, and they have not responded. It's worth pointing out in New York City, meanwhile, the NYPD has increased security around synagogues and Jewish community organizations.

INSKEEP: Do you hear pro-Palestinian activists responding to the criticism?

MANN: Well, I spoke to Manolo De Los Santos, who heads a group called The People's Forum in New York City. He defended his organization's right to protest peacefully to criticize Israel for the treatment of Palestinians. I asked him if he's comfortable with Hamas's attack on civilians, the deliberate killing and kidnapping of young people and elderly Israelis. We spoke by phone. Here's what he said.

MANOLO DE LOS SANTOS: I do know it's a war. I wish there weren't Israeli young people who had to die, the same way I regret the fact that so many thousands of Palestinians are dying.

MANN: De Los Santos told me he wouldn't criticize any part of Hamas's attack. I should say, Steve, NPR has spoken with other supporters of Palestinian independence who have called for nonviolent resistance.

INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR'S "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.