Dozens gather for pro-Israel rally at Statehouse


PROVIDENCE – Demonstrators stretched a long banner across the Rhode Island Statehouse steps on the evening of Oct. 24, which said in giant block letters: STOP ANTISEMITISM. Many of the approximately 60 protesters gathered in the 5:30 p.m. gloaming also held handmade signs, saying: “Indigenous Israel,” “Israel is Here to Stay,” and just “Hamas,” with red “blood” dripping from the letters.

“Fourteen hundred Israelis were killed, 4,500 of them wounded, and 7,300 rockets were fired at Israel,” said Ken Schneider, board member of the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel (RICI), speaking of Hamas’ surprise attack on Israelis on Oct. 7. “If the U.S. lost the same percentage of citizens, it would be 44,234 Americans that got killed on that day. It’s just unbelievable.”

“You have to realize that Hamas is ISIS,” Schneider continued, sparking chants of “Hamas is ISIS!” from the crowd.

The Pro-Israel Rally, co-sponsored by RICI and Turning Point USA, was intended as a counterpunch to the “All Out for Palestine” march held on Oct. 21, which was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation Rhode Island and drew hundreds to the Statehouse. Local media and police have described the Saturday protest as peaceful, but some spectators claim to have witnessed antisemitic harassment.

The Pro-Israel Rally was quickly arranged in the three days following, with many Jewish leaders learning about it only the day before. The rally still managed to draw a crowd, including around a dozen members of the Orthodox community. Some were draped in the Israeli flag. A robust police presence and fences encircled the gathering.

Additional speakers included Andrew Pessin, a writer and professor at Connecticut College, Jessica De La Cruz, state senator for District 23, Burrillville, Glocester and North Smithfield, and her husband, Pastor David de la Cruz.

“People will say … Israel is using too much force,” said Sen. De La Cruz. “But I ask: If that happened here in Rhode Island, or the United States, how would you respond as Americans? What happened on 9/11? What happened with Pearl Harbor? We know how we responded. And so, Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel has the right to exist. And we need to stand by Israel as they fight.”

The fiercest speaker was Sam Foer, founder and president of BridgesUSA at the University of Rhode Island, a non-affiliated political organization whose mission is to revitalize democracies and depolarize our political climate. Foer is also a member of the Rhode Island ACLU’s board of directors and a civil liberties watchdog. His specialty is anti-Israel bias in academia.

“The Jewish consciousness is largely defined by inherited trauma, and we are constantly told to remain vigilant,” said Foer. “It is odd, then, that it is as if we have forgotten that when we are at our most safe, Jew-hatred only ever lies dormant, waiting for the right conditions before it strikes, shapeshifting cleverly to meet the world where it’s at.

“But let me remind you that Jew-hatred is so powerful, that it has the capacity to turn even the most supposedly educated people into vicious, genocidal maniacs, sympathetic to, and glorifying, and delighting in the brutalities that even the Nazis tried to hide.”

There were many calls for military action and the complete destruction of Hamas forces, but Schneider asserted to the crowd that Israel is not warlike by nature.

“I’ve been in Israel a couple of dozen times,” said Schneider, a local ice cream entrepreneur who is a leader of the Jewish Motorcycle Alliance and has volunteered with the Israel Defense Forces. “It’s a beautiful country with fantastic people that literally do want to live in peace. I see that. I know that. I’ve talked to many of them, I get the same thing from everybody.”

“When the rockets aren’t flying,” he added, “it’s a great place to live.”

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