While out and about early Friday afternoon, The Chronicle noticed a Channel 7 News truck parked across from the Federal Building at Fifth and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. A little over an hour later, the news truck had disappeared. But according to one of the people demonstrating on the corner, before departing the camera crew had shot footage of the local protest prompted by recent and ongoing violence in Gaza.
By The Chronicle’s estimate, about 100 people, organized in part by students from Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan, had gathered at 3 p.m. to protest. Their signs and their chants placed the blame unambiguously on Israel and the U.S. for supplying financial support. One sign read simply, “Stop Funding Israel.” A group chant began, “1, 2, 3, 4 stop the killing, stop the war,” and concluded with “5, 6, 7, 8 Israel is a terrorist state.”
A demonstrator on the opposite street corner, who wished to be identified simply as “Chuck,” told The Chronicle that he saw a problem in the way that Israel was typically portrayed in the media, “as a victim,” and the way that Palestinians were portrayed typically in the media as “terrorist psychos.” For him, a key statistic to look at was the rate of casualties among Palestinians versus Israelis – which he said were sustained at a ratio of 10:1 or greater – and asked, “Is that self-defense?”
A few feet away one of Chuck’s colleagues was concluding a verbal altercation with an observer (who did not wish to be further identified) with words to the effect, “It’s good to know there are people like you out there,” walking away despite the observer’s gambit for more talk. But Chuck was game.
The observer’s question: “Do you acknowledge violence everywhere, or only by Israel?” The observer said that he’d not seen similar demonstrations and vigils on behalf of people in China or Darfur, and said that it seemed to him that the protest was not motivated by a desire for peace so much as by anti-Israeli sentiment. Chuck responded by inviting the observer to organize demonstrations on behalf of whoever he liked, saying that it made sense for us (as U.S. citizens) to take a strong interest in Palestine because of the direct connection to U.S. foreign policy on aid to Israel. Chuck’s question for the observer: “Do you acknowledge the right of Palestinians to self-defense?” A yes-no response did not seem forthcoming, but the observer noted what he felt was a “double-standard” applied to Israel on the question of violence. The wind howling out of the north and freezing temperatures probably played a role in cutting the conversation shorter than it might have been.
Asked by The Chronicle what specific call to action locally the demonstration was meant to convey to people walking and driving past, Chuck allowed that it could be distilled into asking people to look deeper than the headlines.
When The Chronicle looked up a few minutes later, the demonstrators had headed east on Liberty for an apparent circuit downtown.