Texan Palestinians Protest Israeli-American Council

Protesters and conference speakers clash

Protesters rally outside of the Fairmont hotel during the Israeli-American Council summit (Photo by John Anderson)

On Saturday, thousands of Israeli and Jewish people gathered at Austin's Fairmont hotel for the fifth annual Israeli-American Council summit. The IAC, a business conference centered around Jewish and Israeli growth and activism, attended by Gov. Greg Abbott, serves as a social tool to grow connections between Israel and the U.S. This year's summit also falls on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state.

Right across the street, between the brick driveway and grassy land that divides the private property of the hotel from Aus­tin's Palm Park, gathered a group of Palestinian activists protesting against the IAC and the occupation of Palestinian territories.

"I see the Israeli-American Council as one of the biggest systems of normalization [of Zionism] within the U.S.," said an organizer on the Palestinian Solidarity Committee who wished to remain anonymous for her safety. "[They're] inviting many known war criminals, many people who have had an active role to play in the occupation, and they're almost glorifying them as well as supporting future developments and further occupation and oppression of Palestinians. We stand against that and want to show that people across Texas, across all Texans do stand against that."

The Palestinian protesters waved the red and green of their nation's flag, some wrapped in a traditional keffiyeh, a checkered scarf. All wore masks, with many declining to share any personal identifiers, fearing retaliation from the Israeli state.

"From the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free!" The protesters banged their drums as they sang. On the opposite side, attendees of the IAC lingered, taking a smoke or coffee break to ogle at the demonstrators. At one point, the conference attendees began to dance to the beat of the drums.

Yoseph Haddad, an Israeli Arab IAC speaker, left the hotel grounds to approach the Palestinian protesters as closely as he could. "You don't know what you're fighting for!" he yelled, wrapped in the bright blue and white of the Israeli flag. "Nobody wants to come and talk, nobody wants to come and debate. It's a simple reason – they are afraid."

The two sides chanted back and forth, a slurry of Arabic, English, and Hebrew. "You're crying 'intifada' [resistance] from Austin and America? Come to Gaza and say it again," Haddad said in Arabic.

Abbott has taken a firm stance. Ahead of the conference, he said in a press release that "the enduring bond between the people of Texas and Israel is unlike any other." In 2017, he signed a law blocking state agencies from contracting entities that boycott Israel. "Through God's strength, both Texans and Israelis overcame great challenges. Texas will always stand with Israel," he said. "And together, we will use the special connection between our two peoples to combat anti­sem­itism and protect freedom around the world."

Michael Lau, director of the Fairmont, said that the IAC bought out the entire hotel for their event and would not allow members to be interviewed directly. "We're physically responsible for the well-being of our group and business partners," Lau said. Detective Julian Guzman with the Austin Police Depart­ment said IAC organizers themselves requested police officers to be on-site. Both the IAC and the Palestinian protesters had permits to be present. The IAC did not comment on the event or the protest.

"Not a single Palestinian except for terrorist Palestinians have been evacuated or forced out of their homes," said Amit Kad­osh, an Israeli spectator. When asked if he was for or against the killings of Pales­tin­ian children by Israeli forces, Kadosh said he didn't have enough information to respond.

Toward the end of the demonstration, an IAC representative brought two boxes of water for the protesters. The boxes remained untouched.

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