Philadelphia, PA — Several hundred supporters of Palestinian rights gathered at Washington Square Park and marched through the historic Society Hill district, arriving at the war memorial parks built above I-95 next to the waterfront Hilton at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River for an early afternoon protest on Monday, December 11. Unicorn Riot interviewed several participants and heard from the organizers who called upon the Biden Administration to support a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Biden, on his ninth visit to the city this year, was at the Hilton for a political fundraiser with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a fellow Democrat. Earlier in the day he touted federal funding to reopen fire stations.
Protest organizer Sam Rise mentioned how student organizations have been suspended on college campuses, and “institutions and academics have been shamefully bullying and silencing” Palestine supporters. She added that members of the Working Families Party (WFP) have been introducing ceasefire resolutions in local governments. (Two WFP candidates won at-large seats last month in Philadelphia, ejecting the GOP from slots the party held for decades.) “Come November, we’ll remember” was a common chant at the event, as attendees vowed to hold the Biden Administration accountable for his support for Israel at the ballot box in 2024.
Anissa Weinraub from Jewish Voice for Peace talked about the “death and destruction at a rate that is unprecedented in recent human history” in Gaza, where the vast majority of the population is now displaced, with “so many on the brink of starvation”, referring to a “merciless military and their AI-programmed death machine“:
In a throwback to the Vietnam era chant “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” another organizer called out, “Biden, Biden, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today? Biden, Biden you can’t hide, you are funding genocide. Biden, Biden, you will see, Palestine will be free.”
One participant wearing a keffiyeh told Unicorn Riot,
“We are here to fight for human rights, we are here to fight for the people of Gaza, the innocent children that are being bombed day-in day-out. Our cousins, our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, we are all humans at the end of the day. We are here to fight for their human rights to live just like we get to live here in America. We should all have the right to live, to live in peace, and the innocent children did nothing wrong, they are just being bombed, for being alive, for being Palestinian.”
Regarding Biden’s recent actions and presence in Philadelphia he added, “It’s sickening honestly. Philadelphia does not stand for this, Philadelphia stands for freedom, Philadelphia stands for human rights, and Biden does not stand for any of that. … Palestinians are people just like us. I have friends that are Palestinian, I am Palestinian. We just want to live, that’s all we want. We just want to live like everyone else, and we are not given that option.”
We also found an innovative protest use of a DeWalt drill — this gizmo is known as an “impact train horn” and can make a 130 decibel racket with a squeeze of the drill trigger.
Latest Philly Flashpoints: UPenn and Goldies
Philadelphia has been a flashpoint for Israel-Palestine politics in December. University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill resigned on December 10 after a contentious hearing in the U.S. House. Some interpreted that hearing as “a trap” because it was based around questions with false premises — by spuriously conflating common pro-Palestinian protest chants with calls for the genocide of Jews.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that university trustee and billionaire investor Marc Rowan, who led the push to oust her, is trying to take more control of the institution’s agenda. Against Rowan, the Penn chapter of the American Association of University Professors warns of “McCarthyite speech codes” harming academic freedom.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY21), who set in motion Magill’s resignation, is herself notorious for promoting narratives based on antisemitic tropes, particularly the false “Great Replacement Theory” which claims Jews are trying to “replace” whites with immigrants in this country. A reporter for the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said anyone “looking for a congressional champion to fight antisemitism” could “forget Stefanik.”
Speakers at Monday’s protest also noted how Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro derided their group as a “mob” on December 4; the Biden White House announced similar condemnations. Shapiro “called us terrorist sympathizers,” said one event organizer. “Are we terrorist sympathizers?” The crowd responded, “No!” She added, “They’re afraid of us, and that means we are doing something right. Josh Shapiro, you can’t hide, you signed off on genocide.”
The governor said on December 4, “The purposeful gathering of a mob outside of a restaurant simply because it is owned by a Jewish person. Well, that’s antisemitism, plain and simple.” On December 3, protesters with the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition stopped for several minutes outside Goldie Falafel in Center City, owned by the CookNSolo restaurant group. On December 6 the Inquirer reported that two Goldie workers said they were fired for wearing Palestinian flag pins. In early October CookNSolo announced it was donating sales from four brands to United Hatzalah of Israel, which is a volunteer emergency medical service formed in 2006. However a worker saw an Instagram reel video showing Hatzalah volunteers were packing supplies for Israeli soldiers, and ran another fundraiser in recent days for more supplies for soldiers. That worker and another one were fired after wearing Palestine pins to work. The Inquirer reported “some employees at CookNSolo restaurants felt that the fundraiser had changed the tenor at work, adding an unwanted political charge,” and restaurant proprietors Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook “apologized for the tense climate” in the workplace set in motion by the fundraiser.
“Counter Terrorism” Police Squad Monitors Philly Demonstration
The Philadelphia Police “Counter Terrorism Operations” team was deployed in substantial numbers to the protest. One officer on the team told Unicorn Riot that they are always deployed to protests but declined to name the specific policy which enables this. A “Major Incident Response Team” labeled officer was also spotted, but it was not clear if they were with the city police or another agency.
An investigation by Jason Wilson at the Guardian released December 8, based on the 269 gigabyte BlueLeaks trove of leaked police documents posted by the journalist nonprofit Distributed Denial of Secrets, showed that American law enforcement has been heavily influenced by materials “directly from the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli thinktanks” as well as Israel-supporting nonprofits like the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL “is proud to be the largest non-governmental trainer of law enforcement in the country,” and brought the superintendent of Pennsylvania police to Israel in 2016. ADL also routinely hosts sessions with Philadelphia police, including leadership, recruits and rank-and-file-officers (     ). A December 11 ADL press release counts expressions of “anti-Zionism” at rallies and protests in the US among “antisemitic incidents.” (BlueLeaks also showed Philadelphia police were focused on “antifa” threats from the left, according to The Intercept.) The ADL monitors white supremacists and leftists as well, Unicorn Riot found in 2018.
A report from the Watson Institute at Brown University released November 7 covers how “media conflation of activism with terrorism has dire consequences,” particularly in the case of the Atlanta region’s “Cop City” project. (Check out Unicorn Riot’s Copy City coverage here.)
As of December 9, the latest round of violence in the region has killed at least 17,487 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and Reuters; Israeli authorities say at least 1200 Israelis were killed during the fighting that started on October 7, 2023. Figures on injuries are harder to come by: With most Gaza Strip Palestinians displaced by Israeli attacks, communicable diseases, hunger and lack of water are intensifying, while the Israeli military has been evasive about how many of its personnel are injured. At least 63 journalists and media workers have been killed since October 7. On December 10 Al Jazeera reported 120 people killed in Lebanon since October 7, including 85 fighters with Hezbollah and 16 civilians. Thousands of Israeli civilians have been displaced from both the northern border region and the area near the ‘Gaza Envelope.’
All photos by Dan Feidt for Unicorn Riot.