National Groups Orchestrated Student Anti-Israel Protests

Asra Nomani | Fairfax County Times

Late last Friday morning, on Gatehouse Road in Falls Church outside the headquarters of Fairfax County Public Schools, local Jewish American mother Anna Carlen joined other local Jewish citizens and parents in chants she never imagined she’d have to utter in America, “Just like 1942, FCPS silences Jews” and “Never again is now.”

In 1995, Carlen immigrated to the United States with her mother and young son to escape anti-semitism in Moscow, Russia, where a neighbor in their apartment building on Malaya Nikitskaya Street slipped drawings of a man hanging from the gallows and the Jewish symbol of the star of David. “We decided to come to America because this country was a symbol of freedom,” she said.

Now, she says, she is shocked by a wave of anti-Israel rallies in Fairfax County Public Schools, including a rally at Langley High School, where there were signs with swastikas, including one sign with the stars on the American flag replaced with swastikas and the words, “Free Palestine,” between the stripes. As Fairfax County Times reported last week, Langley administrators suspended not only the boys involved with making the swastika flag but also an Asian American friend of Jewish students, who they alleged had shared the photo publicly.

At Woodson High School, Jewish students reported to their parents that they are regularly told, “Why don’t you just go and die,” by students who are anti-Israel.

“Just like 1942, Langley High School silences Jews,” the chants continued last week, along with signs with messages including “Hatehouse Rd. Shame on you! Why do you hate Asians and Jews?” and “Asian and Jewish kids have rights, too.”

“We don’t know where to run now,” said Carlen. “I’m very uncertain and unsure for the future.”

While Fairfax County school protests against Israel are being called “student-led,” primarily by local school chapters of the Muslim Students Association, an investigation by the Fairfax County Times reveals that six weeks of school walkouts since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli citizens were carefully orchestrated by adult political operatives working with controversial national activist organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, Generation Ratify, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Justice Democrats, many of them dedicated to eradicating the state of Israel and removing the Jews who live there. Indeed, experts say, the anti-Israel protests are decades in the making by the founders and cofounders of some of these organizations.

The organizations didn’t respond to requests for comment.

This fall, on Sept. 26 at 3 p.m., the McLean High School Muslim Students Associated scheduled a meeting with Mohamad Habehh, director of development at American Muslims for Palestine, to talk about “Movement Building & Student Advocacy.” In 2015, Habehh posted messages on Twitter supporting Hamas, noting at one point, “Hamas should make me their official PR dude.” He is a former president of Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers University.

Days later, on Oct. 7, terrorists from Hamas flooded into Israel, brutally murdering, kidnapping, and torturing innocent civilians, including babies.

Just three days later, on Oct. 10, at 5:20 p.m., an up-and-coming Virginia political operative, Maya Mahdi, created a new Google Doc file called “Fairfax for Palestine Toolkit,” according to Google records that list her as the “owner” of the toolkit. She is only identified in the document as an “FCPS Graduate,” without mention of her political work at Generation Ratify, which led controversial walkouts last year to uphold abortion rights.

Of the 20 pages in the toolkit, 13 pages are devoted to a “Student Guide,” “Outreach Toolkit,” and “Resources,” with details for minor students on running “Walkouts and Protests at Fairfax County Public Schools,” “Planning Your Protest,” “Appropriate Clothing/Dress,” “Appropriate Chants,” and “Talking Points.”

In the toolkit, Mahdi went so far as to identify “Appropriate Chants,” itemizing 10 chants, including a controversial rallying cry, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free,” that calls for the elimination of the state of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Langley High School students, along with students at other area schools, repeated that chant at walkouts over the past six weeks.

The Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that defends Jews against hate, has identified the chant as “an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination, including through the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland.”

Another chant called for students to rally to “smash” Israel, with the cry, “1 2 3 4 Occupation no more / 5 6 7 8 smash the settler zionist state!”

The toolkit guides students to “control the narrative” with “some sample Tweets,” and hashtags coordinated nationwide with cookie-cutter efforts. One of the hashtags is #WalkOutForPalestine, which has popped up in a TikTok video from University of Arizona, a “Global Day of Action” by the socialist Students for a Democratic Society in Denver and a walkout by students at Edina High School in Edina, Minn., who the local socialist organization alleged “face Zionist repression by faculty.”

The toolkit included a link to a “Fairfax for Palestine letter,” written by another political operative, Ryan Suto, based in Burke. He is a senior policy advisor at an organization, “FairVote.” Google Doc records show he renamed the toolkit’s file name.

“Fairfax County Public Schools has falsely claimed that these walkouts are ‘student-led.’ Outside adult organizations have provided toolkits for students, guiding them in planning all aspects of their protests. Across the county and across the country, these walkouts are remarkably similar to one another,” said Rebecca Schgallis, co-founder of United Against Antisemitism, a community group.

“For several years, parents have expressed their concerns that FCPS administrators are ignoring antisemitism. FCPS, by allowing these walkouts, has emboldened students to become even more aggressive in their open antisemitism, where they explicitly express support for Hamas and include swastikas in their signage. Jewish students have been threatened at these walkouts, and yet FCPS is falsely claiming to the community that they are peaceful and orderly. This would never be tolerated for any other minority group.”

In June 2021, Suto published a letter-to-the-editor as a “Fairfax County parent,” defending controversial local school board member Abrar Omeish when she posted a social media message disparaging Israel as an “apartheid” nation. Earlier this summer, Virginia Justice Democrats, an organization identified as far-left for its politics, named Suto its new political director. Omeish has also been a leader with the state affiliate of Justice Democrats, which last week defended one of its lawmakers, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to censure her for her antisemitism.

The toolkit includes links to controversial organizations that have been criticized for their anti-Israel, antisemitic rhetoric and actions. Among the resources, the toolkit guided students, “Read through the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s guide to speaking out against Islamophobia and for Palestine.”

Mahdi guided students that they “are welcome to wear a kuffiyeh [sic],” a black-and-white scarf associated with Palestinian culture, “as long as it does not cover your face.”

As Jewish families reel from family and friends kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists, the toolkit includes chants blasting Israel for its “occupation,” “genocide,” and “detention” of Palestinians, without a single mention of empathy for the victims of terrorism by Hamas.

The “Talking Points” include awkward admissions, albeit because of typos, noting, “Being pro-Palestine or anti-Israel is [sic] anti-semetic [sic].”

They also state, ‘Saying ‘Free Palestine’ incites [sic] hatred towards Jews.”

With those slips, the “Talking Points” insist, “We are not protesting against Jewish people…” The toolkit quotes controversial anti-Israel writer Peter Beinart to defend the anti-Israel advocacy. It insists, “Free Palestine refers to the movement for independence for the Palestinian people and has nothing to do with the Jewish people or Judaism as a whole.”

At Woodson High School, students chanted one of the sample tweets, “No more weapons! No more war! Ceasefire is what we’re calling for!” It’s the same chant used by high school students who walked out of classes in New York City a few days ago. Al Jazeera, the state media channel of the government of Qatar, which has supported Hamas for years, noted the exact words bellowed at a recent anti-Israel protest in New York City, allegedly by “dozens of mostly Jewish protesters,” noting, “‘No more weapons. No more war. Ceasefire is what we’re fighting for,’ they chanted, punching the air.”

The spin for the protests was scripted precisely for the students, with this suggested text, “The walkouts across Fairfax County Public Schools this week represent a shift. People don’t want our tax dollars flooding Israel. We want a ceasefire. And we want it now. #CeasefireNow #FreePalestine #WalkoutForPalestine #HumanitarianWalkoutWeek.”

In a section, “Threats, Discrimination, Harassment, or Bullying in Fairfax County Public Schools,” the toolkit provides students the direct email address to Omeish, the board member reprimanded for her anti-Israel statements, and instructs them to report incidents to her. Habehh, Mahdi, Suto, and Omeish didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The toolkit says, “Read through the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s guide for students targeted in response to Palestine advocacy,” with a link to a controversial organization whose leaders organized a rally to support Omeish amid a backlash to her anti-Israel comments last year. Its officials have been widely criticized for their antisemitism, with one leader, Zahra Billoo, saying last year, “If you are pro-Israel and you are working actively to harm our community here and abroad, we don’t want to work with you.” After those remarks went public, the Women’s March removed her from its board.

Locally, at Woodson High School, Jewish students reported to their parents that they are regularly told, “Why don’t you just go and die,” by students who are anti-Israel. Ironically, the toolkit notes that if someone says, “All Muslims must die,” “this is a threat.”

The toolkit identifies harassment as a violation of Title IX. United Against Antisemitism, a local Jewish group, has filed TItle VI civil rights complaints.

The “Fairfax for Palestine Toolkit” includes the direct email addresses of the school board’s 12 members and the superintendent, Michelle Reid. The toolkit also includes a link to “CAIR’s guide to bullying and bias in schools.”

In a list of “Advocacy and Legal Organizations,” the toolkit recommends two organizations – Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace – that Columbia University’s chair of a special committee on campus safety, Gerald Rosberg, just suspended as official student groups after, he said, they “repeatedly” violated university policies, “despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” It also recommended the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The “Resources” aren’t banal either. The toolkit recommended a video, “The Black and Palestinian Fight for Justice,” featuring former CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, whom CNN severed ties with in 2018 when he spoke at the United Nations and called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” It recommended an article by a far-left media outlet, TruthOut.org, which quoted a poem with this stanza, “…I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution,’ Never lower my flags / Until I evict them from my land.”

The poet also wrote, “And follow the caravan of martyrs.”

Back on Gatehouse Road, or “Hatehouse Road,” as the Jewish American protestors renamed it, Hagiti Shor, an Israeli-American, worried about the future for her elementary school daughter. One day in third grade, at gymnastics, a young friend told her daughter, “My dad hates Jews, and I do, too.”

Shor’s father remembered the tears that he held back when facing antisemitism in Lithuania as a boy and asked her a simple question, “Did you cry?”

For her part, Shor asks herself a simple question, “Where should we go?”

This article by investigative journalist Asra Nomani was first published at FairfaxTimes.com on November 22, 2023. Follow Nomani on X: @AsraNomani.

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