Pro-Palestinian demonstrators leave Palestinian flags and graffiti on the Rochambeau...

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators leave Palestinian flags and graffiti on the Rochambeau Statue in Lafayette Square next to the White House during a demonstration on Saturday. Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images/Probal Rashid

Protests against Israel’s war in Gaza, long shadowed by accusations of antisemitism as well as disorderly and lawless behavior, hit a new low in recent days in both New York and Washington. The anti-Israel protesters are creating a hostile climate for American Jews and hurting the pro-Palestinian cause they ostensibly support. They are also creating potential problems for the Democratic Party, whose progressive wing is associated with these protests. For both moral and pragmatic reasons, Democrats need to be loud and clear in condemning this obscene behavior — as many already are.

First, last Saturday, a pro-ceasefire protest in front of the White House resulted in a vandalism spree in Lafayette Square. The statues commemorating the heroes of the American Revolution were covered with graffiti, requiring them to be cordoned off and power-washed. A National Park Service spokeswoman cited “damage to some structures and … to park infrastructure in Lafayette Park.” According to news reports, the police tried to arrest at least one of the vandals but were prevented from doing so by other protesters. In the end, no arrests were made.

Even scarier, and more repugnant, disturbances took place in New York. On Monday, a rowdy crowd of protesters targeted the Nova Music Festival Exhibition on Wall Street, which was commemorating the Israeli festival attacked in the Hamas raid on Oct. 7, resulting in 364 civilian festivalgoers being killed and 40 taken hostage. The protesters set off flares and waved smoke canisters outside the exhibition; some flew the flags of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups. Two people were seen carrying a “Long live October 7th” banner. At a rally in Union Square that was part of the same protest, a video clip showed a man telling Jewish people that he wished Hitler was still here to kill them all. Another clip, from a subway car taken over by the demonstrators, showed a creepy moment in which an activist demands to know whether there are any “Zionists” on the train.

And on Tuesday night, the homes of five board members of the Brooklyn Museum — which activists accuse of “complicity” in Israel’s war — were vandalized with fake blood and graffiti marking them as Hamas targets. A banner hung in front of the home of the museum’s Jewish director Anne Pasternak called her a “white supremacist Zionist.”

New York City and state leaders have responded forcefully to these repulsive actions. Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a left-wing Democrat strongly critical of Israel, denounced antisemitism as an assault on progressive values. The White House has also condemned the actions targeting the Nova Music Festival exhibit.

But more must be said and done. In New York, three people were arrested in Monday’s disturbances. But given the extent of lawless and harassing behavior, that’s a drop in the bucket. Vandalism must not be tolerated — and if protesters stop the cops from arresting vandals, as in Washington, mass arrests should follow.

Many mainstream Americans who have no love for today’s increasingly extreme populist right also believe that Democrats have a double standard for hateful and disorderly protesters on the far left. More Democrats need to speak out as forcefully as New York City Mayor Eric Adams to show that there is no such favoritism. And President Joe Biden, who gave an excellent speech on antisemitism last month, should seize the momentum and follow with another forceful statement condemning hate and lawlessness.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.

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