1 Jun 2016

Protest against Kissinger/Peres like the ‘70s; maybe it’s time for some new tactics

One afternoon last week I took part in a protest against former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres being allowed into Canada. Both spoke at a Simon Wiesenthal Centre fundraiser deep inside the bowels of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The protest was staged by the group Actions4Palestine, but, as someone who was a regular at protests 40 and 50 years ago, I was disappointed by the small size of the protest crowd, and that our group made no attempt to explain their cause to passers by.

The protest was definitely justified. Kissinger, who turned 93 last week, is one of the worst living war criminals. In 1973, he masterminded a U.S. scheme to help a brutal military dictator overthrow Chile’s democratically elected government, and supported brutal regimes in a number of other countries.

Shimon Peres supported several Israeli actions against Palestine, include serving in the Haganah, a Zionist Militia that massacred Palestinians during 1948-1952.   He was involved in the massacre of Jenin and gave the green light for Israel’s violent incursion against besieged Gaza in 2008.

The Canadian Jewish News reported that almost 2,500 people attended the fundraiser, which raised more than $3.75 million for the Centre.

While some 130 folks said on Facebook they would come out for the protest, fewer than 70 showed up.

A bullhorn was used to blast out slogans that were repeated by placard-carrying protesters as they walked back and forth on the street and later stood on the street in front of the Metro Centre.

The demonstration reminded me of any one of a number of protests I took part in during the 60s and 70s, except perhaps more people would have shown up in those days.

Our group had no intention of trying to disrupt the meeting by getting into the building, perhaps by a back entrance. Many of them were long-time protest warriors who have experienced police violence.

Police not taking chances

For their part, the police were taking no chances. On hand were about 15 police officers, all with big black batons, a paddy wagon, three police cars, and a dog barking viciously from the paddy wagon. When protesters moved beyond where they were supposed to be, police asked them to move back.

We didn’t see Kissinger or Peres, but I hope the two war-hawks were told that our group was out there. Kissinger is dogged everywhere he goes, and he could be arrested for war crimes in some countries.

If one of our group’s goals was to inform the public about what was going on, we failed badly. Folks walking along the street awkwardly passed us by.

Early in the protest, three small groups of people were gawking at us from in front of the Metro Centre entrance. I decided to walk over and talk to them. I asked a group of four female lawyers taking part in a law seminar if they knew what was going on. “No, we have no idea,” said one of them, as they gathered round. They could hear the word Israel being blasted out from the bullhorn.

I explained to the group what Kissinger had been involved in. After a brief chat, heads started nodding. Now that they understood, they agreed the protest was a good idea. I moved on to talk with three businessmen, and they had a similar reaction.

I wondered if I would have the same luck with the police. I strolled past the paddy wagon with the vicious dog, and stopped in front of four policemen. They didn’t know what the protest was about. After I explained what was going on, two of the officers seemed sympathetic.

Even though the protest didn’t accomplish very much, I don’t want to belittle those taking part. Some of them and/or their families had personally experienced the wrath of the brutal Israeli regimes. They have no doubt tried different ways of protesting without much success.

Nevertheless, with such a small turnout, and failing to communicate with people, the protest seemed it was pretty much a wasted activity.  The kind of event we staged alienates everyday people.
If groups want to be effective, they need to change their methods.

First of all, perhaps the groups that stage protests should meet and make plans to support each other’s campaign better. Old rivalries should be put aside. Forming a co-ordinating committee would be a good idea. Some unions officially support the causes groups are campaigning on, so they should be expected to support activities.

Small protests should be cancelled

Protests that attract fewer than 100 people probably should be called off.

In terms of confronting the likes of Kissinger, without tipping off anyone, three or four people could have tried to meet his airplane. Where was he staying? Picket the homes of the people who brought him to Toronto.

A bullhorn can be effective if used in a way that passer bys understand what’s being said. Union-style moving picket lines can be effective if they are more friendly than aggressive.

Whenever there’s a protest, three or four people should try to talk with passers by and gawkers. This is a chance to politely convince folks of the importance of the demonstration.

I don’t know what other actions are taken by groups these days. But with the Internet such a powerful tool now, skilled techies can disrupt communications and close down websites. Actions4Palestine has an excellent Facebook page:

The organization behind the visit, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, also should have been targeted.

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  1. You make some good points regarding communication. Shouting slogans that most passersby don't identify with is rather useless. Much more effective to have small handouts explaining the protest, as well as engaging as you described with passersby. I have also, like you, approached the police in instances like this, since they very seldom understand the issues in advance.

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  3. Well said Nick. We hold protests (Bill C-38, C-45, C-50, Idle No More etc.) Same old protesters, no one moves, no one loses an eye and no one other than us cares. People going in and out of the grocery store across the street look at us like we are from Mars.

    With the exception of Quebec, Burnaby Mountain and the G-20 debacle, not much seems to cause Canadians to care much for the most part. Perhaps if we shut down their Iphones they might get just a little bit annoyed.

  4. Maybe the targets of the protest should be worthy of protest. Henry Kissinger is, without fear of contradiction, a war criminal who needs to be prosecuted. The "kill all the Jews" Hezbollah rocketeers from Gaza are not the good guys who should make Peres a pariah. We've had some protests here in Winnipeg, "Stop Harper" "Refugees Supports" "Right to Housing" etc. which have had pretty good turnouts and some effect.
    Smartphones, social networking, e-mail can turn folks out if the cause is just and clear.
    Marty Dolin

  5. Good column, Nick. It is true that protests these days aren't very effective at getting "the word" out. Preaching to the converted is a waste of time. Education is the single largest thing one needs to do after getting people's attention.

  6. What about Mica White's recent book "The End of Protest?

    1. I don't know it. But it l will look it up.

  7. Your suggestions for more effective protest techniques are right on the money. And Henry Kissinger is a most deserving target of the protest you describe. However, clearly Shimon Peres is not. Of all the contemporary Israeli political leaders, Peres is one of the few moderates who led the campaign (as right hand man to assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and in close association with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat) to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians and create an independent Palestinian state. You should also be aware that Peres publicly condemned the Jenin battle as a "massacre" (Ha'aretz daily, April 9, 2002). In regard to the Gaza war of 2008, South African Justice Richard Goldstone produced a report for the United Nations which accused both Palestinian militants and the Israeli military of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Goldstone later amended his report, saying he no longer believed that Israel intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza. And if you are going to go back to the late 1940's and early 1950's, you need to distinguish between the Haganah militia that (along with other Jewish groups) fought against the British mandate and later against the indigenous Arab population in the brutal 1947 civil war, versus the creation of an official conscript military force (the IDF) in 1948 which fought an international war against multiple Arab regular armies. Without going into further detail (I think more reasonable protesters would do well to do some in-depth historical research), Shimon Peres is probably the last Israeli politician who should be targeted by Palestinian protesters. If you want to target Israelis, focus on Benjamin Netanyahu and his band of fanatical associates. Finally, I agree that Kissinger should have been met with protests at the airport or his hotel. But targeting a Simon Wiesenthal Center fundraiser is not likely to raise a lot of sympathy.

  8. You are describing a typical protest action, Nick. I recently attended two in Toronto, for the Grassy Narrows people and against the Hydro sale. Although they were different in style, one labour oriented (with a lot of shouting speeches despite the fact that the microphone worked really well) and one more like a"gathering" at Queen's Park (where microphones worked intermittently, and prevented, for instance, the Grassy Narrows members who had travelled 1500 miles, from being heard by more than those closest to the platform), they had in common lack of ability or willingness to engage those not already involved. In countless actions in Saskatoon also where I live, the same problem exists: no effort is made to reach the unconverted, so there is not even an elementary leaflet offered to "the public" whose support is sought. I'm the broken record: "You should have a lively information leaflet available because people don't know the issues." Often the response is a shrug and quick brush-off of "we didn't have the time" as if that is satisfactory. Those who offer leadership in various actions have a responsibility to act accordingly so that these actions will resonate and broaden the base of those concerned about the issue(s), rather than come across as merely ritualistic. I think there is usually a large amount of arrogance and lazyness — a deadly combination — with organizers of these actions who don't take responsibility for the failure of the actions but are (self)satisfied that there was action at all.

    1. Thanks Marjaleena - I know you are very familiar with the behaviour of protest groups. Perhaps I should have been a little more harsh on them, as you have. Thanks again.

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  10. Good to see you at the protest, Nick, even if it wasn't very effective. I thought a leaflet was handed out, but maybe I'm imagining it...

    The comments here manifest continued efforts to paint people like Peres as doves (and the Goldstone report, even as amended under duress, as claiming Hamas committed war crimes on the scale that Israel did). Peres may not be the worst, but this old hasbara is tiresome.

    Among other things, Peres is the father of Israel's atomic bombs (see the Israeli film "Bomb in the Basement"), a destablizing regional factor and a menace to world peace - especially since they're outside international control. He even served in Ariel Sharon's government.

    Here's a quickly chosen link; much more could be said.