On Saturday, March 23 2019 from 3:45 in the afternoon past 7:00 in the evening a diverse group of more than 700 demonstrators lined the west side of Canoga avenue across from the Hilton in Woodland Hills to protest freshman Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose series of anti-Semitic statements in recent months have provoked outrage. Omar appeared to headline the “Valley Banquet” of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles (CAIR-LA) chapter, and to attend a related CAIR CA PAC fundraiser.
Approximately 26 counter-protesters, many holding “I Stand with Ilhan” posters received space near the hotel. CAIR-LA’s executive director Hussam Ayloush could be seen huddling with them as the event began, one of the few banquet participants who could be seen by protesters.
Those who came to protest Omar and CAIR did so with a wide range of motivations, beliefs, and tactics. People of every color and age moved throughout the crowds. Some came as families with children whose cheeks were painted with blue Stars of David. Others brought large flags representing the US, Israel, and Christianity. Many wore paper gold stars with “Jude”. A number of people brought their dogs, giving the protest a festival-like atmosphere.Gary Fouse, an Orange County-based, counter-Islamist activist and writer held signs reading “NO to Jew-Hatred in America” and “Anti-Semitism Is Evil + Not Welcome in America.” He also gave a video interview to CAIR-LA communications manager Eugene W. Fields.
Many expressed a sense of Judeo-Christianity solidarity. One woman’s sign read, “My Savior Was a Jewish Rabbi – God Loves Israel” This religious-based sentiment was prominent at the event with groups singing hymns, praying together, and speakers preaching. Many of the religious protesters seemed to view Omar’s anti-Semitism as both an attack on the Jewish people and the Jewish state as well as God, with an older white-haired woman describing Omar as “coming against the God of the Jews, the God of Israel, the God of creation.” A young Jewish “Latinos for Trump” member brought a shofar which he blew into multiple times, at one point into a bullhorn. “This is for Israel and for Hashem!” he yelled before blowing again.
Other protesters were more expressly political, and MAGA hats and pro-Trump signs were present in abundance. Congressional candidate Mark Reed appeared later in the evening, warned that a “silent Jihad has been going on for 30 over years” and that “Brad Sherman needs to be voted out.” Reed expressed frustration that Sherman was quick to respond to the mass shooting of Muslims in New Zealand but that he viewed Sherman as remaining silent on Omar’s anti-Semitism. He accused the Democratic congressman of taking the support of his Jewish constituents for granted.
Others treated the protest like a party or a Trump rally, with tables offering rude t-shirts and hats with confederate flags for sale. Some wore costumes. One man wore a Knights Templar shirt with mock armor sleeves. A young woman wore the face veil of a niqab and a red MAGA hat as she held her phone in front of her with a handle and complained how hard it made breathing.
Despite a strong contingent of Pro-Trump protestors, the demonstration remained bipartisan. A group of seven “concerned liberals” also felt compelled to make an appearance at the march. A photo of the group with their signs –“Stop Normalizing Anti-Semitism,” “She Is a Hypocrite”—appeared in the Jewish Journal.
Paul, a self-described “concerned, liberal Jew” and organizer of this group of seven, expressed a deep concern that “democrats are tolerating and even lauding her [Omar’s] rhetoric”. Paul also emphasized what he viewed as Omar’s hypocrisy, explaining that the congresswoman defended her series of controversial tweets by claiming she simply wanted money removed from political influence, yet she “took over $60,000 from PACs last year and appeared to speak before CAIR, a PAC and a lobbying organization that contributed to her campaign.”
Reflecting on the protest Paul said he wanted to, “get it documented that there are blue-voting-liberals who are very concerned about this, and demand introspection and change within the Democratic party.” And when asked whether he and his group were concerned about sharing a protest with those whom they disagreed with on other political issues, he explained, “Me and the members of my group did experience some trepidation involving ourselves once we saw the sheer number of MAGA hats, right-wing rhetoric and signage.”
While strongly disagreeing with the politics and tactics of many of the other protestors, Paul said the group still felt it important to attend the rally, “whenever I was being interviewed I made it clear, one of the first things I said is that we’re not associated with these Trump supporters – we don’t support Trump – but we still felt compelled to show up here today, to express our concerns and to express concerns of liberal Jews who couldn’t be here today.”
During the protests two banners unfurled with blasts of blue and white confetti from balconies of the Hilton on the ninth or tenth floors, the top saying “ILHAN HATES ISRAEL” and the bottom “CAIR HATES JEWS.” They lasted 20 minutes at most before being removed and were apparently the handiwork of noted Internet activist Laura Loomer. Loomer, who is perhaps best known for chaining herself to the door of Twitter’s headquarters in protest of being banned from the platform, made multiple appearances to give interviews and take pictures with fans – who were instructed to say ‘no Sharia law!’ instead of ‘Cheese’ by the photographer.
Concerns about the promotion of Sharia law were prominent throughout the protest, an indication perhaps that much of the crowd was familiar with CAIR and its history as an Islamist group with an established record of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, several of the protesters’ sentiments devolved into generically anti-Muslim statements, and some seemed weirdly obsessed with allegations Omar married her brother as part of an immigration fraud scheme, which was referenced in signs and chants.
As crowded and rambunctious as the affair was throughout the evening, it was a peaceful event. For the most part, the police did an effective job of separating the pro and anti-Omar factions. The only time conflict between protestors and counter-protesters broke out was around 6:45 PM, as a heated argument began on the far north side of the protests and a crowd soon formed around two women yelling in English and what appeared to be Farsi, when a pro-Omar protester from Iran had crossed the street and asked to debate with someone before being engaged by an anti-Omar protester, also from Iran. As the yelling intensified eight police officers rushed over and stood on the street, ready to break up a fight which did not materialize.
The confrontation concluded with the anti-Omar protester proclaiming in accented English, “You know what’s happening in Iran! You know people are being stoned to death in Iran! You know people are hanged in Iran” before launching into vulgarities about her opponent’s support for Iran’s Sharia-based laws. To this stream of invective her opponent seemed to have no reply, and merely walked away, as the crowds began to disperse and go their separate ways.
The profanity-fueled fight, aggressive signs and harsher bullhorn-led chants would make it easy to be dejected about the whole affair as though this was the sum total of opposition against Omar’s anti-Semitism?
But considered more fully the truth is that a handfuls of haters, eccentrics, and self-promoters did not define the event. Many people of varying races, ages, political views, religious backgrounds, and cultural experiences came together in friendship, and unified in opposing anti-Semitism in a peaceful fashion. Despite real and serious disagreements on issues of all sorts, it was still possible for groups to come together and protest Islamist groups like CAIR, the antisemitism they promote and the threat they represent to free societies across the planet.