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Confrontations and vitriol disrupted rallies outside Town Meeting ceasefire vote

A group of ralliers outside Town Meeting's vote on a controversial ceasefire resolution on May 30. Photo by Sam Mintz
June 6, 2024
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Two opposing rallies outside Brookline High School during last week’s Town Meeting at times devolved into shouting matches, which included profane insults lobbed at supporters of a ceasefire resolution, and the use of a chant seen by many as antisemitic.

The controversial Town Meeting article, which was ultimately tabled without a vote or debate by the town’s legislative body, brought two large crowds to a park across the street from the high school. If approved, the resolution would have called for “an immediate, enduring, bilateral ceasefire and unrestricted passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza” as well as “the immediate safe return of all hostages held in Gaza.”

The Brookline Peace Coalition organized the rally in favor of the resolution.

The other group was organized by those calling to table or oppose the ceasefire resolution.

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Both groups contained hundreds of people, for a total of 350-400 people at the peak, according to a Brookline.News estimate.

Attendees say there were a few arguments and scuffles in the early moments of the rally, before police put up barriers between the two crowds. As heated as the demonstrations sometimes became, police reported no incidents or arrests. At times, leaders on both sides tried to defuse tensions.

This reporter attended the rallies before Town Meeting convened, and witnessed speeches by clergy and Brookline residents in the group supporting the resolution. Across the fence, members of the group opposed to the resolution held Israeli and American flags, chanted and played Israeli music. At times, some members of the group opposed to the resolution used loudspeakers to shout at the group favoring the resolution, as well as siren noises from megaphones to drown out speeches.

Videos from the scene, shot by attendees and shared with Brookline.News, show that, at times, some members of the group opposed to the resolution used profane, dehumanizing language.

Using a loudspeaker, one man called the group supporting the ceasefire resolution “[expletive] animals.”

Others shouted “You’re raping our daughters” and “you’re decapitating our babies” and “You support Hamas.”

“You’re sheep,” yelled another man, making bleating sounds.

At one point, a child holding a megaphone yelled, “You support rape.”

In another instance, a man shouted at a woman wearing a full-body covering and waving a Palestinian flag:

“Take a look at this lady right here … This is what is coming to this country with your support. No freedom for women.”

This reporter also witnessed some in the group favoring the resolution chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The meaning of the phrase is debated, but many Jewish groups say it is antisemitic and calls for the elimination of the Jewish state.

Brookline.News was unable to independently verify the identities of the people who used specific insults or were involved in specific chants.

‘Harassed and hated’

Alaa Eldamaty, a Muslim Brookline resident who was at the rally in favor of the ceasefire resolution, said that she recognized some faces in the crowd across the fence. Nobody she recognized was shouting insults, she said.

“I don’t have any problem disagreeing politically with my neighbors,” Eldamaty said. “But it was very different to feel so harassed and so hated by people who were standing alongside people who I know, who I see as good people.”

Eldamaty, who said she’s been a long-time activist, said the two rallies were too close together. While there were low fences separating them, at times people on either side were just inches apart.

“I’ve never been to a protest where you’re allowing both sides to be close to each other, where they can be disruptive and hurtful to each other,” she said. “It’s not like any other protest that I attended for sure.”

Omar Mabrouk, a Town Meeting member who co-sponsored the ceasefire resolution, said the language used against supporters of the resolution was “vitriolic.”

“The thing we were trying to achieve was this quiet, solemn thing,” Mabrouk said. “It wasn’t a celebration; it wasn’t a loud thing. But it was overshadowed.”

‘Outside agitators’

Scott Gladstone, a Town Meeting member who helped organize the motion to table the ceasefire resolution, said that the rally’s sole purpose was to influence Town Meeting members to vote in favor of the motion to table or against the resolution altogether.

“The overwhelming majority of the Table-Article 19 rally attendants stayed on message and sang songs of peace and played popular Israeli songs written since the October 7 massacre perpetrated by Hamas,” Gladstone wrote in an emailed statement to Brookline.News.

He acknowledged that a “small minority” of the group, who he said were not from Brookline, used sirens to try to disrupt the rally. And he said that two unidentified “outside agitators” with bullhorns were the ones questioning the patriotism of attendees of the other rally and characterizing them as supporters of terror. Brookline.News could not verify the claim of “outside agitators.”

Gladstone said he and others tried to redirect those men from directly engaging with the other rally.

Gladstone also pointed to the “from the river to the sea” chant called out by supporters of the resolution as a form of agitation.

The chant is, “at its worst, a call for ethnic cleansing of 7 million Jews from Israel,” Gladstone said. “In its most positive manifestation, ‘from the river to the sea’ is a call for a one-state solution in which Jews would instantly become an ethnic minority, without the power of self-determination and without control over immigration policy.”

Beth Miller, a Town Meeting member who co-sponsored the ceasefire resolution, said the chant was a “rogue chant” that was quickly shut down.

‘Particularly tense’

Scott Hayes, a former Brookline resident who has been organizing pro-Israel rallies across the Boston area in recent months, helped coordinate some of the group who attended the rally opposing the resolution.

“This one was particularly tense,” Hayes said in an interview. “Both sides, especially when they’re in larger groups like this, tend to get heated. And there are words exchanged.”

“My goal, and the goal I put out to the people that I assembled, was to oppose the ceasefire resolution. That was our only goal,” Hayes said.

On social media that night, alongside photos posted from the rallies, Hayes wrote: “Standing strong in Brookline, Massachusetts against antisemitism and pro terror loving scum!”

‘We joined forces’

A number of police officers and officials were at the rallies. Paul Campbell, a deputy superintendent with the Brookline Police Department, said that, from a public safety perspective, the rallies were “reasonably smooth” despite the crowds.

There were people throughout the crowds attempting to make peace, according to videos shot by attendees and witness accounts.

In one video reviewed by Brookline.News, Gladstone is seen attempting to defuse the situation after demonstrators in favor of the resolution accused a man on the other side of the barrier of calling them “terrorists.”

Directing his comments at various times to people on both sides of the fence, Gladstone says:

“I don’t think that this is a place where we’re learning from each other or teaching each other today, OK? So if someone tries to teach, please separate yourself.”

He and Mabrouk worked together to try to deescalate throughout the event, until they had to leave for the start of Town Meeting, according to both.

“We joined forces,” Mabrouk said. “That was one thing that was kind of nice. We were on opposite sides of this debate, and found common ground to make sure that this thing didn’t get out of hand,” Mabrouk said.