Updated Nov. 21
A demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which could become a weekly event, momentarily turned confrontational this weekend when a counter-protester arrived with a large sign featuring a swastika.
From 11 am to 2 pm Sunday, a few dozen protesters stood at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, chanting and holding signs calling for a ceasefire. The protest was organized by Ceasefire MV, a week-old effort organized by David Mintz of Oak Bluffs.
The protesters were met with many honks of support from passing vehicles, but also, around noon, a man approached the protest with a large sign displaying only a swastika, which was attached to a pole. After he stood among the group, one protester quickly approached and ripped apart his sign.
Police who had been on the scene took the man aside, and he did not return to Five Corners afterward.
According to an attendee near the incident, the man declared, “I’m fishing for Jew haters,” and stated that he had been assaulted when his sign was destroyed.
Protester Talia Weingarten witnessed the incident: “I’m standing on [a] corner, and I look over and I see a young white man holding a large swastika sign in front of everybody else. He did not seem open to dialogue. He seemed like he came to incite. And so I crossed the street to talk to him. And as that was happening, a brave soul was ripping down his inflammatory sign, and that riled him up. He felt like he was being attacked, and called the cops for assault.”
Cape and Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois was considering an investigation, but decided against it after reviewing the incident with Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost.
“While [this] exercise of free speech is abhorrent, no crime was committed,” said Galibois on Tuesday. Galibois adds that if he learns more relevant information about the incident, he would be obligated to review that information.
On Monday, Lieut. Bill Brigham of the Tisbury Police Department said that Tisbury police are still investigating the incident, and that they will complete a full report.
“As of now, no charges are pending, nobody was injured during yesterday’s protest/gathering, and everyone whom our officers spoke with were cooperative,” says Brigham.
On Sunday evening, Mintz said that he was concerned that photos of the man with the swastika might cause some people to falsely view the protest as anti-Semitic: “In no way do we stand shoulder to shoulder with Nazis,” the organizer said after the rally.
“One of the very things we’re protesting is the false conflation of opposition to genocide with anti-Semitism,” Mintz said.
Aside from the brief confrontation on Sunday, another passerby shouted at the protesters, calling them Nazis. Weingarten also noted receiving middle fingers from passersby.
Aside from the disturbance, Mintz, an atheist of Jewish descent, stated that the protest’s goals were to call for a ceasefire, and to condemn treatment of Palestinian civilians. “We support an end to military aid to Israel until the occupation ends,” Mintz added.
Mintz detailed his thoughts on the situation in Israel and Palestine in a recent letter to the editor in the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
“It’s our moral obligation to protest genocide,” Mintz said during Sunday’s rally. “A lot of people are afraid to speak out because it’s such a sensitive issue. A lot of people have drunk the Kool-Aid of U.S. propaganda. There’s a lot of repression, suppression of dissent, on the part of academia, media, police in some instances. It’s very important for people to resist that, and indeed, millions of people all over the world are expressing their outrage and disgust.”
“War crime is war crime,” Mintz added.
Other demonstrators interviewed were sympathetic to Palestinian citizens, and displeased with the U.S. government, either due to seeing coverage of the conflict, or after hearing from Palestinian friends.
“All of us have heart for Palestine, and also either know people who are Palestinian, and have been impacted by this greatly,” said Vineyard resident Alicia Bruce. “And it’s time to put an end to it. And the more we are making things known, the better [the] chance of people calling in to local representatives and asking. It’s our civic duty to, basically, do this.”
“I’ve been pro-Palestine for a very long time,” added Bruce. “I’ve always repped my keffiyeh in solidarity with Palestine. I have friends who are Palestinian, and [know] the treatment that they get when they want to go visit their family, which they don’t really get to [do] that often.”
Guy Jerovich, a Ukrainian American, recalled appreciating recent support for Ukraine on the Island. “I was amazed, and I found it so beautiful, how many people had Ukrainian flags out in support of Ukraine. And that is a beautiful sign of what this Island is capable of. We are capable, as an Island, of standing up for human rights, and to stand up against violence and unwanted violence.”
A lack of similar on-Island support for Palestine has concerned Jerovich. “You don’t see Palestinian flags on front porches. You don’t see them hanging from businesses. We are the majority that do not want to kill Gazan civilians. Yet for whatever reason on this Island, we see nothing. So that’s why we’re here today.”
Jerovich also stated that the U.S. has not been properly representing its taxpayers. “It’s our tax dollars that are funding this war … And the wealthy are known for — I would call it tax evasion — they call it tax avoidance, which is the cornerstone of maintaining wealth. So they don’t actually pay the taxes that are fighting this war. Yet they can be the loudest voices? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Other than weekly rallies, Weingarten wants to see further efforts supporting Palestine. “We’re hoping to continue to congregate and hold events like teach-ins, where we can actually as a community learn the history of this together, and be informed, and not just inflaming each other, because ultimately the goal is to move in unity toward liberation, not further division.”
When asked if Ceasefire MV would support those efforts, Mintz said, “Hell yeah!”
On Monday, Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center issued a statement on the swastika incident. Broitman shared that Chief Habekost had expressed to the Hebrew Center the police department’s commitment to their safety. “In addition,” wrote Broitman, “the outpouring of caring since Oct. 7 from faith communities, as well as the Diversity Council, has been moving.”
Ceasefire MV does not currently have official membership. The protest was organized through social media and word-of-mouth.
Mintz plans to hold this rally from 1 to 3 pm every Sunday: “I think we’re going to make this a standing thing for as long as it takes.”
As of Nov. 10, the Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 11,000 people had been killed in Gaza, following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,400 Israelis. The health ministry is a Gazan government agency, operating under the Hamas-controlled government. The ministry’s count of deaths in Gaza is widely relied upon, and considered reputable.
This article has been updated to include statements from District Attorney Galibois and Rabbi Broitman.