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Demonstrators gather for Biden's visit to New London

New London — Wherever the president goes, demonstrators typically follow.

President Joe Biden's visit to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday brought together a diverse group of demonstrators, protesters and some regular folks attempting to get publicity for their messages.

Peace activists arrived at McKinley Park near the Coast Guard Academy entrance hours ahead of Biden’s 10:30 a.m. arrival, to call for reductions in military spending and an end to nuclear weapons. A large contingent of people condemning Israel and Biden also were at the park, protesting what they claim are human rights violations against Palestinians happening amid the recent explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza.

The gathering was peaceful and mostly contained to a small grassy area on the outskirts of McKinley Park.

Representatives from the Connecticut Chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine and Students for Justice in Palestine waved Palestinian flags and led chants that included “Free, free Palestine! Occupation is a crime!”

The crowd of nearly 100 people joined in.

“This is not about religion. It’s not about politics. It’s a humanitarian issue,” said Bazila Munir, 21, of South Windsor. “President Biden has not condemned the actions of Israel, saying that Israel has a right to self-defense, but killing children in their homes and displacing innocent families isn’t self-defense.”

More than 200 people have died — mostly Palestinians — in the ongoing exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes between Israel and Hamas.

Mahmoud Mansour, imam of the Islamic Center of New London, said, “We as American citizens have a responsibility to demand the end to the human rights violations.”

Mansour joined with others to call for an end to U.S. aid to Israel as a starting point, and for a U.N. Security Council resolution to say, "We need to stop the slaughter immediately.”

“He’s not doing that. I don’t understand what he’s waiting for. How many people have to die before he says stop this business? Israel, they have the green light,” Mansour said.

Biden this week spoke with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in a statement afterward reiterated his "firm support for Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate attacks." Biden also expressed his support for a cease-fire.

Shelly Altman of New Haven, the chairman of Jewish Voice for Peace New Haven, said the argument used consistently is “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

“You hear that over and over again,” he said. “Israel is a heavily militarized state supported by the United States. They’re using that military strength to oppress and murder Palestinians. This is not defense. We need to stop giving aid to Israel at all. Israel acts with impunity... ”

Altman, who is Jewish, said the people in the crowd criticizing the U.S. policies are not antisemitic.

“To call it antisemitic to criticize what they’re doing right now, creating a catastrophe in Gaza ... is absolutely crazy,” Altman said. "But what Israel is doing is fanning the flames of antisemitism worldwide.”

Joanne Sheehan of Norwich joined members of the War Resisters League and Coalition for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in a call to reduce military spending.

“Our organization believes war is a crime against humanity,” Sheehan said. “I believe that deeply. We need to be calling for a cease-fire. (Israeli) bombs are paid for by us.”

She said the country needs to shift its funding away from the military, sign a treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons and shift funding toward building communities and addressing things like infrastructure, poverty, racism and militarism.

g.smith@theday.com 


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