But in the context of other incidents over the past 24 hours, what happened to me was mild. Olivia Reingold on being surrounded in Union Square while on assignment for The Free Press.
The Free Press’s Olivia Reingold covering the rally against Israel in Union Square. (The Free Press)

I Went to Cover a Protest. I Was Surrounded by a Mob.

But in the context of other incidents over the past 24 hours, what happened to me was mild.

Last night, I went to New York City’s Union Square to cover a rally against the “massacre in the Nuseirat Camp regions of Gaza.” That’s what pro-Palestinian protesters are calling the operation that freed four Israeli hostages and killed at least a hundred Palestinians—a mix of Hamas combatants and civilians caught in the chaos as Hamas fired RPGs at the hostages. All around the country, similar anti-Israel protests sprung up to rouse those furious at the hostage rescue operation.

I had been at this particular protest in Union Square for about 45 minutes, watching and taking notes, when a man wearing a neck gaiter, sunglasses, and a Hezbollah flag fashioned as a headscarf suddenly pointed at me. “She’s a Zionist!” he shouted. “Get her out of here.”

Immediately, dozens of protesters swarmed me, hoisting their keffiyehs high in the sky and boxing me in to block my view. Many of them were completely shrouded in keffiyehs and masks. A chorus of voices surrounded me, shoving me. “Get the fuck out,” a woman yelled into my ear. “The people are saying we don’t want you here.”

“Get the fuck out,” a woman yelled into my ear. “The people are saying we don’t want you here.” (The Free Press)

A man holding a sign that declared “Long Live October 7th” shouted over the crowd, “Get in her face, make her leave.” 

One man fired an air horn into my ears. A girl lurched at my notebook, grabbing it and ripping apart the metal spine. “You’re not writing anything down,” she said, tearing the pages and throwing them into the air. “Get the fuck out—get the fuck out!”

In the context of these protests across the country this week, this was very mild. For anyone visibly Jewish who happens to be near one of these mobs, or anyone like a security guard trying to keep peace, the interactions are often much more harrowing. Here are a few data points of the escalation over the last 24 hours. 

  • Yesterday at UCLA, a crowd of pro-Palestine protesters, most with makeshift shields, swarmed a security guard. As he tried to flee, one smacked him over the head with a smartphone, causing him to bleed. 

  • Later that night on campus, a masked protester berated UCLA Chabad Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, calling him a “pedophile rabbi,” adding that “Israel is full of pedophiles.” When Gurevich asked why he wouldn’t reveal his face, the man replied, “If I show my face, I’ll have to fucking kill you.” Other protesters shouted at the rabbi and others: “Go back to Poland or Ukraine,” “Go back to Europe,” and “Death to fucking Zionism.” Twenty-five protesters were arrested. 

  • More scenes were captured on video in Union Square in New York. One man yelled at a small crowd that had come out to support Israel, “I wish Hitler was still here, he would’ve wiped all you out.” 

  • On Wall Street, the protest mob chanted “Israel go to hell” outside an exhibition memorializing the Nova Music Festival, where Hamas murdered 364 innocents. As the crowd took its “citywide day of rage for Gaza” downtown via the subway, one protester proclaimed on the train, “Raise your hands if you’re a Zionist. This is your chance to get out.” 

Anti-Israel protesters, who have been marching regularly in major cities across the world ever since Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,200 civilians, claim they are for peace. And yet, they find creative ways to justify the violence of Hamas. I’ve been to 18 of these protests so far, and it’s not unusual to spot the symbols of terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and even Nazi swastikas. 

A woman holds an Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas) flag in Union Square, in Manhattan, on June 10, 2024. (The Free Press)

Many believed the protests would die out once college students had dismantled their encampments and gone home for the summer. But instead, with the heat of summer, protesters have spilled into the streets and become even more brazen and confident in what they’re saying out loud.

To be clear: I was in a public park, doing my job as a journalist, simply trying to document the movement as it is. When a mob prevented me from doing so, threatening violence and grabbing my things, I filed a police report for harassment. 

“The protesters have a right to march. They have a right to scream vile things—and we have a right to watch, to listen, and to report on what they’re saying.” (The Free Press)

The protesters have a right to march. They have a right to scream vile things—and we have a right to watch, to listen, and to report on what they’re saying. That’s the deal you make when you host a rally on a public sidewalk in America or take over the quad of a public university. You cannot demand that only comrades be allowed to see what you’re doing. 

“I’m just going to write down your quotes as they really are,” I tried to reason with the protesters last night. “I want to speak with you. Will you speak with me?”

“Free Palestine,” one girl replied, flipping me off. 

Olivia Reingold is a reporter for The Free Press. To support more of our work, become a Free Press subscriber today.

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