New Jersey Sees Showdown Over Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Teaneck, New Jersey, looked a little like the West Bank on Sunday. Whose fault that is depends on who you ask. But one thing is clear: It began with a real estate fair.

A few weeks ago, a group called My Home in Israel Real Estate announced plans to hold a series of real estate fairs encouraging Americans to buy property in Israel and the West Bank, where the Israeli government has confiscated land from Palestinians. Rich Siegel, a Jewish activist for Palestinian rights, vowed at a Teaneck Township Council meeting to organize a protest against My Home in Israel when it came to town.

My Home in Israel had rented out the local Keter Torah synagogue for its Teaneck exhibition. Fearing the worst, Teaneck’s government called in police from around Bergen County and closed the roads around the synagogue. On the day of the event, a heavy police presence separated protesters with Palestinian flags from counterprotesters with Israeli flags.

Although the protest organizers were focused on the real estate fair, the protest became a much broader airing of Israeli and Palestinian grievances, accompanied by plenty of boorish behavior on both sides. At one point, a pro-Israeli demonstrator yelled “Fuck your mother” in Arabic, and pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted “Son of a bitch” back at him in Hebrew.

Two people were arrested for spraying an unknown liquid at people passing by the real estate fair, according a statement posted on Facebook by the Teaneck Police Department.

A group of pro-Israeli counterprotesters confronts a pro-Palestinian protest in Teaneck, New Jersey on March 10, 2024.
A group of pro-Israeli counterprotesters confronts a pro-Palestinian protest in Teaneck, New Jersey on March 10, 2024. (Matthew Petti)

Teaneck, a suburb of New York City, is a famously diverse town. (It was the first in New Jersey to desegregate its schools.) And owing to its many immigrant communities, Teaneck has often dipped into foreign policy issues. In 2022, the town had a heated debate after its local Democratic Party chapter voted to condemn Hindu nationalism.

But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the most contentious issue in Teaneck politics, and every round of controversy seems to be an escalation over the previous one. In 2021, an Israeli flag-raising ceremony provoked a low-key counterprotest that barely made the local news. It was a far cry from Sunday’s loud clashes.

Earlier this year, the federal government got involved in Teaneck’s Israeli-Palestinian debate. After local high schoolers held a pro-Palestinian rally, township council members pushed Rep. Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.) to condemn the “antisemitic, anti-Israel protest during school hours.” (I covered the controversy for The Intercept.) At Gottheimer’s urging, the Department of Education opened a Title VI investigation into the teens.

These disputes have allegedly descended into shit flinging, both metaphorical and literal. Unknown vandals have “repeatedly” thrown bags of feces onto the lawns of pro-Palestinian activists, claimed protest organizer Adam Weissman, who is Jewish and supports the Palestinian cause. Last year, after a school board member was accused of censoring pro-Israeli voices, she called one of her critics “pencil dick” on camera.

Siegel brought the real estate fair to protesters’ attention at a February 27 town council meeting. He pointed out that My Home in Israel was advertising properties in the West Bank. Siegel argued that, because Israel took the land through military conquest, selling such property would violate international law.

The website for My Home in Israel says the tour is “focusing on” several Israeli cities and three West Bank settlements: Neve Daniel, Efrat, and Ma’ale Adumim. Event organizer Gidon Katz told that to call any of the locations “stolen land is to deny the existence of the State of Israel.” 

All three of those West Bank settlements were built at least partially on land that the Israeli government seized from Palestinian farmers or shepherds after conquering the West Bank in 1967. Last month, the U.S. State Department reiterated its position that the settlements are an illegal land grab. Last week, the Israeli army declared an additional four square kilometers outside of Ma’ale Adumim to be “state land.”

Siegel argued that the war in Gaza, which has left Teaneck residents “in deep mourning,” has made it an especially bad time to hold the exhibition.

“What this real estate event is going to do is it’s going to fan the flames,” he said. “If it goes forward, there will be a demonstration. I know there’s going to be a demonstration because I’m going to organize it. It will be very well attended.”

A video of Siegel’s speech, reposted by the Instagram page Teaneck for Palestine, quickly went viral. Amazon Labor Union leader Chris Smalls shared a video of Siegel, and the news channel AJ+ ran its own interview with Siegel. It would be a well-attended protest indeed.

On the day of the real estate fair, security politely turned me away at the door, stating that news media would not be allowed inside. So instead, I spoke to pro-Israeli counterprotesters who had gathered along the protesters’ planned route.

Though they were eager to share their general feelings on the conflict—that Israel wanted peace and the Palestinian cause was violent—they were far more shy about defending the real estate sale on the merits. When I pressed them on the question, several pro-Israeli demonstrators argued that governments had the right to take land by force.

“There was a war, and they [Palestinians] lost,” said a man named Jacob, who did not provide his last name. “I’m sorry, but that’s the entire world.”

A woman named Julie, who also did not give her last name, said she supported a two-state solution, which meant that Palestinians could have an independent nation-state alongside Israel. But she insisted that Palestinian land in the West Bank was “disputed property. It’s not property that belongs to them.”

When I asked her about specific land confiscations, Julie called over her friend Dave, who told me that the West Bank is “ours. It’s biblical land. Go and read the Bible.” A third woman who was with him added that “wars happen everywhere. Borders have changed all the time.” Then she insisted that she has many “Arab friends.”

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian demonstrators were gathering at the Teaneck Armory, a public park 1.4 miles away from the synagogue. Alice Golim, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace who helped organize the protest, held a banner that said “Palestine is not for sale” in Hebrew. She told me that “selling land in the occupied territories is morally a shame.”

Two members of Jewish Voice for Peace walk ahead of a protest in Teaneck, New Jersey on March 10, 2024.
Two members of Jewish Voice for Peace walk ahead of a protest in Teaneck, New Jersey on March 10, 2024. (Matthew Petti)


Bergen County Jewish Action Committee President Emma Horowitz had earlier told that “the idea of protesting a synagogue should be something that shocks all of us.” When I asked Golim about that, she called it “awkward” that the real estate fair was being held in a house of worship.

In addition to opposing the sale of Palestinian land, Golim wanted the Israeli government to hear that there will be “no business as usual until they cease what they’re doing in Gaza, work to have the hostages released, and allow humanitarian aid.”

Some supporters had a more hardline anti-Israel message. Protesters chanted “We don’t want no two states, we want 48,” referring to the lands that became Israel after its 1948 independence war. A woman wearing a Palestinian scarf held up a banner that said “From the river to the sea, there will be no Israeli.” She declined to answer my questions.

Weissman told me the sign was not an officially approved part of the protest. But, unprompted, he began to defend its message. “No Palestinian will say that they believe Palestine should be cleansed of Jews,” he said. “If you talk to Jews in Palestine who are critical of Israel, they don’t call themselves Israelis, they call themselves Palestinian Jews.”

He cited the example of Neturei Karta, a Jewish group that rejects the State of Israel on fundamentalist religious grounds. Many members live in Jerusalem and fly Palestinian flags. Their beliefs are considered fringe in both Israel and the Jewish diaspora.

As the protest moved from the armory towards the real estate fair, a long line of police cars kept the protesters and counterprotesters separated. The pro-Palestinian protest organizers, who wore reflective vests, intervened several times to prevent angry protesters from going over the pro-Israeli side.

The two sides spent the half-hour march flinging taunts at each other across the police line. A pro-Palestinian protester held up a sign that said “There’s plenty of land in hell.” A group of pro-Israeli counterprotesters chanted “human shields” while a group of protesters held up photos of fallen Palestinian children.

At a few points, the protest looked like it was going to cause clashes with locals in their own homes.

When a local started to film the protest from his house, a man draped in a Palestinian flag walked up to his driveway and started to yell, “Come outside, bitch!” Organizers talked the protester down. “Let them film,” Weissman said. “What do we have to hide?”

Later, the same scene repeated on the other side. A local shouted “Free Palestine” from her window, and a group of counterprotesters wearing Israeli flags stepped onto her lawn. “Free what? Why don’t you come outside!” one of them shouted. After a few seconds, they apparently got bored and walked away.

At the end of the day, that was the difference between Teaneck and the West Bank. For all the strong feelings and even personal connections that Teaneck residents had towards the region, everyone involved could choose to walk away.

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