Opposing Views Clash in Cleveland’s Public Square

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Opposing Views Clash in Cleveland’s Public Square

A motley crew populated Public Square in downtown Cleveland this afternoon, all of them demonstrating for or against their chosen cause. I wandered over shortly after 1 p.m. and found two lines of police officers—standing shoulder-to-shoulder, very serious-looking—who had formed an impenetrable wall around a small Christian hate group.

The purpose of the human fence, presumably, was to protect the demonstrators, whose inflammatory rhetoric included a list of people for whom “hellfire awaits.” Among them: “metal-heads,” “homos,” “whores,” “lesbians,” “Catholics,” “masturbators,” “porno-freaks,” “gangster rappers,” “drunkards,” “cigarette-suckers,” and “any woman who has an abortion.” Moreover, Black Lives Matter are hypocritical racists (since “most black people don’t even care about their children”), and “Allah is Satan.”

There is one group of people, however, for whom these fanatics had only kind words. They repeatedly asserted that “police lives matter,” and they praised law enforcement for protecting and serving the community. A fascinating (or perhaps boring) contradiction I have neither the time nor energy to unpack.

As I stood suppressing laughter, I noticed that standing beside me was Seth Tobocman, the political cartoonist/activist who spoke at a book presentation I attended Monday night. He was sketching a cartoon of the demonstration in his notepad.

Tobocman was struck by the fact that these particular demonstrators appeared to have special preference—and he was right. Not only were they surrounded by police officers (inevitably garnering them heightened publicity), they also had the best platform in the Square.

Meanwhile, a counter demonstration set up across the way—”Queers Against Racism”—had an audience of maybe four. It was an interesting disparity.

Needless to say, I quickly became bored with the Christian extremism, so I went over to talk to a man standing behind a massive painting of Donald Trump, complete with bald eagle, cascading American flag and a distant view of planet Earth. It’s title: “Unafraid And Unashamed.” Fitting, yes.

The artist is Julien Raven, a London-born American citizen and alternate delegate from New York State.

“This is a prophetic painting,” he said. “It was painted last year in July. It’s a prophecy.”

When asked what it is about Mr. Trump that he finds most attractive, Raven cited the Republican nominee’s personality—a response most reporters in Cleveland are surely familiar with.

“The type of person that he is, the type of executive thinker he is, the way that he can make hard decisions and he’s not going to be worried about what people think about him,” he said. “He’s a courageous, executive decision-maker.”

Or, put in the form of a metaphor: “He sweats executiveness.”

While—surprise—he had no hard-hitting criticisms of Trump in terms of policy, Raven did say that he wished his candidate would think more often before speaking. That said, he’s giving Trump a pass on account of his rookie status in politics.

“He’s new to the game, and that’s why there’s a lot of latitude that I give him,” he explained. “He’s not a politician, he’s not scripted. He shoots from the hip, and sometimes you miss.”

And what of his opponent?

“Lock her up,” Raven grinned.

As I began walking out of the Square, a poster for If Americans Knew, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, caught my attention. The representative I spoke to was Alfred Greve of Dutchess County, New York, and he summarized his organization’s purpose thus:

“We are pro-peace, pro-justice, and we say Zionism is a corrupting force in the Middle East and in America’s politics,” he said, adding that “the Israel lobby [a coalition of pro-Israel organizations actively involved in American electoral politics] has a tremendous influence over our government, and as a result we are the great enabler of the injustice that the Israeli government perpetrates against the Palestinian people.”

It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of our public officials flat out refuse to say anything critical of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. For people like Alfred, this fact has long been a source of consternation. Which is why Bernie Sanders’ comments earlier this year about Israel’s disproportionate response to Palestinian aggression was such a big deal.

“At that point I did get enthusiastic about Bernie, and I sent him a contribution and I did some canvasing for him [before the New York primary],” Greve said, before asserting that Hillary Clinton is “an apologist for Israel” who doesn’t “have the backbone to defy the Israel lobby.”

Before we could finish our conversation, Greve and I were interrupted by two young men (reporters, judging by the credentials dangling from their necks), wearing yarmulkes.

“So aren’t all you pro-Palestinians very judgmental?” the first one asked. “You know this causes anti-Semitism, right?”

“How come you don’t have a [poster] for Syria—all the people in Syria that are getting killed?” asked the other, talking over Greve, who was arguing that Zionism is to blame for that conflict as well. “Those people you don’t care about.”

Things grew heated when the second man presumed Greve’s religious identity.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “You’re probably Jewish. I can see your hatred. I see your hatred. When I see hatred, I know that you’re Jewish.”

“Self-hating Jew,” his colleague added.

“You’re beyond the pale,” Greve responded, clearly agitated. “I do not need to discuss any constructive ideas with you. I’m not debating with you guys.”

“I can’t count how many times that has happened to me,” Greve said after the two Jewish men walked away.

Then another man—not a reporter—walked over and, with hostility in his voice, asked Greve who owned the land of Israel in the Bible, which I took as my cue to leave and get a cocktail or three.