By Rachel Avraham
Portland, Oregon is known to be the capital city of Antifa, a radical Marxist and anti-American organization. Prominent American journalist Andy Ngo in Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy wrote, “After months of coronavirus lockdowns in early 2020, race riots erupted in response to the death of George Floyd. In the name of BLM and with the help of Antifa, rioters and looters torched buildings, raided stores, and attacked law enforcement in dozens of cities.” The situation in Portland was known to be especially bad, with Antifa rioters committing an arson attack on the local courthouse and outside the mayor’s home.
Despite the fact that Trump is no longer in office, Antifa is still alive and well in the city. Following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin, 200 Antifa gathered in Portland and started to riot, smashing windows and committing acts of violence towards police officers. It was around this period that I visited Portland to examine, on behalf of Save the West, how Antifa has influenced the city residents’ view on the State of Israel.
For the purposes of this article, I lied about my nationality, telling people on the street that I was Turkish, not Israeli. I also told them my name was “Rahel Ibrihim,” which is the Turkish translation of Rachel Avraham. Nevertheless, despite my deception, only the waitress at a vegan restaurant was open enough to talk about it. Rose City Antifa declined my request for an interview, while most people on the street were unwilling to talk to me, for I was an “outsider” whom they did not “know.” Despite this, I did manage to grasp the general local perception in the city.
In the Goose Hollow neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, Vtopia, a vegan restaurant in the area, put a “Free Palestine” sign outside their window. According to a waitress who works in the restaurant, a local Palestinian activist named Moon stood behind the initiative by reaching out to small businesses in the area: “She reached out and asked if we had similar values. So, we said ‘yah’ and put the sign up on our window.”
When asked her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said: “I personally don’t know too much about it. I probably should. I wasn’t the person who set that all up. That was the owner.” However, she continues to work at the restaurant every day despite the existence of the sign, though she acknowledged that she “does not know much about” the conflict.
After she went away, I spoke to two customers outside of the restaurant, a father and daughter. When asked what they thought about the sign, the father said: “It’s their business. Everyone has a right to an opinion. I don’t expect everyone to agree.” When asked his opinion about the conflict, he said: “It does not matter.” He emphasized that he is not willing to discuss his opinions with “a stranger”. He said, “I don’t know what your purpose is. I don’t have an opinion I am willing to share. I will keep it to myself.” His daughter said that she concurred with “whatever dad said.”
Unfortunately, Vtopia was only open for carry-out due to the high level of COVID in the area, so there was no one there except for the waitress, the father and daughter. So, I went into a different café down the street to learn what locals in Portland thought about the sign. At a nearby café, the waiter said: “I don’t know anything about this issue. I am not the one to ask. I don’t get involved in politics. I am sorry.”
At a nearby table, I asked the same question to five Portlanders who were sitting down. Most were quiet, but one said: “You are talking to the wrong people right now. We are very low level. Are you recording this conversation? If so, will you stop please.”
It is hard to tell from these responses how the people of Portland really think. So, I contacted three members of the local Jewish community to hear their opinion on the subject. While an elderly Jewish couple from Portland seemed to be in denial that Antifa existed, much less that they were a major problem, a Jewish doctoral student at Portland State University was willing to say a lot, provided I did not publish his name:
“Race, not Israel, is dominating conversations on campus. Jewish Israeli issues are not even being addressed and Jews are being lumped in with all other whites. There are a lot of Jews who are looking for other identities right now. There are a lot of Jewish students that I met who feel the need to identify as Queer, so you don’t get the white identity. I met a student, who was half Jewish and half Indian. He made sure that he was identified as Asian.”
He claimed that there are “lots of Marxist professors and students” at Portland State University. According to this doctoral student, “Portland State University is more Black Lives Matter than Antifa. Nevertheless, I met a lot of people that are into defunding the police. For me and many others, this is very conflicting, as I do not share the Mayflower story. I don’t fit into the traditional Oregonian story. I find it very confusing as it is about going back and is not focused on what is happening in the present. My ancestors were victimized by anti-Semitism, so I feel conflicted on claims that I should share historic responsibility. Many Jews are also conflicted. Some feel the need to identify as privileged whites for they are liberal progressive and want to be in solidarity, but I don’t feel like that.”
He claimed that many Jews are not fitting into the Marxist pro-Antifa pro-BLM narrative: “There is a lot of subtle covert anti-Semitism going on. I feel like there are many of the BLM and Antifa people who feel that Jewish people are not their type of people. Oregon has a very disturbing racist history. In the social science community, they are just beginning to learn how deep it goes. We’ve had horrible issues with xenophobia.”
For example, he claimed that a local Turkish student complained that her needs were not getting met as an international student for she did not neatly fit into the category of being either white or black and she had major run-ins with the Antifa/BLM people due to her opposition for being lumped in as a “white privileged American.” According to him, “She felt very poorly treated by people on the left for everything is just about race. She was dismissed by local Marxists as just another person challenging Black Lives Matter.”
However, he noted that the Antifa/BLM people were not willing to listen to her feedback or that of anyone else who dissented. According to him, Antifa/BLM seeks to win at all costs and “ethics don’t matter. Team loyalty is a big issue as well. If someone in their group takes a different view, they are seen as a traitor. People are looking at things through the lens of being a sport. They don’t care about listening to people’s stories. All they care about is that you are of the right ideology. These people are super close minded.”
He claimed that the waitress at the VTopia restaurant was typical of many Portlanders these days: “They really want change. They are doing a lot of cause-jumping right now. They support anything that promises change and don’t do any deep questioning of whether or not its legitimate. A lot of it is based on emotion rather than reason. Her response was typical. A lot of low information. Just wanting to do good. Not knowing why she believes what she believes. She just wants to help everyone in need and does not do her homework.”
However, he claimed that many Portlanders are indifferent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these days because “they are too focused on race.”
Nevertheless, even though the race issue dominates local headlines, and “Black Lives Matter” signs can be viewed across the city, several Israeli restaurants were sprayed with anti-Israel graffiti earlier this year and the local newspaper, the Oregonian, covers the conflict in a very hostile manner. Thus, even though racial tensions, car-jackings, robberies, Antifa/BLM violence, homelessness, the shuttering of local business, the strict coronavirus restrictions, and the spraying of graffiti everywhere are major local issues, when Israel is mentioned, in too many instances it is not in a positive manner. Nevertheless, this is often drowned out by the vast economic devastation in the city, as numerous local businesses went under between the strict coronavirus restrictions, Antifa/BLM violence that has overrun the streets and the vast poverty caused by the pandemic. The failure of the local and state leadership is simply hard to fathom.
Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working for the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, which is run by Mendi Safadi, a former Likud Candidate for the Knesset and a former chief of staff of former Israeli Communication Minister Ayoob Kara. Since 2012, she has been working as an Israel-based journalist and writer, covering Iran, Kurdistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other developments in the greater Islamic world.
Her articles have appeared in the Washington Times, the Hill, Front Page Magazine, the Daily Wire, the Christian Post, the Baltimore Jewish Times, the Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, Ahval and many other publications across the globe. She received her MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She got her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.