On Tuesday, a video uploaded to social media, showed three visibly Jewish men being harassed, shoved, and thrown out of a Black Lives Matter rally in Philadelphia.
Two out of the three men in the video, strangers before the frightening incident took place, have now spoken to Tablet and described what happened that night. Though the men had different reasons for being out that night—one, a rabbinical student from New Jersey, came from out of state as an ally to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, while the other, a Philadelphia local named Gavi Shapiro, was just there to observe. Shapiro’s involvement in conservative political activism, as well as the fact that the video was initially surfaced by right-wing media outlets, has led to some speculation online that it may have been staged, but according to the accounts given to Tablet, the men in the video did not know each other and only met for the first time moments earlier that night. Further, they described the incident in the same terms, as an unprovoked attack on Jews, who were singled out at a large rally, simply for being Jewish.
Three men in yarmulkes are standing together in the street as the video begins.
“Amalek, Amalek,” says the unidentified man taking video of the incident as he approaches the group. “What you all doing down here? You live here?”
“Not far,” replies one of the men wearing a yarmulke.
“You gotta go,” says a protester off camera.
“Y’all know we the real Jews, right?” says the man holding the camera.
The references to “Amalek” and the “real Jews” suggest that at least some of the perpetrators were influenced by the racist ideology of the Black Hebrew Israelites.
“This ain’t y’alls fight. Y’all gotta go,” says a protester standing off camera.
“We’re just showing solidarity,” says one of the Jewish men, his face half-covered by a white bandana.
“We don’t need no solidarity,” comes the reply.
“Ok, we’ll leave,” the man says, looking visibly unnerved. Seconds later the situation escalates.
“Y’all starting shit,” a man says, raising his voice. “Get the fuck out of here!” another man shouts. “Walk! Walk!”
That’s when Gavi Shapiro, wearing a red shirt in the video, is shoved backward by a protester and surrounded by others who crowd around him aggressively. Another protester steps between them to intervene, in an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, and walks Shapiro away from the crowd. More shouts come from the crowd shortly before the video ends: “Get your white ass out of here,” someone says.
“Get off our block!”
“Philly waking up,” says the man behind the camera. “Synagogue of Satan.”
The incident took place Tuesday night during the second day of protests in Philadelphia, where Walter Wallace, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by the police the previous night after waving a knife.
Gavi Shapiro, 25, was in his apartment when, sometime after 9:00 pm, he heard a raucous gathering outside his window. Shapiro, an IT professional originally from Atlanta, GA, has been living in the predominately African-American West Philadelphia neighborhood for two and half years. An observant Jew, he is active in the Republican Party and ran, unsuccessfully, for Georgia State Congress in 2018.
“I wasn’t there to counter-protest,” he explained, saying that he just wanted “to see some action.”
Initially, Shapiro saw what he described as a procession of young “white suburbanites,” some marching in enclosed barrels serving as makeshift armor and wearing insignia associated with the Antifa movement. Shapiro said he followed along as they grew increasingly violent, throwing bricks at ranks of police officers already out in force.
“At first it was maybe 100 people,” he said, gauging the size of the crowd when he walked outside, “but it soon blew up to like 150.”
Shapiro noted disturbance among his neighbors, some telling the protesters to go back to their own communities and riot there. But Shapiro said he did not feel unsafe. He followed the crowd and later came upon a separate Black Lives Matter protest taking place in a different part of the neighborhood. By the time he met the other two young men, it was 1:00 am and Shapiro had been out observing the demonstrations for nearly three hours.
He never got a chance to ask their names. Within minutes the three were swarmed by BLM protesters near the intersection of 52nd Street and Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia.
The young man in white bandana, a rabbinical student from New Jersey who expresses solidarity in the video, wished to remain anonymous for fear of consequences to his family. By phone, he told Tablet that the anti-Semitic taunting and slurs began earlier, before the start of the video.
“A couple of guys were saying before the video started rolling ‘this ain’t the holocaust, this ain’t holocaust, you guys are the fake Jews.’”
He and his friend, wearing glasses and a blue face bandana in the video, did not plan to attend any protests. “It was spontaneous, spur of the moment thing,” he said, explaining that their Tuesday religious studies extended into the night and that they were already close to Philadelphia. “We heard many negative things about Black Lives Matter from the media, that it was an exclusionary movement. So I wanted to see for myself, maybe learn what they were trying to champion.”
He said that he and his friend were heartened to spot Shapiro in the crowd.
“We saw a fellow Jews and felt more comfortable. You can even see us trying to get to know him,” he said, referring to the video. “He was a local guy, from Philly. We wanted to check out if it was as violent as the media portrayed it. To see if we’d be accepted.”
“It was a blessing in disguise that protesters ejected us,” he said describing how police stood by after Shapiro was shoved. “When the police failed to intervene and stood by I realized this is unsafe territory for me.”
They watched Shapiro being taken behind the police barricade. But Shapiro said that instead of helping, one of the officers shouted at him and pushed back. Shapiro says that not only did the police fail to help, “they screamed at me and pushed me.” The next day, Shapiro went to the District 18 station of the Philadelphia Police Department. “They wouldn’t even take a report from me,” he said. “I kept asking what I did wrong. They were completely unprofessional, which is kind of ironic because that’s what people were protesting.”
Philadelphia Police Department Public Affairs did not respond to Tablet’s request for comment.
Steven Volynets is a writer and journalist. He has written for National Review, Quillette, New York Observer, City Journal, and PC Magazine.