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What is Within Our Lifetime, the anti-Israel activist group behind the protests at the Nova exhibit and Brooklyn Museum?

The hardline pro-Palestinian group has spent years building up its following with street rallies in New York, and sparking controversies along the way

(New York Jewish Week) — When anti-Israel activists protested outside a Lower Manhattan exhibition commemorating the victims of the Nova music festival massacre on Oct. 7, they were condemned as antisemitic by some of Israel’s critics as well as its defenders.

On the way to the protest, masked activists had swarmed subway cars, demanding any “Zionists” identify themselves and reigniting a debate over anti-masking laws in New York.

The week before, protesters defaced Brooklyn’s iconic OY/YO sculpture with pro-Palestinian graffiti and stormed the museum lobby, sparking an uproar.

And earlier this month, protesters flaunting symbols associated with Palestinian terror groups rallied against Hillel at Baruch College, calling on the school to eject the Jewish group from campus. A Jewish faculty group called the event “unambiguously antisemitic.”

The protests were all linked by one group — a hardline pro-Palestinian activist organization called Within Our Lifetime.

The group has spent years building its presence in New York City, becoming the leading pro-Palestinian activist organization in the region, and has caused repeated controversies on the way. The pace and intensity of the turmoil have spiked since Oct. 7, shutting down public spaces in New York City, drawing repeated concern from elected officials and action from law enforcement as well as social media platforms.

Here’s what you need to know about the group at the center of New York City’s most volatile pro-Palestinian protests.

Within Our Lifetime started as a student organization but has widened.

Within Our Lifetime was established in 2015 as NYC Students for Justice in Palestine, a branch of the national campus movement, advocating for “anti-normalization” with all “Zionist organizations” and the Palestinian “right to resist.” Later that year, it criticized the pro-Palestinian movement as overly focused on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, precipitating a break with National Students for Justice in Palestine. The group then rebranded as Within Our Lifetime, a nod to one of its protest chants, “We will free Palestine within our lifetime.”

The group held regular street rallies in New York City in the years after its formation, particularly during flare-ups in violence between Israel and the Palestinians, growing its following. During the rallies, protesters chant for the destruction of Israel and call to “globalize the intifada,” a reference to two uprisings against Israel, one of which was characterized by a rash of deadly suicide bombings. The group has also voiced support for terrorism against Israelis.

Before Oct. 7, Within Our Lifetime drew thousands of activists to some of its events and gradually became the leading anti-Israel protest group in the city. Despite its prominence, it is not an independent nonprofit organization and its fundraising runs through Wespac, a small nonprofit in Westchester County that serves as a clearinghouse for donations to pro-Palestinian groups around the country.

The group’s leaders say most anti-Israel protest does not go far enough.

Within Our Lifetime is led by Nerdeen Kiswani, a Palestinian-American in her mid-20s who grew up in Brooklyn. Kiswani first drew major attention and criticism from Jewish groups in 2022 when she delivered a speech at the City University of New York Law School commencement in which she decried alleged “Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military.”

The following year, another leader of the group, Fatima Mohammed, delivered CUNY Law’s commencement speech, accusing Israel of “indiscriminate” murder and lauding resistance to “Zionism around the world.” The remarks were condemned as hate speech by CUNY’s chancellor and prompted congressional legislation seeking to defund CUNY. CUNY Law canceled student speakers at commencement after the uproar.

Kiswani says she has faced personal blowback because of her activism, telling the pro-Palestinian website Mondoweiss in 2022 that Jewish advocacy groups and individuals including the right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro had directed their followers to criticize her. She also said she believed the group was needed because of what she saw as a too-passive approach among many student activists.

“I helped start WOL because I felt there was a disconnect between what was happening on the ground in Palestine, and what organizers on campuses were calling for,” she told Mondoweiss. “The discussions and a lot of the things that supporters of Palestine were talking about in these academic spaces were not reflective of what the people on the ground are experiencing.”

In March, Kiswani appeared at a Columbia University event where speakers praised Hamas. Kiswani also attended Columbia’s protest encampment in the spring and Within Our Lifetime urged followers to mass at that encampment and another at the City College of New York.

The group immediately expressed support for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The group has gained increased visibility since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza. On that day, Within Our Lifetime posted support on Instagram for the Hamas invasion, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 250 hostage.

“We must defend the Palestinian right to resist zionist settler violence and support Palestinian resistance in all its forms. By any means necessary. With no exceptions and no fine print,” the group said on Oct. 7.

The controversies mounted as the group held near-daily rallies across the city, sometimes shutting down traffic on major thoroughfares, resulting in dozens of arrests. Advertisements for the rallies often call on followers to “flood” a location, echoing Hamas’ name for the Oct. 7 attack, the “Al Aqsa Flood.”

The group’s targets include Jewish and non-Jewish people and institutions with only indirect ties to Israel.

In November, Within Our Lifetime posted maps on its Instagram account detailing the locations of Jewish organizations in New York City and saying they had “blood on their hands.”

Also in November, Within Our Lifetime targeted the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in a protest that saw demonstrators with signs bearing antisemitic tropes and swastikas. Within Our Lifetime also targeted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. During that event, protesters defaced the facade of the New York Public Library, causing $75,000 in damage.

In January, Within Our Lifetime protested against the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with Kiswani urging demonstrators to shout “shame” while patients looked on.

Many of the group’s targets have only indirect connections to Israel. In the case of Memorial Sloan Kettering, Kiswani wrote on X that the protest targeted the hospital because it had accepted a donation from billionaire investor Ken Griffin. Griffin had spoken out against Harvard students who signed a letter blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 attack.

Other rallies backed by the group have targeted the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the Israeli emergency services group ZAKA, synagogues holding Israeli real estate events that included properties in West Bank settlements and the Weill Cornell Medical College.

Within Our Lifetime has faced sanctions on social media.

Within Our Lifetime had 62,000 followers on Instagram in 2022, according to Mondoweiss. By November, when it distributed the map of Jewish organizations in New York, the account had 121,000 followers.

Instagram permanently disabled Kiswani’s and Within Our Lifetime’s accounts in February. A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Instagram, said the accounts had been removed because they violated the platform’s community guidelines, including its “Dangerous Organizations & Individuals policy.”

Within Our Lifetime now communicates through its Twitter account and on the messaging app Telegram, where it has close to 6,000 followers.

The group is closely tied to student activists in the city, especially pro-Palestinian groups in the CUNY system. Within Our Lifetime and college groups advertise each other’s rallies and amplify each other’s messaging, as they did ahead of the Baruch protest. Within Our Lifetime and student protest organizers often send out identical messaging on Telegram within minutes of each other.

The group has been linked to antisemitic hate crimes — and is doubling down amid criticism.

In 2022, Kiswani and Mohammed led a protest during which an activist associated with the group, Saadah Masoud, beat a Jewish man. At least two other activists who have protested with the group have been imprisoned for attacking Jews. At the Brooklyn Museum protest, demonstrators harassed Jews who were walking past.

Last week, after the Brooklyn Museum protest, Within Our Lifetime urged its followers to “take autonomous action” against the museum and other cultural institutions in the city in retaliation for arrests at the rally. The group released a map marking museums with inverted red triangles, a Hamas symbol that the terror group uses to identify targets in its propaganda videos. Soon afterward, vandals defaced the homes of four Brooklyn Museum officials in the city, using the same symbol.

The group has doubled down on its approach following the criticism over the Nova protest and its targeting of the Brooklyn Museum.

“If you take peace from the people, we take peace from you,” the group said in a post on X, where it has 28,000 followers. The post was accompanied by an inverted red triangle.

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