Last year, the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Ashdod in Israel announced their intent to form a so-called “innovation embassy” in New Orleans, as part of an Israeli trade mission. Such a partnership has previously been established between the Port of Ashdod (Israel’s largest shipping port) and another American city, Newark, New Jersey. The innovation embassy’s architects claim that it will be a laboratory for “best practices from their counterparts and entrepreneurship ecosystem leadership. This collaboration… demonstrates the value in exploring locations that pose mutual economic benefit for each other,” according to Michael Hecht, the CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc. Far from being the lone thrust of interconnectivity between two settler-colonial states, in 2023 alone Israel received over $3.8 billion in funding from the United States, primarily for its military; since its founding in 1948, Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid spending. There is also an intimate connection between American police forces and Israel’s military: Members of U.S. law enforcement and Israel’s military have participated in conferences and trainings with one another, including Georgia’s International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program in Atlanta, and the NYPD’s branch in Israel. U.S.-Israeli partnerships also include technological deals between Israeli surveillance companies and New Orleans’ government. Since October 7, 2023, the Israeli military has killed at least 30,000 people in Gaza, and is currently carrying out a campaign of starvation against the people in the Gaza Strip. The following are in-person public comments from the Port of New Orleans’ monthly public meeting on February 27. At the following meeting in March, the board cut off comment, then police arrested speaker and labor activist Felix Allen.

I am a resident of Orleans Parish, and a U.S. citizen. I was last at this podium in December, and since then, 11,000 innocent people have been killed by Israel. We continue to see that national and international accountability mechanisms and frameworks are meaningless in the face of extreme adversity, and thus, as with South African apartheid, it is up to us to exert economic pressure on the state of Israel, pressure that is required to end the mass atrocities inflicted on Palestinian lives over the past 143 days. I make the comparison to South African apartheid as it legitimizes the call for divestment from Israel, as required under anti-apartheid law, of which the U.S. is a signatory; which is why the Port of New Orleans cut trade ties with South Africa. Israel’s institutional and legalized system of racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing, siege, and prolonged military occupation is in fact worse than apartheid. If you were involved with the Port during their courageous boycott of South African trade in the ‘80s, you might have heard the phrase Amandla awethu. It means power to the people. When I say power to the people and that it’s up to us, I mean the eight of you here. The 20 of us sitting here are a conduit to encourage you to do the right thing. End the trade and economic partnerships with Israel, particularly the innovation embassy and the agreement with WSP USA, Inc., an entity which operates in illegal settlements. We are seeing how cities like Chicago are being heralded as heroic for their similar actions. That could be you, and you’ll tell your grandchildren that you were a part of stopping that genocide. Because grandchildren, you’ll say to them, I knew it was the right thing to do. Lastly, On behalf of NOSHIP [New Orleans Stop Helping Israel’s Ports], I’d like to invite you to meet with us, person to person, and explore ways we can mutually implement our demands, so you can be accountable to the community you represent. Thank you. Amandla. Rest in power Tawfik.1Eliza H. [Tawfik Abdeljabbar was a 17-year-old from Gretna who was shot and killed, reportedly by either Israeli security personnel or a civilian, while visiting family in the West Bank region of the Palestinian territories the week prior.]

I’m once again here in opposition to the establishment of an innovation embassy between the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Ashdod. As we enter another month of Israel’s brutal assault on millions of Palestinians, I’m sure the cruelty and inhumanity of Israel’s actions have been made very clear to you all. So I can’t help but wonder what it says about you that you’re still willing to welcome a business partnership with a genocidal state. According to one member of the board, there’s no pay incentive for being on this board. I don’t think he realizes that makes this board’s position on the innovation embassy appear even worse. So with that in mind, I urge you to reflect seriously on what your willingness to participate in this partnership signals to the world about your stance on genocide, what it signals to the world about your character. And then I urge you to do the right thing and stand in opposition to the innovation embassy.2Christian B.

Good afternoon, y’all. I just wanted to address the comment made by Vice Chairman [Walter] Leger at last month’s meeting. He said, “If we could wave a wand and solve this thousands-year-old problem of the Middle East then we would do that.” I wanted to address a couple of things. First, this is not a “thousands-of-years-old problem.” You only have to go back about 120 years to understand that Israel is a European-conceived, white supremacist, settler-colonialist project. I would have brought you my textbook from college to borrow, but my mom is reading it right now. Second, it is deeply ignorant to frame this as a “problem” in which both sides are at fault. Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinian people since its inception. All the Palestinian people have done is fight back to prevent the destruction of themselves and their families. Third, I want to address the idea that you as the board have no responsibility to help the ongoing genocide in Palestine. We’re not asking you to wave a wand. We’re asking you not to do business with a genocidal state. We all have a responsibility to fight injustice, wherever we can. In a different time, would you do business with apartheid South Africa? Would you do business with Nazi Germany? Then don’t do business with Israel.3Felix A. 

You know who I am. I am sure you’re tired of seeing me, and I am very tired of seeing you. But I am more tired of seeing fathers hold up the severed limbs of their child or collecting parts of them in a plastic bag. I am tired of seeing mothers scream as they hold up their martyred babies and people crying out from under the rubble. They can’t breathe. I don’t think you really understand that this is the result of your actions, and part of me hopes that you don’t, because if you were really this bloodthirsty, I would be afraid for all of us. If you have the heart to mourn your coworkers, you should be able to mourn Palestinians too. You should not be in power. You should be ashamed. Free Palestine.4Helise X.

I am a born and raised NOLA citizen and I implore you to end all collaboration with Israel. Being that you all agreed to this collaboration with Israel in the first place, I can only assume that you’ve succumbed to the propaganda and indoctrination imposed on you by the U.S. and Israeli governments. You’ve heard of Aaron Bushnell, the 25-year-old white male Air Force member who committed an act of self-immolation in protest of the Israeli genocide. He understood not only his role in this genocide, but the volume of his social status in bringing awareness to the cause to ensure that his act of martyrdom, as well as the almost 40,000 Palestinians, was not in vain. I will share some comments from social media that reflect the importance of his sacrifice: “Self-immolation is a product of a deeply sick society, based on deeply sick policies, NOT a sick mind.” “It is ridiculous that it is considered mentally ill to sacrifice yourself for a just cause, but it’s patriotic to sacrifice yourself for the U.S. military-industrial complex.” May Aaron rest in peace and act as inspiration for our movement.5DK

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illustration by Sadie Wiese

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