With the coronavirus cases sharply declining in New York, movie theaters are reopening along with other high-density venues. But this past week, Center Cinemas in Sunnyside had an unexpected message on its marquee: “From the river to the sea,” the rallying cry of Palestinian activists who seek the erasure of the Jewish state.

“My friend Alice Lemos from Sunnyside alerted me to this sickening Hamas slogan,” said Republican activist Phil Orenstein, who is the president of his party’s Queens Village Club. “It was put up during the pro-Hamas demonstration two weeks ago.”

Sensing momentum from the election of leftist candidates to offices across the country, and the use of social media to spread their message, anti-Israel demonstrators stopped traffic on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside on May 23, as similar rallies took place across the country. Within Our Lifetime, the organizing organization of the protest, estimated more than 20,000 participants at the event. Somehow during this rally, the slogan appeared on the marquee.

 “Are you aware of the message that has been lettered into the marquee? Are you aware that it is a call for the genocide of all the Jews of Israel?” Pro-Israel activist Jeffrey Wiesenfeld wrote to John Ciafone, the building’s landlord. “If you own this property, have you granted permission to anti-Semites and jihadists to post this call to genocide?”

Wiesenfeld and Orenstein shared Ciafone’s phone number with their friends and urged him to call for the slogan’s immediate removal. Forest Hills resident Arlene Ross made the call, speaking as a concerned Jewish New Yorker. “He told me he is pro-Israel, the sign was put up without his permission during a pro-Palestinian rally. He will look into it and have it taken down,” she said. “He is also a ‘common sense’ Democrat running in the primary against Tiffany Cabán.”

Voters in western Queens are familiar with both names. Ciafone is an attorney and landlord of many small buildings in the area. He previously ran for this City Council seat in 2001 and 2013. Cabán is the public defender who narrowly lost to Melinda Katz in the 2019 Democratic Primary for Queens District Attorney. As in her previous campaign, she is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which advocates for boycotting Israel.

Ciafone said that until he began receiving calls, he was not aware of the slogan on his building. Sunnyside has a small Jewish community that includes a Young Israel shul and eruv, but it is also represented by politicians who are hostile towards Israel, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and nearby State Senator Zohran Kwame Mamdani.

By Sergey Kadinsky