Antisemitism

US Jews attempt to trademark ‘From the river to the sea’ chant

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Two Jewish American men have submitted separate trademark applications for the expression “from the river to the sea,” triggering a flurry of reactions. A prominent legal expert has cautioned that the move might have unintended consequences for both the Jewish community and Israel.

“It could backfire, and eventually all kinds of people we don’t want to wear hats and shirts with this slogan will buy the goods and use them, and it will spread around the world,” said Lihi Katzenelson, a partner at Arnon, Tadmor-Levy Law Firm, who specializes in trademarks and intellectual property.

Joel Ackerman and Oron Rosenkrantz filed trademark applications for the phrase that refers to the geographic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

The slogan became popular when the Palestinian nationalist movement first used it in the 1960s. It has since been used to express Palestinian aspirations of a Palestinian state that covers all of this territory and, therefore, wipes Israel off the map.

Ackerman, representing River to the Sea LLC, seeks to trademark the entire chant: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” Rosenkrantz of From The River To The Sea Shop LLC has applied only for “from the river to the sea.”

Palestinian-Americans and their supporters march as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in downtown Chicago, U.S., October 8, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/ERIC COX)

Application only applies to hats and shirts

Katzenelson explained that if the men receive the trademark, they can enforce their rights against third parties that try to use it. However, she clarified that one of the applications filed a week ago apply only to hats and shirts. Moreover, receiving the trademark could take between nine months and a year so it might be irrelevant in the future once the war in Israel will end.

To receive a trademark in America, the owner must prove use, which could also prove a challenge. Finally, if the brand would go through, it would only apply in America, meaning that in other areas, such as Europe, where the slogan has become popularized, it would still be able to be used. 

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“We don’t know for sure what the outcome will be, but the chances [of their receiving these trademarks] is not that good,” Katzenelson said. “Since it only applies to hats and shirts, stopping its use on other services and goods would be very difficult.”

The lawyer said, “I assume the applicants, when they applied, assumed it would get a lot of publicity, which has already happened. I am not sure they assumed this slogan would eventually be registered to them.”

Trademarks initially provide 10 years of protection during which no other entity could use the slogan on specific or related goods. Then, the trademark owner can renew its validity for another 10 years of protection. Eventually, the mark can be protected and last a lifetime.

However, Katzenelson said that she worries that since trademark applications are public, people around the world will realize that Jews filed this application and could twist it around against the community. She also said that calling attention to the slogan today might not be helpful, given its negative associations with Israel’s war against Hamas. 

“Everyone is talking about this slogan,” she said. The decision to try to trademark it “may not serve the purpose of the applicants.”





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