#Jewish Resistance to the Occupation


January 29, 2017
Sarah Benton


IfNotNow activists marching in Philadelphia to demand that President-elect Donald Trump fire Stephen Bannon, Nov. 22, 2016. (Courtesy of IfNotNow)

These millennial Jews are protesting Trump — and Jewish groups

By Ben Sales, JTA
December 13, 2016

NEW YORK — “This Jew says no to white nationalism,” one sign read.

“Silence is akin to consent,” another said, quoting the Talmud.

A third displayed a lyric from a Yiddish song: “We will outlive them.”

The signs, along with chants like “Donald Trump, it’s your fault; Stephen Bannon, oy gevalt!” were not only directed against Bannon, the president-elect’s choice for chief strategist. As hundreds of Jewish protesters marched up Manhattan’s East Side on Nov. 20, they also targeted the Zionist Organization of America, the pro-settlement group that had advertised Bannon’s anticipated presence at its gala that night.

Bannon never showed up at the dinner, but to these protesters that wasn’t the point.

The group that organized the protest, IfNotNow, says the real issue is a disconnect between Jewish institutions and the values of young Jews. Legacy Jewish organizations, IfNotNow activists charge, are so focused on supporting Israeli government policy that they are willing to dismiss other Jewish concerns — like bigotry on Bannon’s former website, Breitbart News.

“This is the inevitable result of pro-Israel-at-any-cost policies,” said Yonah Lieberman, 25, a founding member of IfNotNow. “They are so caught up in their desire to ensure that the U.S. government supports Israel unilaterally that [they’re] willing to sacrifice [their] own values.”

The group takes its name from “If not now, when?,” the end of a statement by Hillel, a first-century rabbi. Founded in the summer of 2014 to organize young Jews opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza, IfNotNow has since evolved into an activist community steeped both in left-wing protest and Jewish tradition. It rails against Israel’s control of the West Bank, the incoming Trump administration and Jewish organizations it accuses of supporting both those things.

Trump’s election has given the group a boost. In November, IfNotNow organized simultaneous demonstrations against Trump and Bannon in 30 cities — dubbed the Day of Jewish Resistance. On Wednesday, the group expects 200 people to attend its protest against a Hanukkah party hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Embassy of Azerbaijan at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Lieberman said nearly 3,000 people have participated in IfNotNow’s recent anti-Trump demonstrations, and 650 have attended activist training sessions the group is holding across the country.


IfNotNow protest outside the Washington Convention Centre where AIPAC was holding its policy conference Washington DC, March 22, 2016. Photo by Gili Getz.

Ending “American Jewish support for the occupation” is the group’s primary goal, although it is light on ideological specifics: IfNotNow takes no position on Zionism, the two-state solution or the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel known as BDS. The neutral stances lead some mainstream leaders to label the group as naive and worse.

“The occupation is a crisis for our entire community,” said Lizzie Horne, 25, a former Hillel International employee who helps organize IfNotNow actions in New York. “Pivoting to focus on some of these Donald Trump appointments is really just recognizing this is a part of the bigger system. There are people and institutions that are willing to forgo certain values as a way of maintaining the occupation.”

What sets IfNotNow apart is its focus on disruptive protest. While some Jewish groups have long preferred quiet dialogue with the powerful over vocal demonstrations, IfNotNow believes that sitting and reasoning with American Jewish leaders won’t get them anywhere.


IfNotNow sit-in in the lobby of the ADL building on 40th Street in Manhattan. Photo by Wilson Dizard

Birthright got what it wanted — American Jews who care about Israel.

Encouraging young American Jews to take an interest in the affairs of the Jewish state brought 17 of them on Tuesday to walk into the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League’s offices in New York City, prepare a seder on the marble floor, start dancing and singing Hebrew songs of resistance and solidarity and then calmly, still singing, feel a police officer cinch flex cuffs around their wrists and lead them back outside, take down their names — a permanent arrest record for criminal trespass — and take them to jail.

“They’ll say 17 of us were arrested today but it’s really 18. The 18th is Elijah!” Thomas Corcoran, 25, shouted to me as he sat in a police van on 40th street outside the office building housing the ADL headquarters.

Corcoran is a member of If Not Now, a growing group of young American Jews who feel the military occupation of Palestinian land by Israel is an injustice worth getting arrested over.

Moments before, Becky Havivi, 24, another IfNotNow member, told me she thought the seder had been a success.

“Our tradition tells us to ask questions, that’s what Passover is all about. It’s a tradition of liberation against oppression and that’s what my Judaism is,” Becky Havivi, 24, told me just before a member of the NYPD Strategic Response Group walked her into a waiting police van.

“Dayenu” (“That’s enough”) is one of the refrains of these protesters against the injustice and cruelty they see Israel perpetrate against Palestinians and Israelis alike.

“When Birthright Israel encouraged us to identify with IDF soldiers and hid the pain of the Occupation from us — We should have said enough,” they said together, dozens of IfNotNow members and supporters sitting and standing in the lobby as security guards guided office workers around the protesters.

From what I understand, through sources, Birthright Israel chaperons encourage Americans aged 19-26 to identify as much and however they wanted, more or less wherever they wanted, with these tanned, fit, charming IDF soldiers — there to protect you from the terrorists. The charm, it seems, has worn off.

“When we saw 18,000 Jews at the AIPAC conference applaud Trump, a racist demagogue, simply because he promised to support and defend Israel,” one spoke, before the response.

“We should have said enough.”

Some IfNotNow members are also ardent Bernie Sanders backers. They’ve campaigned for him alongside Palestinian and Muslim American fans of the Sanders, the only candidate who has made a forceful and believable critique of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. It is a position that has not helped him win Jewish voters, who have broken for Hillary or even a few for Trump himself, a man who can count actual, tow-headed crank-addled Nazis among his most loyal followers.

“When we saw propaganda and fear overtake the Jewish tradition of question and analysis — We should have said enough!” They repeated together.

Not to single out Birthright as the biggest problem with the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but what they’re saying here really matters. It shows the problem with traditional models of propaganda and hasbara in this age where young people form an international web of cyborgs capable of transmitting and receiving snippets of conscious experience from around the world instantaneously. You know, the Internet. You’re using it right now.

It allows people to share and build communities like never before, and it makes Israel closer than ever to American Jews. Like billions of other people, they’re able to appreciate the conscious experience of Palestinians in a way their parents’ generation cannot control, or even really fathom. The notion in their words is clear. They feel their parents generation failed to stop Israel from committing the kinds of atrocities that draws shame and condemnation worldwide.

“The out-of-touch leadership of the American Jewish establishment tells us that our values are incompatible with our tradition. They tell us that our commitment to justice must not extend beyond our shores,” one member read.

“We understand how trauma has caused some in our community to interpret history to mean that the world is against us. But we interpret our past differently — as a lesson that our freedom cannot be achieved absent the freedom of our neighbors,” she concluded.

(Photo: Wilson Dizard)

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/04/jewish-anti-occupation-activists-arrested-blocking-adl-offices-during-passover-protest/#sthash.B3VsGDDH.dpuf
Birthright got what it wanted — American Jews who care about Israel.

Encouraging young American Jews to take an interest in the affairs of the Jewish state brought 17 of them on Tuesday to walk into the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League’s offices in New York City, prepare a seder on the marble floor, start dancing and singing Hebrew songs of resistance and solidarity and then calmly, still singing, feel a police officer cinch flex cuffs around their wrists and lead them back outside, take down their names — a permanent arrest record for criminal trespass — and take them to jail.

“They’ll say 17 of us were arrested today but it’s really 18. The 18th is Elijah!” Thomas Corcoran, 25, shouted to me as he sat in a police van on 40th street outside the office building housing the ADL headquarters.

Corcoran is a member of If Not Now, a growing group of young American Jews who feel the military occupation of Palestinian land by Israel is an injustice worth getting arrested over.

(Photo: Wilson Dizard)
Becky Havivi, 25, left, and Thomas Corcoran, 24, smile as they’re being taken away in a police van. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Moments before, Becky Havivi, 24, another IfNotNow member, told me she thought the seder had been a success.

“Our tradition tells us to ask questions, that’s what Passover is all about. It’s a tradition of liberation against oppression and that’s what my Judaism is,” Becky Havivi, 24, told me just before a member of the NYPD Strategic Response Group walked her into a waiting police van.

“Dayenu” (“That’s enough”) is one of the refrains of these protesters against the injustice and cruelty they see Israel perpetrate against Palestinians and Israelis alike.

“When Birthright Israel encouraged us to identify with IDF soldiers and hid the pain of the Occupation from us — We should have said enough,” they said together, dozens of IfNotNow members and supporters sitting and standing in the lobby as security guards guided office workers around the protesters.

From what I understand, through sources, Birthright Israel chaperons encourage Americans aged 19-26 to identify as much and however they wanted, more or less wherever they wanted, with these tanned, fit, charming IDF soldiers — there to protect you from the terrorists. The charm, it seems, has worn off.

“When we saw 18,000 Jews at the AIPAC conference applaud Trump, a racist demagogue, simply because he promised to support and defend Israel,” one spoke, before the response.

“We should have said enough.”

Some IfNotNow members are also ardent Bernie Sanders backers. They’ve campaigned for him alongside Palestinian and Muslim American fans of the Sanders, the only candidate who has made a forceful and believable critique of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. It is a position that has not helped him win Jewish voters, who have broken for Hillary or even a few for Trump himself, a man who can count actual, tow-headed crank-addled Nazis among his most loyal followers.

“When we saw propaganda and fear overtake the Jewish tradition of question and analysis — We should have said enough!” They repeated together.

Not to single out Birthright as the biggest problem with the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but what they’re saying here really matters. It shows the problem with traditional models of propaganda and hasbara in this age where young people form an international web of cyborgs capable of transmitting and receiving snippets of conscious experience from around the world instantaneously. You know, the Internet. You’re using it right now.

It allows people to share and build communities like never before, and it makes Israel closer than ever to American Jews. Like billions of other people, they’re able to appreciate the conscious experience of Palestinians in a way their parents’ generation cannot control, or even really fathom. The notion in their words is clear. They feel their parents generation failed to stop Israel from committing the kinds of atrocities that draws shame and condemnation worldwide.

“The out-of-touch leadership of the American Jewish establishment tells us that our values are incompatible with our tradition. They tell us that our commitment to justice must not extend beyond our shores,” one member read.

“We understand how trauma has caused some in our community to interpret history to mean that the world is against us. But we interpret our past differently — as a lesson that our freedom cannot be achieved absent the freedom of our neighbors,” she concluded.


At Passover 2016, protesters sit in the lobby of the ADL building on 40th Street in Manhattan. Photo by Wilson Dizard)

In April, 17 IfNotNow activists were arrested after staging a sit-in in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League’s national headquarters to protest the “Jewish establishment’s support of the occupation of Palestine.”

Many Jewish groups, including the ADL, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee, endorse a two-state solution. Some vocally criticize Israeli actions and explicitly support Palestinian rights, like the dovish J Street.

But IfNotNow accuses the mainstream of empty rhetoric in place of meaningful action.

“In order for us to win, and to end our community’s support for the occupation, we have to get the majority of American Jews on our side,” said Sarah Brammer-Shlay, 25, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest. “Doing work primarily in board rooms and meetings, that’s not moving thousands and thousands of people because they’re not seeing that happen.”

But the brash language encouraged by IfNotNow has meant trouble for at least one of its organizers. Simone Zimmerman, one of the group’s activists in 2014, was briefly appointed as director of Jewish outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Democratic presidential campaign, only to be suspended after it emerged that she had used expletives in a Facebook post about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If the group’s goal is to consternate large Jewish groups, it is succeeding.


If Not Now demonstration outside Hillel International. Photo by Rachel Mandelbaum

The ADL and the Jewish Federations of North America both offered to meet with IfNotNow and were rebuffed. In April, the ADL lamented in a statement that the group “seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue.”

Left-wing organizations are friendlier. T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights group, participated in the ZOA protest, and its executive director, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, noted a long history of young Jews staging protests of large Jewish institutions. In a statement, J Street said it shares IfNotNow’s concerns about the occupation and Trump.

IfNotNow isn’t the only anti-occupation Jewish group that has shifted to protesting Trump. J Street has released statements criticizing the president-elect’s domestic policies and appointees. And Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, has also placed a new emphasis on protesting his statements and policies targeting minorities.

“It’s a new political world and we’ll have to figure it out,” JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson told JTA in November. “We’re definitely in conversation on what’s going to need to shift given the Trump presidency.”


IfNotNowWhen Protest in front of the Jewish Community Center in Denver, November 29, 2016

IfNotNow activists say the fights against the occupation and Jewish communal acceptance of Trump are one and the same. But beyond any particular issue, some say the group has become a young, left-wing Jewish community for them. In their mission to make the establishment Jewish community uncomfortable, they’ve become comfortable with one another.

“For me, this is a space where I found a home and I could say the things I wanted to say,” Horne said. “It’s one of the most welcoming communities I have ever been a part of.”


IfNotNow/#JewishResistance

from their website

 

 

Following the largest protest in American history, the time has come to take the #JewishResistance to AIPAC’s doorstep. In this moment of crisis, we must be willing to dream big.

Donald Trump’s first year as president of the United States is also the 50th year of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government stands poised to make the occupation a permanent reality, and Trump has given every indication that Washington will support them.

The American Jewish establishment has proven itself wholly unequipped to deal with the crisis. It has remained silent in the face of Trump policies — like the nomination of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel and the planned move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — that will not only imperil democracy but inflame violence. It failed to register concern as antisemites, bigots, and misogynists became emboldened by Trump’s rise. And as we have long known, its defense of a status quo of endless occupation is a true moral disaster.

Against this grim backdrop, the American Isreali Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will convene in late March. The annual AIPAC policy conference is always a festival of pandering, with American politicians jockeying for who can pay higher lip-service to the U.S.-Israel “special relationship,” even as the human rights crisis in Israel and Palestine deepens.

We know that this year, AIPAC will invite Trump and his advisors — and that’s where we come in.

The day after the inauguration, Americans took to the street in the biggest coordinated demonstration in this country’s history, in a stand of defiance against Trump’s politics of hate. So too must the Jewish majority stand up against an organization that has done more to further the occupation than any other American institution.

If we show up in huge numbers — at least 1000 people strong — it will end AIPAC’s fiction that the American Jewish community supports endless occupation. All this on the lobby’s biggest stage, in front of Trump.

Our politicians are failing us, but this is no time for despair. Now is the time to become part of a sustained and meaningful resistance against bigotry and injustice. We call on all American Jews who believe in freedom and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike to join the #JewishResistance at AIPAC — because they do not and cannot speak for us.

The millions of us who took to the street the day after the inauguration weren’t just marching against Trump — we were declaring our refusal to cooperate with the violence that his administration represents.

The Jewish American establishment’s co-operation with the Trump Administration will only make the violence in Israel and Palestine — not to mention here in America, against so many vulnerable people — much worse.

Those of us opposing Trump are the true majority in this country. Those of us opposing endless occupation are the true majority of the Jewish community. Join us.

About IfNotNow

During the violence of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, young Jews angered by the overwhelmingly hawkish response of American Jewish institutions came together under the banner of IfNotNow to demonstrate their resistance through the beauty of Jewish ritual. Moved to act by moral anguish and inspired by Hillel’s three questions, they organized Mourner’s Kaddish actions in nearly a dozen cities across the country and lamented the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian life. They had three demands: Stop the War on Gaza, End the Occupation, and Freedom and Dignity for All.

The demand for American Jewish institutions to end their support for the occupation has only grown more urgent and clear since that summer. While the out-of-touch establishment claims to speak for our community, we know that American Jewry is eager for change.

We are building a vibrant and inclusive movement within the American Jewish community, across generations and organizational affiliations. This movement is open to any who seek to shift the American Jewish public away from the status quo that upholds the occupation.

Our logo, inspired by the burning bush, symbolizes our generation’s call to leadership in the Jewish community. Just as Moses was commanded to return to Egypt and fight for the liberation of his people, we too feel called to take responsibility for the future of our community. We know the liberation of our Jewish community is bound up in the liberation of all people, particularly those in Israel and Palestine. The bush burns bright but is not consumed – the fire is not a mechanism of destruction, but rather a force of inspiration and transformation.

We will be the generation that ends our community’s support for the occupation. Will you join us?

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