NEW YORK – Nine Jews were arrested inside the office building that houses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Monday during a protest against Israel’s military action in Gaza.
Outside the building, about 70 protesters read the names of Israelis and Palestinians killed during the current round of fighting and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Organizing under the name #ifNotNow, the protesters called for the Conference of Presidents to join their cause.
Executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, who was out of the office at the National Leadership Assembly for Israel in Washington, called Monday’s action “very small, relatively insignificant. In fact, very insignificant.”
“They are, unfortunately, Jewish kids who are misguided. It’s sort of an in-thing to do right now,” he said. “They put the onus of the death of Palestinians – which we regret as well – on Israel rather than on Hamas.”
He added: “Where Hamas exists to kill, Israel sometimes has to kill to exist.”
One of the #ifNotNow protesters, and a long-time activist herself, Tammy Shapiro said, “There’s a lot of people who have never spoken out about Israel because they’ve been scared.”
When the protesters had their first meeting on July 21, their goal was to ensure all attendees felt they were in a safe space to talk about the sadness and anger they were feeling, and what brought them to the meeting.
“Some people are a little scared to come out to their parents that they’re upset and angry,” Shapiro said.
A few blocks north, a rally that drew by some estimates more than 10,000 people in support of Israel’s military action took place in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near UN headquarters.
Representatives Chuck Schumer and Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, spoke in support of the Jewish state and blasted the UN.
On Thursday, #ifNotNow held its first action. About 50 people were in attendance. Since then, the group’s social media campaigns have grown.
Protests are necessarily simple, but the situation between Israel and Palestine is complex, Shapiro said. Choosing to read the names of both the Palestinians and Israelis killed during the current round of fighting and to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish seemed to the group to strike the right chord – simple but powerful.
In a press statement Tuesday morning by #ifNotNow, Yotam Marom, one of the arrested protesters, is quoted: “As an Israeli and an American I am surely not the first to feel that the situation in Israel and Palestine is complex, but in this moment what is not complex to me is that there is never an excuse for the death of innocent civilians and there is never an excuse for occupation.”
The arrested protesters, besides Marom, are Max Berger, Julia Salazar, Naomi Dann, Andrew Smith, Tal Haviv, Arianna Schindle, Joshua Leifer and Joel Feingold. As of Tuesday they had not been released.