IfNotNow protest at Chabad on Shabbat. .
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT/IFNOTNOW FACEBOOK)
Several activists from the far-left organization IfNotNow picketed a Chabad Jewish Student Center in Austin, Texas, on Shabbat morning during prayer services because an ex-IDF soldier was scheduled to speak at an event being held there.
According to head of the Austin Chabad center Rabbi Zev Johnson, the IfNotNow protesters handed a flyer to his young children and invited the children to join their protest songs, and also videoed the attendees of the Chabad event, something which IfNotNow denies.
Chabad UT (University of Texas) organized a Shabbat lunch event on February 23 and invited former IDF soldier Leibel Mangel to speak about morality and combat in the Israeli army.
IfNotNow’s Austin chapter accused Mangel of “using the Holocaust to justify the occupation” on its Facebook page and said that “our historical trauma should not be exploited to justify the oppression of Palestinian people,” and so turned out to protest against the event.
Writing on the Chabad center’s website, Johnson said that the protest took place during the morning prayer service and not during Mangel’s speech, and noted that recording video of someone on Shabbat is prohibited by Jewish law.
“I’m not against protests, even if I disagree with the cause. But on Shabbat – during prayer services – really?” wrote Johnson. “There’s a time and place for protests. It would have been nice to see them show some respect while claiming to advocate dialogue, because there is none without the other.”
The rabbi said that Mangel spoke “without any agenda, sharing his life experiences about ethics in combat,” and that the address was “a thoughtful and meaningful conversation,” which included accounts of his grandfather’s experience during the Holocaust in Auschwitz and his exposure to infamous Nazi SS officer Josef Mengele.
“The IfNotNow group lied about what was discussed, and exploited our Jewish community for cheap photos on social media,” he alleged.
He said it was “absolutely unacceptable and unethical that these protesters targeted my children,” and that “the saddest part to me is that the protest was organized by fellow Jews, who should have understood the value and sensitivities around Shabbat observance, prayer and community.”
IfNotNow Austin issued a statement following Johnson’s comments, denying that they had protested the Shabbat prayer services or videoed or photographed children.
“We are also deeply saddened by the knee-jerk resort to misinformation, often the first tactic used by Israel-at-all-costs partisans when they know they can’t win the argument on the merits,” said the group. “For us, Shabbat means living the world we want to see, imagining a beautiful peaceful world where all humans have freedom and dignity. For that reason, our Jewish values beckoned us to peacefully protest a public event promoting and justifying violence against occupied Palestinians.”
On Twitter, IfNotNow added that it was bothered by the presence of an ex-IDF solider at the Chabad center.
"Why is IDF propaganda allowed in our communal spaces, let alone following Shabbat morning services? That is the real outrage here not a bunch of Jews standing outside the building singing “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (We Will Build This World with Love),” the group tweeted.
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