Left-wing American Jews arrested protesting Israeli response to Gaza demonstrations

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Members of a left-wing group protesting Israel’s actions along its border with Gaza were arrested at protests in Boston and New York.

Reports said police in Boston arrested eight members of IfNotNow after they chained themselves to Israel’s consulate in Boston on April 3, and seven on Monday as they blockaded the entrance to the New York office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader.

“We always welcome hearing from our constituents on critical matters such as this, and support their right to express their views,” Marisa Kaufman, Schumer’s spokeswoman, told JTA. Schumer is a leading defender of Israel in the Senate.

The protests followed clashes at the Gaza border between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers. Some 30 Palestinians, including a journalist, have been killed since the protests began on March 30 in what the Israeli military is calling a justified response to violence and critics are calling excessive force.

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“Senator Schumer – your silence speaks volumes!” the protesters chanted, according to Haaretz.

After the Boston protest, the Israeli consul general said the demonstrators crossed the line with their rhetoric and by chaining themselves to the consulate’s gate.

“Israel and America have a shared appreciation for freedom of expression, based of course on respect for the law,” Yehuda Yaakov told the Boston Globe. “What we saw today crossed the line into lawlessness, following a recent public call on social media to ‘Target Yehuda Yaakov.’”

In total, IfNotNow said it protested at 18 sites across the country in recent days, targeting groups either for supporting Israel’s actions or not speaking out against them. Among these were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee office in Washington, D.C., and the Union for Reform Judaism office in New York.

The protesters “called on the URJ, the largest denomination of American Jewry — which has taken bold progressive positions against gun violence and Israel’s mistreatment of liberal Jews, among other issues — to condemn the shocking murders of Palestinian protesters by the IDF,” an IfNotNow statement said.

The protesters in Gaza have been massing at the security fence with Israel in order to reclaim lands inside Israel they say their families once owned. Israeli officials say they have the right to protect the country’s borders from unauthorized entry and that the protesters, who are backed by Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza, have not been peaceful.

On Monday, five days after the IfNotNow protest outside the URJ, the Reform body’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, issued a statement calling on Israel to take measures ensuring that civilians and reporters are not harmed.

“There appears to be no doubt that Hamas has made cynical and violent use of those Gazans who seek a more hopeful future,” he said. “But, at the same time, we call on Israel to take all necessary and effective precautions so that innocent civilians will not be harmed. Additionally, the press — especially when marked clearly as such — must be protected as non-combatant civilians.”

Mark Pelavin, the URJ’s chief program officer, told JTA that Jacobs’ statement was in the works before the IfNotNow protest, but also said the URJ “noticed” the protest.

“We are not unwilling or unhappy to engage with them,” Pelavin said, noting that the group had exhibited at Reform’s biennial conference.

AIPAC declined to comment.

IfNotNow, launched during the 2014 Gaza war, protests Israel’s actions in the West Bank and along the Gaza border and urges the U.S. Jewish community to “end their support for the occupation.”