As part of a coordinated set of actions by Jewish Voice for Peace chapters across the US, activists in Denver visited our local Jewish Federation to demand that Jewish community leaders stand up for justice in Gaza. Mobilizing as the newly reemerged chapter of Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace, we attempted to deliver a petition to JEWISHcolorado, the Colorado affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday, August 19. The petition, signed by 30,000 supporters of JVP, calls on Jewish Federation President Jerry Silverman and other Jewish community leaders to publicly demand an immediate ceasefire and an end to the blockade of Gaza. We visited the office of our local Federation to deliver this petition, hoping that they would listen to our concerns and join us in calling for an end to the siege of Gaza.
At first, we were received warmly when member Abby Harms requested information about Federation programs. Susan Weinberger, the outreach coordinator, came down to speak with Abby and offered her a glass of water. The hospitality ended when the rest of our group joined her and introduced ourselves as Jewish Voice for Peace members. When we asked to deliver our petition, a member of the office staff said, “Absolutely not.”
Our group was then locked out of the offices, but continued our demonstration in the lobby. We read the petition and a letter to Doug Seserman, CEO of Jewish Colorado, out-loud. When Abby pushed the petition and letter under the locked door, it was promptly shoved back to us. Other attempts at communication were rebuffed by the receptionist, who was on the phone with the police. We stood our ground and, in an act of mourning and solidarity, we read names of some of the over 2000 Palestinians who have been killed in the last 43 days.
At one point, Jewish Colorado CEO Doug Seserman stuck his head out of the door, and then promptly shut it when we began reading our letter to him.
As young Jews, we are appalled by the fact JEWISHcolorado claims to represent all of the Jewish community here in Colorado, including us, but wouldn’t even hear us out. They were more than willing to be receptive to a young Jew interested in their programming, but were hostile when they found out this same person was a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. They would not engage in conversation and any attempt to take a sheet of paper voicing our opinion as Jewish Coloradans was ignored. Instead of engaging with us, the Federation called the police and deliberated with them about pressing charges.
Abby Harms, the JVP member who initially entered the building, says, “Their change in attitude was frankly frightening. The words ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ shouldn’t be conceived as a threat. All we had was a petition. We were there to say ‘enough violence, enough of Israel using our name to commit war crimes, and it is time that American Jewish institutions stood up to Israel as well.'”
“The Jewish Federation has an obligation to represent and respect the views of all Jews in Colorado, but instead the Federation has shut out Jews who are against the occupation of Palestine and continues to support the occupation,” Front Range JVP member, Evan Herzoff, says.
While we did not get the chance to speak to Doug Seserman as we had hoped, this was still a successful action. This summer, the Front Range JVP chapter was resurrected by a group of Jews fed up with Israel’s war crimes, time and time again, in Gaza. Our horror at the deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilans during Operation Protective Edge and the underlying conditions of siege in Gaza have motivated us to speak out to hold our Jewish leaders accountable.
“As a result of Operation Protective Edge I decided to become more actively involved with Jewish Voice for Peace. Even in my short time being involved with Palestinian solidarity work I’ve seen how unwilling my community is to hold any kind of constructive dialogue toward accountability in Palestine-Israel, all while simultaneously claiming to represent my values,” said Zoe Handler, another Front Range JVP member.
We want the Denver Jewish community to know that we are here and we are a growing group of Jews that stand up to Israeli government policies and American Jewish institutional complicity in them. We encourage other Jews to speak up and say “not in our name.” This is the first direct action of this kind in the Denver Jewish community and has helped to ignite our chapter. We look forward to our upcoming events in the near future and hope to create a space in which Colorado Jews speak out against apartheid.
This piece was written by members of Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace. If you are in the Denver area and wish to get involved with JVP please email [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you soon.