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Six arrested in civil disobedience at Federation offices in Philly

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In another sign of the burgeoning movement inside Jewish life, yesterday Jewish Voice for Peace held a civil disobedience action at the Jewish Federations office in Philadelphia to protest the Gaza onslaught. A video is above. Rabbi Alpert sent along this report. Excerpts of a news report on the action follows her account. –Ed. 

Philadelphia action, JVP at Federations
Philadelphia action, JVP at Federations

Many years ago after I gave a talk on Jewish sexuality at a synagogue in Montgomery County, a woman asked a question that has remained with me all these years. “I don’t care who you sleep with,”she said. “That’s none of my business. But how can you as a rabbi support the Palestinians?”

I assume she would ask me the same question today, with even greater urgency: how can you as a rabbi belong to Jewish Voice for Peace, how can you support the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanction movement, and especially how can you praise these protesters who criticize Israel at this time of crisis? Don’t you know we are alone? Don’t you know they want to destroy us?

To all the American Jews who, like that woman, write emails and letters with death threats and horrific curses to those of us who dare to speak out, I will tell you only what I heard countless times when I lived in Israel many years ago, “It’s hard to be a Jew.”For me it’s hard to be a Jew because Israel has lost its moral compass. It’s hard to be a Jew because American Jews believe that Israel’s survival matters more than justice for the Palestinians. But it should not be hard to be a Jew because I hold opinions that other Jews disagree with. Arguing is part of who we are as a people, and we need to remember that.

Demonstrators outside the Jewish Federations offices
Demonstrators outside the Jewish Federations offices, photo by Lucas Koerner

On Friday morning, 40 activist Jews, most under the age of 35, went to the offices of the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia, and prayed there. Ten members of the group held a civil disobedience action inside the Federation building. There they were the first Jewish Voice for Peace chapter to deliver a petition signed by over 35,000 supporters, urging the Federation and other Jewish leaders to take a public stand not just for an immediate ceasefire, but for an end to the underlying conditions of siege that makes life unbearable for Palestinians in Gaza. They demanded – and received – a meeting with the Philadelphia Federation CEO, Naomi Adler. While they waited, refusing to leave the building for over four hours, they sang Jewish songs of peace. Outside, a crowd of supporters read poems, sang songs of peace, and read the names of almost 2,000 people who have been killed in Gaza these past three weeks. In the end, six protesters were removed from the building in handcuffs.

Demonstrators occupy the Federation offices in Philly
Demonstrators occupy the Federation offices in Philly

They needed to recite the names of these dead human beings to remind the leadership of the American Jewish community that these dead were human beings and not human shields as the Israeli government demeaningly refers to them.

They needed to recite their names to remind American Jews that unless we speak up and protest we are complicit in these deaths.

They need to recite their names because the continuation of a cease fire does not open up the ports of Gaza, or allow freedom of movement for its residents, or allow free import of food and medical supplies.

They needed to recite their names to tell the world that not all Jews agree with what Israel is doing now, or has been doing for the last 47 years of illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Demonstrators in the lobby of the Phila Jewish Federations offices
Security leads away demonstrators in the lobby of the Phila Jewish Federations offices

 

Demonstrators under a photo display at the Federations offices
Singing, praying demonstrators under a photo display at the Federations offices, photo by Lucas Koerner

They needed to recite their names to let Israel know that there are American Jews who believe that political actions have consequences, and that Hamas, with its ugly, violent and desperate measures did not attack out of antisemitic hatred but because of Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza that has crippled their economy and reduced the land to poverty.

They needed to recite their names to tell the leadership of the Federation that Jewish money would be better spent on the sick and poor in our city than on funding Israel Solidarity rallies.

They needed to recite their names to remind all of us all that every life is precious.

Protesters outside the Jewish Federations office yesterday
Protesters outside the Jewish Federations office yesterday

Here is additional information about the protest from the Jewish Exponent in Phillly:

Six Jewish protesters were escorted in handcuffs from the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City on Friday afternoon after occupying the building’s lobby for a good chunk of the day….

The building, which is owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, was “occupied” by the members of the Philadelphia chapter of  Jewish Voice for Peace at 11:30 a.m.

After gaining entry to the building’s lobby by pretending to be volunteers for the Mitzvah Food Project, a nonprofit run by the Jewish Federation, the protesters linked arms and demanded to speak with Federation CEO Naomi Adler. As soon as they gained entry, another 40 or so members of the group arrived with signs to protest outside…

Inside and outside, the protestors sang Hebrew songs and protest chants. “We are a peaceful Jewish people praying for Gazan lives,” sang the six members inside…

They read a petition addressed to three leaders of national Jewish organizations: Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America; Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The petition, which they claimed was signed by 35,000 people nationally and 400 in the Greater Philadelphia region, stated that responsibility for the latest conflict “lies in the Israeli government’s commitment to occupation over the well-being of Palestinians or Israelis.”…

 “What I will do is listen to what you have to say — I wish you had reached out first,” Adler told the group, “as long as there is an agreement that you peacefully leave so that no one’s unsafe and the building can continue with business.”

They responded by saying that “unfortunately, we cannot leave the building until we know” that the group’s demand will be met, before proceeding back into the lobby, where they continued to sing…

Asked why the group’s petition did not mention Israelis who had suffered in the war, Nicole Sugarman, who was outside, said, “Yes, of course we are concerned for all lives.”

Susan Landau, who is a leader of the local BDS movement against Israel, said: “We wanted to focus on what Jewish leaders are not dealing with. We don’t need to draw attention to what is already known” from the Israeli perspective, she said. Asked whether if getting all the rights Palestinians were seeking meant a “one-state solution,” meaning the end of the Jewish state, Landau said that might be what’s required.

Oh and this is from Joshua Albert, at The Declaration. Notice the great quote:

Protesters held placards with messages including: “Ceasefire is not enough, end the blockade”, “ Hold Israel accountable”, and “Some are guilty, all are responsible”…

“It’s about time this happened,” one employee said to them as she was leaving the building.

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We are a gentle angry people.

Gosh, this reminds me of event which is faint in my mental archives. I’ll have to look it up today. But wasn’t there an incident in which a Protestant Church (Methodists?) which had been doing missionary work among the slaves and free African Americans suddenly decided there were too many… Read more »

“as long as there is an agreement that you peacefully leave so that no one’s unsafe and the building can continue with business.” Gosh, I can’t wait to say that to them. And come to think of it, I bet this is one subject all the Zionists will agree with… Read more »

Heroic! The pressure to shut up and go along with the crowd must be massive.

A fine, brave action. JVP is splendid! But what is the real goal we should be striving for, what is the real demand? Is it merely to end the blockade of Gaza? Is it to end the “Occupation” of the West Bank & Gaza? I would urge a much larger… Read more »