The Gaza war has given birth to a new Jewish organization of young people who are highly critical of the Jewish establishment’s support for Israel. Called #IfNotNow, the group held an organizing meeting in New York last night. Eighty people attended (by the looks of it, almost all of them young).
Its new website declares:
We are witnessing Israel’s third military operation in the Gaza strip in the past six years. We are alarmed and horrified by the death and destruction being committed in our name. This is a moment of truth for the Jewish community, a moment that demands action.
And Monday night to commemorate Tisha B’av, the holiday of the destruction of the temple, several hundred demonstrated at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, led by #IfNotNow. A poster at the front said, “Stop the War on Gaza.”
As Alex reported, nine members of the group were arrested a week back in a civil disobedience action at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization. Here’s video from that “Kaddish action,” which included Jewish song.
KungFuJew went to the Brooklyn event Monday and describes #IfNotNow as coming from the heart of Jewish establishment life:
I lived in Brooklyn for seven years and I recognize so many of my colleagues in the photos: rabbinical students, young Jewish professionals, lay leaders of the Jewish social justice movement, and scions of famous rabbis. This is the center of New York young Jewry.
Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a leader of the Open Hillel movement on campuses, has also been working with IfNotNow; and she tells me:
From my experience organizing with IfNotNow DC these past couple weeks, it seems that If Not Now takes no position on Zionism/non-Zionism, but rather is focused on ending the war on Gaza and ending the occupation. I think the closest analog to this group is All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective, a group of (mostly) diaspora Jews living in Israel/Palestine focused on ending the occupation and building the diaspora angle of resistance. Like “If Not Now,” “All That’s Left” utilizes direct actions and focuses on the unfortunate role that ‘establishment’ Jewish institutions have played in promoting violence and occupation.
Some impressions of the movement: it is of this moment; it draws directly on Jewish religious tradition; it has Jewish Voice for Peace’s blessing but is keeping its independence from existing orgs; it is reaching out to Jews who were indoctrinated in Zionism and embracing them and helping them to escape the snares and toils of that ideology without being aggressively anti-Zionist (as I am); there is nothing assimilationist about its messaging; it will have the effect of bringing mainstream Jews into the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement on their own terms; and it is dedicated to direct action, thus the reference to Hillel’s famous statement If not now, when? and has the greatest promise of any Jewish movement of bringing Jews into an IDF office to spill their blood in the file drawers.
Following the hashtag #IfNotNow, I read Ophir Bruck’s recommendation for Michael Lerner’s excellent piece on Zionism’s hijacking of his religion, at Salon:
This. Israel has broken my heart: In mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel
And there’s a link to this poem by Casey Tova Markenson, called UnAnthem, published today:
Blue fire rains explosive in my sleep.
Faces erased: Omar al-Fyumi.
Twenty three. Black shirts pray in protest streets.
If I am not for me, who will I be.
Hymns hum, my name softly knocks –
I wear no star but I’m a public Jew.
Blood wine spills, we offer mourner’s rocks,
My friend is cuffed and questioned on the news.
If I unlearn the lyrics to Hatikvah,
Can I relearn any Hebrew letters?
Flashbacks to erev my Bat Mitzvah,
A purple suit, a plain day in November.
How jagged are the myths that we call home;
Dagger tales, a place I’ve never known.
Josh Nathan-Kazis reported at the Forward that #Ifnotnow drew energy from people disaffected by J Street, the liberal Zionist organization that has found itself incapable of condemning the Gaza slaughter:
The [#IfNotNow] effort was launched by four activists, two of them former high-ranking J Street staff members: Carinne Luck, who joined J Street before its launch in 2007 and left in 2012, when she was the group’s vice president of field and campaigns, and Daniel May, director of J Street U, the group’s university arm, from 2010 through 2013. A third, Max Berger, worked as a new media assistant at J Street. He was arrested with eight other protestors during the July 29 action after entering the lobby of the Presidents Conference building and refusing to leave.
Some of the arrested activists were held until midday the following day.
Other former high-ranking J Street staffers attended one or both of the #ifnotnow protests, including J Street’s vice president of communications and new media from 2008 until 2011, Isaac Luria, who wrote the 2008 Gaza letter that Yoffie condemned, and Tamara Shapiro, director of J Street U from 2009 to 2010. Simone Zimmerman, the national president of J Street U’s student board in the 2012-2013 school year, is #ifnotnow’s media liaison.
We’ll have more on #IfNotNow in days to come. I wanted to get these notes up now; it’s news.