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Young Jews protest Reform leadership’s silence over Passover massacre

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Outside the New York office of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on April 4, the anti-occupation network If Not Now called out the Jewish “liberal” establishment’s resounding silence regarding the murder of seventeen Palestinian young men by Israeli snipers less than a week ago.

Roughly seventy five members of If Not Now and a smattering of non-members and supporters marched across Lexington Avenue to 633 Third Ave, the location of URJ’s office. 

The killings occurred just as Passover was beginning last Friday. Gabriel Briel Lehrman, an If Not Now New York spokesperson explained what he saw as an explicit connection with Passover.

While “the protest in Gaza was happening and when the protesters were being killed, I was preparing for my own Passover Seder,” Briel Lehrman told Mondoweiss. It resonated because Israel was shooting live ammunition at a population under its bondage, “while I was happening to celebrate this time of becoming liberated and celebrating this time for freedom.”

If Not Now demonstration against Passover massacre outside Union for Reform Judaism offices, April 4, 2018. Photo by Jesse Rubin.

The simultaneous occurrences — a celebration of liberation while violently quelling that of another people’s — reeked of hypocrisy, made all the greater to Jewish critics of Israel. The people of Gaza have been bound and blockaded by the Jewish state for eleven years and made refugees before that.

When counter-protesters with the Jewish Defense League tried shaming the activists by yelling “six million” repeatedly, a reference to the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, If Not Now member Emily Mayer rebuked.

“We don’t need to be reminded of the legacy of our people,” Mayer said to cheers. “The legacy of our people is right here with us. The legacy of our people is on the side of justice, on the side of standing up for justice and all other people.”

Emma Saltzberg, an organizer with If Not Now, shared her recent experience in the occupied West Bank as part of a group delegation in tandem with Youth Against Settlements and All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective, both active on the ground in Palestine.

If Not Now demonstration against Passover massacre outside Union for Reform Judaism offices, April 4, 2018. Photo by Jesse Rubin.

Guided by Israeli dissident ex-IDF group Breaking the Silence, Saltzberg’s delegation witnessed Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank and one of the starkest examples of Israeli brutality.

Shuhada Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, was closed down by Israel in 1994 after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler from Brooklyn, massacred 29 people and injured another 125 during prayers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque.

The once lively street is today “sterilized,” Saltzberg explained, as Palestinians are strictly prohibited from walking on it. Instead, they must climb through windows or go circuitous back ways simply to leave their homes.

“The only people we saw on the street on that day were other Breaking the Silence groups,” Saltzberg said. “And Israeli Settlers.”

At this point, Saltzberg’s voice became lost in shouts from the roughly ten members of the Jewish Defense League.

Jewish Defense League protesters, at If Not Now demonstration against Passover massacre outside Union for Reform Judaism offices, April 4, 2018. Photo by Jesse Rubin.

Apart from the usual claims of “lies”, “anti-semites” and Holocaust references, Wednesday’s action was interesting in that the JDL added some new tunes its repertoire. When they interrupted Saltzberg, it was with the chant “Not another nickel, not another dime. No more money for Gaza’s crimes.” This probably sounds familiar to those in the anti-occupation and Palestinian solidarity movement. In fact, the JDL had appropriated a common anti-occupation chant, but replaced “Israel” with “Gaza”.

It wasn’t long before Saltzberg turned up the megaphone and the counter-protesters were once again a distant nuisance.

Saltzberg described a moving incident that occurred while in Hebron. When the call to prayer, or Adhan as is its proper Arabic name, began at a city mosque one evening, it was immediately apparent this was the only audible sound.

“It shouldn’t have been that loud. We should have heard so many other sounds. We should have heard merchants and people people gossiping and talking and living their lives,” she lamented. “But we couldn’t, because Hebron is occupied.”

If Not Now demonstration against Passover massacre outside Union for Reform Judaism offices, April 4, 2018. Photo by Jesse Rubin.

Last Friday, Israel committed what many have called a massacre during what were explicitly peaceful protests in Gaza commemorating the forty-second annual Land Day and asserting the Palestinian right of return. Israel used indiscriminate force on demonstrators, injuring more than 1,400 in addition to the seventeen killed, making it the single deadliest day in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 siege on the 140 square mile strip.

After the smoke cleared, the next disappointment and spark to action came when few Jewish institutions offered slight sadness over the loss of life, never mind a condemnation. “Progressive” Jewish institutions like the New Israel Fund, Open Hillel and of course, the Union for Reform Judaism, remain silent today.

J Street issued a middle of the road condemnation not just of Israel; instead, spread the blame around between Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority ad Egypt.

“It was painful for this group that I care about deeply, for the most part, to not speak out against what I thought was a really reprehensible act,” said Briel Lehrman, who considers the larger Jewish community his family.

Although If Not Now does not take a stance on the right of return, “which I know is what the protesters were protesting for,” Lehrman added that “what we really care about is that these protesters have the right to speak their truth.”

If Not Now demonstration against Passover massacre outside Union for Reform Judaism offices, April 4, 2018. Photo by Jesse Rubin.

Rivka S. Mitnik-Kostanyan, a member of If Not Now, recited the 10 Plagues of Occupation — an adaptation of the plagues in the Passover story.

The plagues, Mitnik-Kostanyan read aloud, consist of “settlements and land dispossession; restriction of movement and checkpoints; curfews; imprisonment; systems of segregation; extrajudicial killings, surveillance; desecration of religions; massacres and inter-communal violence; and the killing of those standing up to oppression.”

While the group collectively recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the seventeen slain Palestinians and recited each of their names, the JDL once again showed its base character.

In unison, JDL members yelled “seventeen more, seventeen more” repeatedly.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed into law an anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) executive order almost two years ago, has an office in the same building as the URJ, but If Not Now’s criticism remained with the URJ. If Not Now does not endorse BDS.

Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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17 Responses

  1. guyn on April 6, 2018, 5:22 pm

    “If Not Now does not endorse BDS.”

    And their solutions are?…

    • echinococcus on April 7, 2018, 3:16 am

      Their solution is, as they stated but in other words, to let the Zionist+US butchers self-regulate but admonish them to pay more attention to decorum.

  2. RoHa on April 7, 2018, 2:27 am

    “what we really care about is that these protesters have the right to speak their truth.”

    Their truth?

    • eljay on April 7, 2018, 9:25 am

      || RoHa: “what we really care about is that these protesters have the right to speak their truth.”

      Their truth? ||

      Truth – as opposed to Zionist “truth”.

      … When counter-protesters with the Jewish Defense League tried shaming the activists by yelling “six million” …

      While the group collectively recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the seventeen slain Palestinians and recited each of their names, the JDL once again showed its base character.

      In unison, JDL members yelled “seventeen more, seventeen more” repeatedly. …

      JDL: The ISIL of Zionism.

    • Misterioso on April 7, 2018, 11:33 am,-2018-PLO-Executive-Committee-Member-Dr-Hanan-Ashrawi-on-Israel’s-deliberate-and-violent-attacks-against-unarmed-Palestinian-protestors-in-Gaza

      The Palestine Liberation Organization, Press Release.

      “April 7, 2018: PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi on Israel’s deliberate and violent attacks against unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza”

      “Yesterday marked the one-week anniversary of the ongoing ‘Great March of Return’ which affirms the right of return for Palestinian refugees. However, despite the fact that the protestors were unarmed, Israeli forces deliberately targeted Palestinians with sniper fire, live ammunition, tear gas, and rubber-coated steel bullets.

      “At least 27 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including sixteen-year-old Husain Madi and photo-journalist Yaser Murtaja, and more than 2,500 have been injured across the occupied Palestinian territory.

      “We strongly condemn Israel’s deliberate and violent attacks against unarmed Palestinian protestors, and we urge all members of the international community to form an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate Israel’s murder of Palestinian demonstrators and its continued unlawful violations of international law and international humanitarian law.

      “With a sense of shock and outrage, we also condemn the U.S. for preventing the UN Security Council from adopting a statement demanding that Israel respect international law and the right of Palestinian civilians to demonstrate peacefully.

      “Despite the support of other members of the Security Council, the U.S. compounded its culpability by blocking the statement for the second time this week. Efforts by members of the White House and American administration, primarily U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, to safeguard Israel’s lawlessness and criminal behavior are further cause for alarm, and it is time for other members of the international community to assume a moral and courageous stand and provide protection for the Palestinian people and accountability for Israel before it is too late.

      “Furthermore, we honor the courageous journalists in Palestine and abroad who have worked to present the Palestinian human narrative and report on Israel’s recent campaign of war crimes as the Palestinian people strive to achieve self-determination and freedom peacefully.

      “In direct contravention of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that calls for the protection of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, these violations against journalists and members of the press are part of Israel’s systematic policies that deliberately target journalists and media institutions in Palestine. International law pertaining to the safety of journalists must be respected, and Israel must be held accountable in order to ensure it will refrain from employing such illegal policies.”

      • Maghlawatan on April 7, 2018, 1:36 pm

        1948 was a stitch up at the UN. The Palestinians had no say. In the conference to settle claims after the war Israel refused to deal. In 1967 it was the same. Another stitch up.
        Now the 2 state skution is dead. 1948 is also over. Gaza is saying so,.

        You cannot pauperize a people without consequences.

        Israel is out of control.

        “One more promise I couldn’t keep

        It seems no one can help me now
        I’m in too deep
        There’s no way out
        This time I have really lead myself astray

        Runaway train never going back
        Wrong way on a one-way track
        Seems like I should be getting somewhere
        Somehow I’m neither here nor there”

  3. Kathleen on April 7, 2018, 9:29 am

    Palestinians have been oppressed, killed, displaced, land and homes stolen for70 years. Important that these people are waking up. Always better late than never.

    “In unison, JDL members yelled “seventeen more, seventeen more” repeatedly.” Tells you exactly who these people are. Sickening

    You are either for human rights and social justice for all people or you are not.

    • CigarGod on April 7, 2018, 11:05 am

      They are the same people who help NPR rehabilitate their favorite war criminals.

      Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

      Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

      —60 Minutes (5/12/96)

      • Marnie on April 8, 2018, 7:41 am

        The price is never too high as long as someone else is paying.

  4. Misterioso on April 7, 2018, 10:43 am

    Let’s look on the bright side. The entity known as “Israel” and its supporters are obviously running scared.

    It’s been 70 years and the so-called “Jewish state” is still constantly on the defensive attempting, but failing to ward off a continuous, accelerating and entirely justified barrage of worldwide criticism for its monstrous past and present crimes against the indigenous Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine. In short, 70 years of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. At the same time, ever increasing numbers of Jews everywhere, including the U.S., especially youth, are abandoning Zionism and its spawn, “Israel.” In the long run, Zionism is doomed. Keep up the good fight!!

    • amigo on April 7, 2018, 2:56 pm

      Indeed Misterioso , they are desperate.Here is one example .

      “AN ISRAELI MINISTER has called on AIB to close the Irish accounts of Palestinian protest groups.

      The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said it was shocked to learn that Israel’s Minister for Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, directly appealed to AIB to close the Irish accounts of those who are lobbying to boycott Israeli goods.”

      Last year they managed to convince our other large Bank, “B of I ” (Bank Of Ireland) to close these accounts but given that Our present Gov supports the right of BDS to boycott Israel , it might prove somewhat more difficult this time around.

      The day the scourge of Zionism is put to the sword will be good day for mankind.The sooner the better.

    • Maghlawatan on April 7, 2018, 4:10 pm

      In 70 years :
      Israel pushed the Palestinian issue under the carpet
      Israel started at least 10 wars
      Israeli society became dominated by the religious and the Arab Jews
      Israel took over all of Palestine…
      ..even though it has just half the population
      Israel implemented apartheid
      Israel implemented neoliberalism

      the crash will be biblical

  5. Citizen on April 7, 2018, 4:13 pm

    In 1991, resolution 3379 (“Zionism if a form of racism”) was repealed for two primary reasons: One, the Soviet bloc, which helped pass the resolution, had collapsed; and two, Israel and the US demanded that it be revoked or they refused to participate in the Madrid Peace Conference.

    Despite the latest UN SC veto by the US re this IDF sniper turkey shoot (For second week in a row, U.S. blocks U.N. call for probe into #Gaza, Putin should try to pass some form of resolution 3379 again, specifically mentioning said turkey shoot. “If at first you don’t succeed…”

  6. guyn on April 7, 2018, 4:46 pm

    “The same paper said that Ireland is considered one of the most hostile nations to Israel in western Europe.”

    I hope it stays that way. Set an example!

  7. pabelmont on April 7, 2018, 7:03 pm

    A beautiful action, gorgeous signs — lettering and words and thoughts. But they don’t endorse BDS? what other mechanism can they imagine to get to justice?

    • Kay24 on April 7, 2018, 8:40 pm

      Good question. Everything else has been tried. They would be naive to even think that Israel will feel remorse and change it’s evil ways. Nothing has worked so far, in fact it has got worse, when you consider these massacres on a daily basis, and the illegal settlements. I am glad to see young Jews speaking out, but they should be realistic. Israel will never self correct.

    • JeffB on April 8, 2018, 8:43 am


      I’ll assume this is a serious question. INN believes in positive engagement talking to people not at people . They engage from within not from without.

      So the first thing they would say is Jews don’t need a mechanism to get justice. Jews are the ones creating the injustice in Israel. The mechanism to stop the injustice is to decide to stop being unjust. That is INN approaches the I/P conflict from the perspective that they are tangential participants not outsiders. Their discussions with the Jewish community (including Israel) come from a place inside that community not outside it .

      INN: We, us, our… what we did
      JVP: Them, their… what Zionist did

      They want the American Jewish community (and to some extent the global Jewish community) to start having serious conversations about Israel’s behavior in a Jewish ethical context. They approach American Jews and say when “we (note the “we” here) support things like the Gaza shooting look who are allies are, look who is objecting. Do you really feel comfortable on that side? Are you really telling me you are comfortable being someone who works to facilitate shooting demonstrating teens in the back?” They consider the occupation to be a crisis of conscience not a foreign policy crisis.

      American Jewish organizations in an open and public way attacked the Netanyahu administration’s handling of the Kotel. American Jewish organizations in an open and public way have for years attacked various policies of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate with respect to conversions. American Jewish organizations have been able to bring pressure to bear on issues where the Israeli public mostly sides with taking a very hard line. They see no reason why a similar thing couldn’t happen with respect to the occupation, providing American Jews decided they oppose the occupation.

      They want a positive message not BDS’s entirely negative message: “freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians… flourishing, joyous, liberated Jewish community that actively supports the dignity of all people.” They agree with Phil’s position that as long as American Jews support Israel, America will support Israel. They will not fight the American Jewish community nor try and bypass them. Instead they talk to them.

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