NEW YORK – Seven members of the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow were arrested outside the Midtown offices of Chuck Schumer on Monday, after demanding that the Democratic senator condemn recent Israeli violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Around 30 activists arrived at Sen. Schumer’s office early Monday morning, where they called on him to denounce the deaths of 30 Palestinians after two weekends of protests near the border fence with Israel.
The activists read out the names of the deceased Palestinians and recited the Kaddish (Jewish mourning prayer) for them. They then sat on the ground, held hands and blocked the entrance to the building, while chanting, singing in Hebrew and praying.
As the activists were arrested by the police, fellow protesters circled the police vehicle and sang songs of encouragement.
IfNotNow is a movement of young American Jews who seek to end support for the occupation among American Jews. The group explained it has singled out the Senate minority leader because of his prominence in the American-Jewish community.
“We are IfNotNow and we call on Chuck Schumer to condemn violence against Palestinian protesters. How many more, Chuck?” the activists chanted, adding, “Sen. Schumer – your silence speaks volumes!”
Several activists told Haaretz they have been disappointed by the lack of response from mainstream U.S. Jewish organizations and community leaders since the violence began in Gaza on March 30 when some 30,000 Palestinians attended the first of what is currently planned as a weekly “Great March of Return.”
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“For the past two weeks, Israel has shot and killed 30 Palestinians who have been demanding freedom and dignity. And we heard nothing from the American Jewish establishment,” said Eliana Fishman, one of the protesters who was later arrested.
“Sen. Schumer bills himself as a progressive and a Jewish leader, so it should be a no-brainer for him to condemn disproportionate use of violence by the officers against peaceful protesters,” added another activist, Morriah Kaplan. “I think he is out of step with American Jews if he doesn’t say anything.”
Another protester, Molly Schulman, said: “We as Jews have deep-seated trauma and there is this desire to be protected and feel safe.
“IfNotNow is saying that yes, that fear and trauma is real. But we need to be accountable for what is being done in our name,” she added.
The Israel Defense Forces has announced that it will launch an inquiry into the conduct of its soldiers in the incidents, where several of the protesters were killed by sniper fire, with some video footage showing that some Palestinians were shot despite having their backs to the border fence.
The United States has twice prevented the UN Security Council from releasing a statement backing the right of Palestinians to “demonstrate peacefully.”