Holding signs emblazoned with slogans like “Boycott Israeli Apartheid” and “New York Jews Say: Not in Our Name,” hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan on Thursday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in Gaza.
The event was one of many held in the U.S. and around the world as part of a “national day of action” against Israel’s Gaza campaign. Two Jewish groups, Jewish Voices for Peace and Jews Say No!, were among the march’s organizers, and numerous Jews came to protest Israel’s military campaign.
“I’m here because of the massacre that has recently happened, but also because of the ongoing occupation,” said Anna Jacobs, who was pushing her toddler in a stroller.
Standing nearby, Jews Say No! activist Dorothy Zellner lamented that outsiders assume the Jewish community uniformly supports Israel. “This is heartbreaking. Everyone thinks Israel represents us and speaks for us,” she said.
“I think there’s a myth that the Jewish community supports the Israeli attack on Gaza,” she added, and asserted that there are “hundreds of thousands” of Jews in the U.S. that oppose the Israeli occupation.
Most of the Jewish protesters interviewed opposed Israeli policies long before the current campaign. But they view the current hostilities as deplorable, or even criminal.
“It’s with our weapons, and our funding, and we’re complicit in war crimes,” said Jenny Heinz, a Jewish senior citizen wearing a keffiyah. “My parents escaped from [Nazi] Germany. ‘Never again’ was always understood by me to mean never again for anyone.”
Zellner, who said she organized for civil rights in the 1960s, feels compelled to by Jewish values to protest the Gaza operation.
“Speaking as a Jew, this is a shonde. We’re driven by our tradition that says, ‘you shall not stand idly by,’ and we won’t stand idly by,” she said. “I was shot at and arrested for principles of equal rights. I want a state where Israelis and Palestinians are safe [with] equal rights for all.”
Israel says the Gaza operation is necessary to address dangerous rocket fire from Gaza militants, which threatens the lives of innocent Israeli civilians. But protesters asked about this justification brushed it aside. “We don’t buy it,” Zellner said. “This is blaming the victim to the extreme.”
Protest organizers specifically called for an end to U.S. support for Israel’s military operation and its occupation more generally.
“It’s a shame that our Congress, our media, and — as a Jew — our U.S. Jewish institutions are largely silent, if not supportive [of the operation],” said Brandon Davis, a 23-year-old volunteer with Jewish Voices for Peace. “We’re hoping to change the political discourse that is shamefully and uniformly pro-Israel.”
While being interviewed, a pro-Israel passerby began arguing with Davis and called him “a self-hating Jew.” Only a handful of Israel supporters showed up to counter-protest, however.
Misha Shulman, a 37-year-old Israeli immigrant, had an unplanned protest of his own. The former IDF soldier strongly opposes Israel’s Gaza operation and joined the march against it. He said he is “pretty horrified” by the war and the number of Palestinian civilians being killed.
But after a few minutes of marching, he no longer felt comfortable. “They’re calling [the operation] a genocide,” he said, and noted that the marchers also shouted slogans in favor of boycotting Israel. “It’s essentially an anti-Israel protest, and I’m not anti-Israel in general, I just oppose most of the government’s policies.”
After glimpsing a sign that read “Israel=KKK,” Shulman had had enough; he departed the line of marchers and sat down on a park bench.
“At Israeli protests, we chant “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” he said. “I hoped that I would find my part of the demonstration [where] that’s the general sentiment.”
Contact Hody Nemes on Twitter @hodifly