If Not Now Protests Jewish Federations of North America in Philadelphia


protestersIt was quite a scene on the night before 2017’s first snowfall. About 40 young protesters, bundled in warm coats and hats, gathered in front of 2100 Arch St., the Jewish Community Services Building, which houses Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as well as numerous other Jewish organizations.

The group was from If Not Now, a national organization that describes itself as “a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

If Not Now’s prior protest in front of the building, on Nov. 22, 2016, included chanting and singing, but this one took it up a notch with the addition of a band: a blue trombone, white tuba, drums and guitar.

As the protesters sang, waved signs and gave speeches, a ring of bicycle cops blocked the building’s entrance and flanked its Arch Street side. Several civil affairs officers stood in heavy dark coats and armbands. Recipients of Jewish Federation’s Mitzvah Food Project made their way around the police and the crowd to pick up nonperishable food items.

The noise upset a local resident, who came outside in the frigid temperatures without a coat, wearing flipflops, to demand that the protesters stop.

“This is a noise violation!” she shouted repeatedly. “It’s too many decibels! I live across the street! I’m a bar owner!”

The civil affairs officer calmly explained to her that this particular protest was not a noise violation.

“How would you know?” she said with disgust, as though it was not his job to enforce that law specifically.

The police took it all in stride. If anything, they seemed to be entertained by the music of the protesters and by a spontaneous Hora dance that broke out on the sidewalk more than an hour in.

But the protesters were not there to amuse. They were there for a day of Jewish resistance, as they put it, to Jewish Federations of North America’s silence in the face of President-elect Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon and the nomination of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.

Less than a month ago, If Not Now called for “massive protests” if JFNA did not make a statement in opposition to Bannon by the eighth night of Chanukah. No such statement has been released by JFNA, though a number of local Federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils — in Seattle, Boston, St. Louis, Des Moines, New Haven, Milwaukee, Sacramento and San Francisco, among other places — have released their own versions.

“We will not be silenced in the face of injustice,” one woman said through a megaphone. “We have seen this before and we know what happens.”

6ABC Action News cameras covered the gathering, during which people chanted, “Stand up for our liberation, not for endless occupation,” and 29-year-old rabbinical student Sarah Barasch-Hagans spoke of her fear of speaking out.

“I’m afraid to speak truth to [Jewish] Federation because of the power they have in Jewish institutional life,” she said. The activists then read Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s mission statement from its website, emphasizing the words “most critical priorities.”

“[Jewish] Federation has woefully failed to stand up on the job,” they said.

As they sang in Hebrew, an elderly man stood to the side and watched. A Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Yom Kippur war, the 73-year-old — who preferred to remain anonymous — lives a few blocks from the protest and happened to come upon in on his nightly walk. The signs against occupation upset him.

“It’s nonsense,” he said in heavily accented English, adding that his children were born in Israel. He seemed relatively unbothered by the group’s take on occupation, saying, “They make a lot of noise, but they don’t understand history.”

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia had no comment.


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