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JP Update – 29th July 2014

In a small gathering only several blocks from where a massive rally in support of Israel was set to shortly take place outside the United Nations, several dozen protesters, most of them young adults who were dressed in mournful black outfits, stood in front of the midtown Manhattan office building that contains the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, chanting the mourners’ Kaddish and reading aloud the names of the hundreds of Palestinians, along with the Israeli soldiers, who have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas in Gaza.

The demonstration was organized by “If Not Now, When?,” a hastily pulled-together group of “anti-occupation” Jewish protesters.

Their demonstration was overwhelmed by the “New York Stands With Israel” community-wide rally held next to the UN two hours later. The large gathering, which was officially co-sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Conference of Presidents, in conjunction with the Reform, Conservative and mainstream Orthodox movements, drew a passionate crowd of 10,000 people, said Shira Dicker, who has a public relations firm but was speaking as a rally participant. Participating in the rally is “exhilarating,” Dicker said.

The competing – and quite minuscule – anti-Gaza war protest was held because “we think this war is unjust, the occupation is unjust, and the cycle of violence is not good for the Jewish people,” contended Yonah Lieberman, one of the rally’s facilitators, a 22-year-old tenant organizer. “We are protesting the implicit support American Jewish leaders gave to the Israeli offensive in Gaza.”

Simone Zimmerman, 23, who claimed that she has cousins currently serving in the Israeli army and a sister who is volunteering in bomb shelters, said that she does not believe the current crisis began with the rockets Hamas has been firing into Israel. “We think it’s important to understand the context of occupation,” she told Haaretz. “It is terrifying to me that I don’t see [Israeli] leaders presenting a clear strategy besides violence. We feel a shared sense of urgency that members of the Jewish community need to publicly oppose the operation in Gaza.”

A number of people who were passing by the group were clearly in disagreement. One middle-aged woman, who was walking in the direction of the United Nations with a man wearing a black yarmulke, remarked about the anti-war protesters, “They make me nauseous. I want to vomit on them.”

After lighting yahrtzeit candles and setting up stones in the center of their semi-circle, nine of the protesters went inside the office building and sat down in the lobby in an attempt, organizers said, to persuade Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, to come down and speak with them, even though the general impression was that he was probably not in the building at the time. After only a few minutes had elapsed, about a dozen police officers arrested the protesters, putting them in plastic handcuffs and leading them into waiting police vans.

Rabbi Joel and Rochelle Oseran – who were going to a meeting at the Union for Reform Judaism in the same building – were passing by as the anti-war demonstration was concluding. The couple, who reside in Jerusalem and have three sons serving in the intelligence section of the Israeli Defense Forces, asked Zimmerman about the purpose of the group’s rally.

“We’re protesting the actions of the Israeli army,” Zimmerman replied. “You’re not against Hamas?” Mrs. Oseran queried. “We feel awful for the Gazans. But Hamas is to blame.” “You can criticize Israel but you can’t stop there,” commented her husband, who is vice president for development of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. “Otherwise we never would have left now.” Rabbi Oseran, who greeted another of the anti-war protesters – the son of one of his rabbinical colleagues – opined that their demonstration against Israel’s military campaign “is just so naïve. They have good intentions but are really off base.

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