WASHINGTON — Left-wing Jewish groups have launched a string of protests in response to confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel and Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Feb. 17, three protestors from IfNotNow were arrested after disrupting the Senate confirmation hearing of David Friedman, the Trump organization’s bankruptcy lawyer who Trump tapped to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Although IfNotNow does not consider itself an organization in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, some of its policies and tactics mirror those of pro-BDS groups.
One man stood during the hearing, blew a shofar and said, as he was being escorted out of the room by a police officer, “We are IfNotNow, American Jews against the occupation. David Friedman, you promote racism [and] fund illegal settlements. We will not be silenced. You do not represent us and you will never represent us.”
Friedman is the president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organization that funds Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His supporters include the Zionist Organization of America, the Orthodox Union and Christians United for Israel.
Also last Thursday, five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying that Friedman is “unqualified for the position.” He has also come under fire for likening J Street supporters to concentration camp kapos. He apologized for that during his hearing on Capitol Hill.
The night before, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the BDS movement, partnered with American Muslims for Palestine and other groups to organize a series of protests around the country in response to Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu. One hundred-fifty people gathered in front of the White House in what JVP described in a press release as its “flagship” rally.
Speakers discussed the larger context of protests against Trump. Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist who was a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, related activism for Palestinians to other causes, including racial justice in the United States.
“Sisters and brothers, there’s something new happening in our country,” she said. “There’s a new spirit, there’s a new revolution and at the center of it is human rights. And when we say human rights, we mean human rights for all people, including the Palestinian people.”
Rabbi Joseph Berman of Silver Spring, Md., who is JVP’s government affairs manager, said he believes protests are having an effect.
“Since the inauguration we’ve seen people getting out into the streets more and more. That’s what’s causing the Democrats now to have some backbone and stand up to Trump,” he said.
The protest included some 20 members of Neturei Karta, a fringe group of haredi Orthodox Jews who oppose Israel because they believe that “Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land before mankind’s final redemption is wrong,” according to the group’s website.
IfNotNow also organized a protest of 100 people that Wednesday night. They assembled at the Trump International Hotel and then marched to the White House.
There, IfNotNow organizer Jill Rainey condemned the Netanyahu administration for “cozying up” with the “white supremacist” Trump administration in order to “support the occupation.”
IfNotNow began in 2014 to challenge what it calls the mainstream Jewish community’s “unconditional” backing of Israel, but since Donald Trump’s electoral victory the group has focused much of its attention on protesting White House strategist Steve Bannon. IfNotNow organizers have repeatedly accused Bannon of racism and anti-Semitism, claims the White House fervently denies.
George Altshuler writes for Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.