Jewish groups rally at White House urging Biden to push for Gaza ceasefire

Jewish groups rally at White House urging Biden to push for Gaza ceasefire
Jewish groups rally at White House urging Biden to push for Gaza ceasefire

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — Leftwing US Jewish groups gathered outside the White House on Monday to urge the Biden administration to pressure Israel into declaring an immediate ceasefire, the Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Accusing Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of planning “genocide”, several hundred volunteers from campaign groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace chanted slogans, carried placards and sang ancient Jewish songs in protest of what they said was an immoral response to the deadly assault on 7 October by the Palestinian group Hamas that killed at least 1,400 Israelis, the British daily reported.

At least 30 people were arrested during the protest, according to reports from ABCNews. One organizer, identifying himself only as Yotam, told demonstrators shortly before they departed an initial rallying point at Farragut Square for the White House that 150 activists had volunteered to be arrested if security personnel ordered them to vacate the entrance points.

The demonstrators also trained their sights on Joe Biden, who they said was complicit in an Israeli retaliatory bombardment that had destroyed Gaza neighborhoods, cut off water and electricity, and left around 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 700 children.

The criticism of the US president came as he was considering an offer by the Israeli prime minister to visit Israel as it grieves in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks. Biden has offered unequivocal support for the country since it was attacked, but cautioned that a re-occupation of Gaza – from which Israel formally withdrew in 2005 – would be a mistake.

Monday’s demonstration came as Gaza faced an intensifying humanitarian crisis as more than half a million people fled their homes in the north of the tiny coastal enclave in advance of preparations for an apparent Israeli ground invasion with the stated goal of destroying Hamas.

Standing outside the White House gates, Eva Borgwardt, political director of IfNotNow, demanded an urgent meeting with Biden. “The stakes are life or death,” she said.

“We are here to tell President Biden, as the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world he needs to do everything in his power to demand a ceasefire, to demand a de-escalation, to release the Israeli hostages and to address the underlying circumstances that have led us into this nightmare.”

Protest organizers said they were prepared to engage in civil disobedience to influence US policy, including blocking entrances to and from the White House.

Holding placards bearing slogans including “My grief is not your weapon” and “Stop genocide in Gaza”, they said their focus was in ending US support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and what they described as the Jewish state’s “system of apartheid”.

Several described Israeli rhetoric toward Palestinians in the wake of the Hamas attacks as explicitly genocidal.

Some attendees waved Palestinian flags, while others carried “Free Palestine” placards. Some of those present wore Jewish kippas, or skull caps.

For all the focus on Israel’s policy, there was little reference to or direct criticism of Hamas for its attack on Israeli towns and communities that has triggered the latest crisis in the decades-old dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

Instead, activists put the focus on the Biden administration’s sale of expensive military equipment to Israel.

Omas Baddar, a Palestinian American analyst, said the White House was guilty of hypocrisy for condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while appearing to condone Israel’s actions.

“When you compare the rhetoric of this administration, talking about being a human rights-first foreign policy administration, about the need to put an end to the violence that has taken place in Russia’s war with Ukraine and you contrast it with its rhetoric on what is happening with Israel and Palestine today, it is nothing short of a level of hypocrisy that deserves to be called out as aggressively as we possibly can,” he said.

Borgwardt said the demonstration was evidence that the Jewish left was coalescing into a movement aimed at “throwing itself into [Israel’s] war machine” and stopping the onslaught on Gaza.

However, some of those present acknowledged that wider support among the Jewish community is hard to come by.

“I have a conflict with my family. I believe in a bi-national state,” said Sami Gold, 19, a political science and history student at George Washington University in Washington DC, who said his mother was Israeli-born. “Jews have been discriminated against for thousands of years and if there was a way of forming a Jewish state without discriminating against other people, I would be all for it. But we don’t live in that world.

“My family still loves me, but they are sad that this is what I believe. But I think they are going to become more and more sympathetic to what I believe in.”

In London, meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has brought together Muslim and Jewish community leaders in a bid to discourage "any form of hatred or violence" in the UK.

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a scholar and imam from Leicester, said: "British Muslims and Jews have much in common - and there are many personal ties between us. We have, and will sometimes, be on opposite sides - but we live together as neighbors in peace and harmony... without resorting to hate or violence.

"It is deplorable and wrong that our Jewish community here has been the target of hate crimes... I pray for an end to this war and all wars - and for the innocent caught up in this chaos."

The imam was followed by Jonathan Wittenberg, a senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism. Wittenberg, who was described by Mogra as a "dear friend", added: "The Jewish community... has long condemned, and continues to condemn, all forms of racism directed against Muslims, from whatever source."

As leaders in the British Jewish and Muslim communities, they affirmed the importance of maintaining our relationships even, and especially, in troubled times.

"It is essential that we live together, across the UK, as neighbors and fellow citizens in peace and in respect. My prayers too are with all the innocent people caught up in this horror. We are both on the side of life... and pray for a better future for all," the rabbi said. — Agencies

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