Seven arrested as IfNotNow protests target AIPAC

March 22, 2017
A protester with IfNotNow is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17. Photo courtesy of IfNotNow.

Leading up to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference later this month in Washington, D.C., the progressive protest group IfNotNow set its sights on the Israel lobby with a pair of protests against AIPAC’s conservative, pro-Israel politics that led to seven arrests.

The arrests came on March 17, when seven Jewish protesters were cited for trespassing after blocking off the entrance to the lobby of 1801 Century Park East, the Century City office tower that houses AIPAC’s Los Angeles office.

Two days later, a crowd of about 150 marched through Beverly Hills and Century City, chanting and waving signs, before arriving in front of the AIPAC office, where they danced, prayed and sang in protest.

IfNotNow is a progressive network of millennial Jews that challenges Jewish establishment support for the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Over the past two weeks, the group has held community meetings across the country, including in Pittsburgh; Tucson, Ariz.; Burlington, Vt.; and Washington, D.C., to prepare for protests that will coincide with the AIPAC conference on March 26- 28.

The morning of March 17 was the first time the group’s members were arrested in
Los Angeles.

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” IfNotNow organizer Michal David, 26, said as Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers prepared to arrest protesters. According to David, about a dozen protesters arrived at 9 a.m. at the building and blocked off entrances for about 40 minutes, encouraging AIPAC employees to go home “for a day of reflection.” By 10 a.m., those not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

“Shabbat shalom! AIPAC go home!” the seven protesters remaining inside chanted, seated against a marble wall facing the entrance.

The seven, who cooperated with police as they were led away in handcuffs, were Shay Roman, Sam Gast, Alex Leichenger, Alysha Schwartz Ben Koatz, Oak Loeb and Ethan Buckner, according to IfNotNow. More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests.

The protesters were taken into police custody after the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest, by which a private citizen technically is responsible for an arrest when a suspected crime occurs in his or her presence, according to West L.A. area commanding officer Capt. Tina Nieto.

AIPAC officials declined to comment for this story.

By March 19, all seven had been released and several were present for the second protest.

“They have a choice,” Roman, 27, said of AIPAC as she marched down Century Park East. “They can learn and respect and begin to understand. … They could have come down and talked to us, and they didn’t.”

The march began at nearby Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, with protesters sporting masks, crowns and makeup in the spirit of Purim, which took place the week before. Others wore Jewish ritual objects, like prayer shawls and tefillin.

Protesters march through Beverly Hills March 19 to protest AIPAC. Photo by Eitan Arom.
Protesters march through Beverly Hills March 19 to protest AIPAC. Photo by Eitan Arom.

The protesters marched 1 1/2 miles to the Century City office tower, blocking streets as they went. Many held signs aloft, while several carried a giant mock Torah scroll with the words “We will rise up” on one side and “We will not bow down” on the other.

LAPD officers blocked the short staircase to the office tower with their bicycles as protesters arrived. Standing in front of the officers, protesters gave speeches, led chants and read prayers, including a recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish to commemorate victims of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not all of the protesters were Jewish. Jean Beek, 91, said she came with her husband, Allan, after he heard about the protest on the internet. She said her son drove the couple from Newport Beach to attend.

Of AIPAC and the Israeli government it supports, she said, “We want to let them know that people don’t like what they’re doing to the Palestinians.”

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