December 12, 2018

Birthright Participants Who Staged Walk-Out Start GoFundMe Page to Pay for Flight Home

Screenshot from Facebook.

A group of Birthright participants decided to walk out from a couple of buses during a trip to protest the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank. Now the activists have started a GoFundMe page to pay for their flight home.

According to the Times of Israel, eight activists walked out of two buses on their sixth day of the 10-day Birthright trip, claiming that Birthright would not show them the “occupation” of the West Bank so they went on their own to the area.

“Visiting Israel in 2018 and not receiving comprehensive education about the occupation is like visiting the South in the 1950s and not talking about Jim Crow segregation,” the GoFundMe page read. “Young Jews deserve the truth about what’s being done in our name and it is out of touch and absurd that Birthright would try to hide this from us.”

Consequently, Birthright canceled their flights home and held on to their $250 deposit, prompting the activists to launch the GoFundMe page to cover their travel and potential legal costs. The activists are claiming that Birthright threatened them with a lawsuit, which Birthright denies.

“We respect the ability of all participants to formulate their own views and opinions, and engage in productive and respectful dialogue,” Birthright said in a statement. “However, we will not tolerate any attempts to use this experience to promote ideological agendas.”

Six of the activists belong to a progressive Jewish organization called IfNotNow, which has previously confronted Birthright leaders and attendees as they leave for Israel.

As of publication time, the activists raised nearly $12,000 on the GoFundMe page.

H/T: Daily Wire

Tough love for David Suissa

This past week, David Suissa penned an article that misrepresented our movement, as well as the American Jewish community.

We, IfNotNow, compose a community that is motivated by Jewish traditions of fearless questioning and an uncompromising pursuit of tikkun olam. It is not, as Mr. Suissa articulated, the desire to “look like an anti-establishment rebel,” that motivates us; rather, it is the values of love and justice that inform our movement.

Our upbringings, grounded deeply in Jewish ethics, have prepared us for this moment in history, as the first year of a Trump presidency converges with the fiftieth year of an Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In what one might term “tough love” for Suissa’s piece, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman correctly declares that, “the occupation has twisted our communal soul.” Now, especially, is the time for bold opposition to hate-filled politics. Yet so many of our communal institutions, including AIPAC, have demonstrated the ease with which the pro-Israel establishment can be swayed by fearmongering tactics and Islamophobic sentiments. At last year’s AIPAC policy conference, Donald Trump’s speech – characterizing Palestinian society as bloodthirsty and anti-Semitic – was given a standing ovation by the majority of those in the room. Since then, AIPAC has continually failed to condemn the policies and rhetoric of Trump and his administration – policies that encourage racism, sexism, and even anti-Semitism – in the name of unconditionally rewarding those who promote the right-wing, pro-Israel party line.

Just as importantly, an unquestioning antipathy towards communities who criticize Israel is placing our communal institutions on the wrong side of history. Their pro-Israel criterion has not only prompted hostility towards disapproving members in the Jewish community, but also of other marginalized communities. One need not look farther than Mr. Suissa’s own track record to see this trend. Long before he appealed to the Jewish community to give IfNotNow a dose of “tough love,” Suissa called for, among others, “Tough Love for Islam,” “Tough Love for Black Lives Matter,” and “Tough Love for Obama.”

Not only do Suissa’s calls for “tough love” mischaracterize and dismiss communities, movements, and figures, but they also indulge in blatant bigotry. They minimize the struggle of communities who experience daily mistreatment by illustrating a world in which the oppressed are coddled. Suissa’s article advocating that the Jewish community “offer [Black Lives Matter] some tough love and constructive criticism,” for example, completely diminishes the often-violent sacrifices protesters make in order to bring attention to a dire reality. He also suggests that the difficulties faced by the Jewish community are equivalent to those faced by the black community — they are not.

Suissa asserts that Jewish organizations, out of fear of “losing” young Jews critical of Israel, are handling them with “kid gloves.” But one must ask: who is, in fact, doing this? Hillel at Ohio State has disbanded its Jewish LGBT support group because it participated in an event alongside Jewish Voice for Peace. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations refused to admit J Street, an explicitly pro-Israel organization that supports a two-state solution.

In Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, AIPAC ensured the arrest of seven IfNotNow members for occupying its lobby. Many IfNotNow members have family who will not speak to them because of their work in our movement. Each of our members – many of whom love the country deeply and have family there –  risks a refusal of entry into Israel. We are regularly shouted at, told that we aren’t Jewish, or that we’re kapos. With such rhetoric, it is no surprise that the Jewish Defense League, a right-wing terrorist organization, attacked IfNotNow demonstrators and a Palestinian man during a peaceful action at AIPAC last week. So, we must ask again: who is handling us with “kid gloves?”

Suissa argued that our last action in Los Angeles simplified the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will get no argument from us when he says that it is complicated. Even now, Israel just approved the first settlement construction in the West Bank in over twenty years.

Every day that Israel denies Palestinians basic rights and freedoms is another day it cannot hope for any sort of security or an improvement in international standing. And, even more importantly, the chance of reaching a just and peaceful resolution grows increasingly slim.

We are under no illusions that ending the occupation will be easy. It is not “social justice on demand”; it will involve considerable risk. But the current methods by which alleged security is held in place are unacceptable, and we, as American Jews who are implicated in this violence, must work to end it.

In the face of this issue’s complexity, we ask a simple question – a question that our communal institutions have failed to answer for too long: Do we, as a community, believe that all peoples deserve freedom and dignity?

If the answer is yes, then we can no longer afford to advocate solely for ourselves. We cannot accept the vindication of a bigoted, xenophobic, and delusional leader based solely on his proclaimed support for Israeli policies. It is engrained in our Jewish heritage to stand with people in need. Will our communal institutions use their power to stand with those most targeted by a Trump administration? By a Netanyahu administration?

We reimagine an American Jewish community that fights for dignity and freedom for all, even if it goes against the policies of a particular Israeli government. We are building a community that is no longer complicit in upholding a system of violence against Palestinians. Mr. Suissa, join us!

The authors are members of IfNotNow.

David Suissa responds:

I stand by every word I wrote. By blaming only Israel for the absence of peace, the movement IfNotNow (INN) hurts peace. By ignoring Palestinian refusals to end the occupation, Palestinian teaching of Jew-hatred and Palestinian glorifying of terrorism, INN hurts Palestinians. And by ignoring the reality that Hamas and ISIS are likely to swoop in and massacre Palestinians after Israel leaves the West Bank, INN is dumbing down a complicated conflict. The community conversation is much healthier when everyone is challenged. Just as INN is free to challenge AIPAC and other groups, they should have no problem getting the same treatment. As they write, it’s the “Jewish tradition of fearless questioning.”

IfNotNow and AIPAC

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

It’s amazing to me that the Jewish community is making all the same mistakes with IfNotNow that it made 30 years ago with Peace Now.

Castigation, isolation, repudiation, denigration — all the same tropes and techniques, from leaders who should know better.

The no-longer-young mainstream critics of IfNotNow should know by now that their attacks, like those of the establishment on Peace Now, will produce only more youthful opposition and could very well incite violence.  It all happened before. It’s all happening again.

Last week, the campaign against IfNotNow reached a fever pitch when the group held a sit-in, first at the Los Angeles offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), then at the AIPAC’s national conference in Washington, D.C.

IfNotNow is a group organized in 2014 by American-Jewish 20-somethings to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. 

Here’s how IfNotNow describes its origin story on its website: “[Y]oung Jews angered by the overwhelmingly hawkish response of American Jewish institutions came together under the banner of IfNotNow to demonstrate their resistance through the beauty of Jewish ritual. Moved to act by moral anguish and inspired by Hillel’s three questions, they organized Mourner’s Kaddish actions in nearly a dozen cities across the country and lamented the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian life. They had three demands: Stop the War on Gaza, End the Occupation, and Freedom and Dignity for All.”

What this description should tell us is that IfNotNow, like Peace Now, is very much a movement from within the Jewish community.  It is not outsiders trying to tear down Israel; it is our kids trying to save us.

Simone Zimmerman, one of the movement’s founders, made this clear in an interview with Jewish Journal reporter Eitan Arom. 

“They attack us so much because they know that we are not a minority and that we are a growing voice in the community,” said Zimmerman, who is 26. “If they didn’t see us as a growing threat, they wouldn’t feel the need to attack us. I think they know that as the occupation hits its 50th anniversary, as the Israeli government moves more and more to the right, American Jews are moving left, a lot of us, and we’re not willing to check our values at the door to maintain this pro-Israel consensus. True safety and liberation for Jews in the U.S. and in Israel actually depends not on supporting the occupation but fighting for freedom for all people.”

Thirty years ago, Peace Now entered the American-Jewish scene with a similar point of view. One difference, not incidental, is that Peace Now was founded by reserve Israeli military officers who foresaw, based on bitter experience, what moral, security, political and demographic disasters awaited Israel if it didn’t work to make a two-state solution more likely. IfNotNow is mostly American voices saying the same, but has the logic really changed?

Perhaps because Peace Now began as an Israeli movement, it didn’t feel comfortable in publicly confronting the American-Jewish establishment. IfNotNow members are energized, not intimidated, by throwing all they’ve learned in day schools, Jewish camps and Birthright trips into the faces of the folks who paid for it all.

Those folks are reacting by supporting a law in Israel that would ban activists from entering the country and by calling them names. Last week, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, Rabbi Daniel Gordis actually singled out Zimmerman as an “enemy of the state.”  His logic was that because Zimmerman sees the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a “legitimate, non-violent tactic” she must be a traitor.

It doesn’t matter to Gordis that Zimmerman herself, like IfNotNow, doesn’t subscribe to the BDS movement. She merely refuses to share Gordis’ exact view of it. And so — she’s out.

Sound familiar?  In the days of Peace Now, the red line was not BDS, but PLO. The establishment delegitimized Peace Now members because they dared advocate negotiating with the Palestinians. That was the establishment’s red line — talking to a terrorist who killed Jewish children and wheeled Jewish invalids into the sea. Now, mainstream Jewish leaders display photos of their visit with Yasser Arafat’s protégé, while calling anyone who refuses to condemn the boycott of Dead Sea body lotion a traitor.

Haven’t we learned that harsh language can paint a target on the backs of these protesters? It was just that rhetoric that resulted in the murder of Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig at a Jerusalem rally in 1983. In court, the man who tossed a grenade at Grunzweig argued that right-wing activists had convinced him Peace Now followers were “traitors.” 

It’s a sign of how the occupation has twisted our communal soul that our mainstream leaders are using words once consigned to the violent extreme.

I wasn’t at the AIPAC conference, where some in the crowd jeered at the IfNotNow protesters. But I remember vividly being jeered at decades ago at Peace Now rallies. I can tell you that being spat on doesn’t make you any less wedded to your convictions.   

I’m that strange Jew who believes we are a stronger community — and Israel is stronger — because IfNotNow, Peace Now, AIPAC and organizations on the right, such as the Zionist Organization of America, thrive. The truth doesn’t reside with any single one of them, and even those ideas we once thought of as fixed shift and evolve. What if instead of constantly looking for ways to march people out, we worked just as hard on bringing them in?


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

When politics gets in the way of Jewish giving

Jewish Voice for Peace members at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago protesting donor-advised funds from JUF going to groups that have been deemed Islamophobic on March 24. Photo by Inbal Palombo

Lisa Greer didn’t think twice when she used her cellphone to donate to IfNotNow, a Jewish organization that protests Israel’s West Bank occupation.

Greer and her husband, Joshua, had given millions to progressive Jewish and Israel causes, and she sits on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. So last October, she gave the $5,000 contribution to IfNotNow from her donor-advised fund at the foundation, a mechanism for philanthropists to give to specific causes via local Jewish philanthropic bodies.

But two days later, the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, blocked the donation. While Greer can choose where her fund’s money goes, the foundation has to approve every grant. And because IfNotNow protests federations and other Jewish establishment groups, the foundation said no.

It was the first Greer had ever heard of a grant being denied.

“We give to all different kinds of organizations. There’s never been an issue,” said Greer, who gave the IfNotNow donation in September. “I’d never heard of this happening before. I was beyond shocked. I really did start shaking.”

Greer’s gift isn’t the only contribution from a Jewish donor-advised fund to come under scrutiny. Nationwide, donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations give a collective $1 billion per year, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. Of those gifts, relatively few are rejected — but red lines surrounding donor-advised gifts remain unclear. Beyond confirming a recipient nonprofit’s legal standing, federations often mandate only that a recipient’s mission be consistent with the federation’s goals — itself a vague requirement.

“Jewish Federations’ charitable goals include aiding the most vulnerable, building vibrant Jewish communities and supporting Israel,” read a statement from JFNA spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar. “Grants to organizations that fall outside of those parameters require each community to apply their own judgment.”

What falls within and outside those boundaries?

While the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles blocked the IfNotNow grant, it has allowed grants to the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of nonprofits that oppose occupation. Federations have also faced pressure on donor-advised donations to right-wing groups.

Last Thursday, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports boycotts of Israel, issued a report tallying donor-advised gifts via Chicago’s federation-affiliated foundation to groups that JVP describes as “Islamophobic.” According to the report, gifts to two organizations — Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism — totaled nearly $800,000 between 2011 and 2014. (Both groups say they do not oppose Islam but rather “Islamist violence” and “radical Islamic involvement in terrorism.”) Last year, students in J Street U, the student arm of the dovish Israel lobby, wrote an op-ed in the Forward detailing donor-advised gifts totaling more than $60,000 via the Chicago and Milwaukee federations to groups that fund West Bank settlement construction.

“If their only basis for who they give money to is whether it’s legal, they need to stop saying they stand together against all forms of hate,” said Michael Deheeger, one of the JVP report’s co-authors, about the Chicago federation. “They still retain total discretion over whether to let money go to these organizations. They can stop this today.”

For wealthy donors, donor-advised funds are a way to make giving easier. They place their money into a tax-free charitable account, tell the federation where they want it to go and the federation takes care of the rest, including paperwork and tax filing. Federations benefit by receiving an initial donation from each donor as well as a small percentage of each donation. Traditional charities like The United Way and the Salvation Army run donor-advised funds, as do mutual fund groups like Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

The popularity of donor-advised funds has grown beyond the Jewish community. According to The Economist, almost $80 billion sit in over 270,000 donor-advised funds today, compared to $34 billion in 180,000 donor-advised funds in 2010. In 2014, Jewish federations and affiliated foundations held over $17.5 billion in donor-advised funds, according to EJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Federations embraced donor-advised funds in recent years to cultivate wealthy families who wanted more say in where their donations go — unlike donations to the federation’s annual campaign, which are generally apportioned by the federation’s lay board and staff. But there are limits. Donors’ gifts from funds are subject to federation approval.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, which offers resources for Jewish philanthropists, said controversies on the margins of the funds shouldn’t tarnish their value as a way to facilitate giving. But the best way to assuage those concerns, he said, is for each federation to clearly set  its red lines.

“That gets inscribed into the broader question of what are normative positions for the Jewish community,” he said. “What are the limits of public discourse? It’s a debate that’s full of gray areas and the goalposts keep moving. The solution to that is to have an honest and open conversation in each community.”

Some federations do have specific policies on donor-advised gifts. Portland’s federation, for example, notes that it does not make its own allocations beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but that it will generally accept donor-advised gifts intended for charities beyond the so-called Green Line. Others, including the Chicago federation’s foundation and the Los Angeles community fund, prefer not to single out any one cause or group in their guidelines for donors.

“It’s the donor’s money sitting at JUF, and very wide latitude is then given to the donor,” said Jay Tcath, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s federation. “Which is why there are groups on the right that are going to be funded that antagonize the left, and groups on the left we fund.”

Asked to elaborate on its denial of Greer’s request, the L.A. fund wrote in a statement to JTA that it will approve gifts to any nonprofit “whose programs and goals are not inconsistent with the fundamental mission of the Jewish Community Foundation,” and which is not anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace would like the Chicago federation to establish a policy disqualifying funding to “Islamophobic” groups. In the period covered by the JVP report, the Chicago federation’s donor-advised funds made a total of $175 million in grants to 3000 organizations.

That included more than $750,000 of donor-advised gifts between 2011 and 2014 to the Middle East Forum, an organization led by researcher Daniel Pipes that the Southern Poverty Law Center included on a list of anti-Muslim extremist groups, and $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, which also appears on the SPLC list.

“If they want to cast such a big tent that it puts them in the position of funneling money to hate groups, they need to stop positioning themselves as speaking on behalf of the entire Chicago Jewish community,” Deheeger said.

Tcath rejects JVP’s charge that his organization is Islamophobic, noting money it has raised for relief efforts in Syria and Bosnia as well as its work helping resettle refugees of all religions in Illinois. He said his federation opposes bigotry, and that SPLC’s list of Islamophobic organizations, which came out in December, two years after the period studied by JVP, could prompt a re-examination of those groups. But he added that JUF would not disqualify a group based solely on one or two of its founders’ offensive statements.

“Any bigotry is against our values and interests, but it is not for certain that everybody would really agree with that characterization of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said. “Are they serving the noble goals on which their mission statement is based? If that is the case, then we’re not going to stop the donors’ requests to the group because of this or that statement.”

The Chicago federation does set red lines: Tcath said any group that advocates violence toward, or forcible expulsion of, Arabs from Israel would not receive funding. On the left, he ruled out any group that promotes boycotts of Israel — including JVP — but not groups that support boycotts limited to the settlements. In the past, Tcath also recalls the federation denying a request to fund a church that engaged in proselytizing.

Tcath said he had “no idea” whether JUF would honor a request to fund IfNotNow, noting its focus on protesting Jewish federations like his own.

After being denied by the L.A. community fund, Greer gave her donation directly to IfNotNow. In the months since, she has kept her money in the donor-advised fund, noting her support of most of the organization’s work in the Jewish community. But she’s looking for a more progressive home for her philanthropy.

“If I can get a little bit of money back to the Jewish community through that 1.5 percent, it’s a good thing,” she said, referring to the percentage of each gift that goes to the Jewish Community Fund. “But I’m actively looking for an alternative, and if an alternative presents itself, or if I were given money to create an alternative, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

IfNotNow protesters dance, chant outside AIPAC conference

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Several hundred protesters coordinated by IfNotNow, a Jewish anti-establishment group, spent hours dancing and chanting outside AIPAC’s annual policy conference.

The placards and chants targeted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for what the protesters said was its backing for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and for not speaking out robustly against President Donald Trump.

Protesters bore a banner saying: “Jews won’t be free until Palestinians are, reject AIPAC, reject occupation.”

Police allowed the protesters to reach the Washington Conventions Center’s glass doors. Some AIPAC activists stopped and took pictures of the protesters, as the protesters looked back, some waving and grinning.

“How can we have a sustained Jewish community in this country and a democratic Jewish community in Israel” as long as an occupation persists said Jeremy Zelinger, one of the protesters. “AIPAC does not represent us.”

AIPAC does not formally back the occupation and favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit in relatively muted tones. It blames the Palestinians entirely for the absence of peace talks and does not criticize Israeli policies, including settlement building.

Another theme was AIPAC’s supposed failure to confront the Trump administration on a range of other issues, including its restrictive policies on immigrants and refugees. AIPAC has rarely if ever pronounced on any U.S. government’s policy not having to do with Israel or its interests.

Several protesters bore placards imprinted with the image of Dona Gracia Nasi, the 16th century Jewish entrepreneur who used her wealth to rescue Jews fleeing the inquisition. “Reclaim, reimagine, resist,” the posters said.

A dozen protesters carrying flags of the Jewish Defense League occasionally clashed with the protesters, and police intervened.

AIPAC has drawn 18,000 activists to its policy conference this year, the largest ever. The theme is bipartisan support for Israel, and speakers include Vice President Mike Pence and both parties’ congressional leaders.

Seven arrested as IfNotNow protests target AIPAC

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.”

WATCH: Seven Jewish protesters arrested at AIPAC L.A. office

Oak Loeb, a protester with IfNotNow, is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17.

Seven Jewish protesters were arrested March 17 in the lobby of the Century City office tower that houses the Los Angeles office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The protesters, who were affiliated with IfNotNow, a progressive network of millennial Jews opposed to Israeli policy, were chanting and stomping their feet when they were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, according to Capt. Tina Nieto, area commanding officer for West L.A. for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” said Michal David, 26, an organizer for IfNotNow, while a small group of protesters marched in a circle and chanted on the sidewalk behind her.

According to David, the 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 who were not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

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

Outside, the protesters, who numbered fewer than 10, responded with chants and statements of their own, denouncing AIPAC’s role in “propping up military occupation” and “cozying up to David Friedman,” President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for ambassador to Israel.

David said they had not contacted AIPAC before the protest. “There’s no more room for conversations behind closed doors,” she said.

More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests. Nieto said the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest.

The activists inside the lobby continued chanting until police led them away in handcuffs around 11 a.m., while the protesters outside continued to sing and look on. From there, they were taken to LAPD’s West L.A. Community Police Station, where anybody without an outstanding warrant would be cited and released, Nieto said.

The protesters ranged in age from 20 to 31 and hailed from L.A. and the Bay Area, according to IfNotNow.

On Sunday, IfNotNow is planning another, larger protest at AIPAC’s Century City office, to coincide with the L.A. Marathon, whose route passes AIPAC’s office.

AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

Foundation fund nixes progressive donation

Since 2014, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) has distributed more than $150 million from so-called “donor-advised funds” — money the foundation holds in trust for would-be donors.

Now, a contentious episode with one donor raises the question of whose money, exactly, it is, and where it can be donated.

Investor and businesswoman Lisa Greer opened a donor-advised fund with her husband, Joshua, some five years ago at JCFLA, expecting they would be able to give from it to any registered nonprofit they chose. They’ve used it to donate to a number of progressive Jewish nonprofits like the New Israel Fund, as well as to non-Jewish groups like the Girl Scouts of America.

But when they decided to donate to IfNotNow, a nonprofit consisting mostly of younger Jews that has clashed with the organized Jewish community over its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, JCFLA refused. Lisa Greer, in an interview with the Journal, described JCFLA’s decision as a result of a growing rift between the Jewish establishment and an ascendant generation of progressive, millennial Jews.

“This is not a problem that’s just about IfNotNow,” she said. “I don’t think it has much to do with IfNotNow.”

Rather, Lisa Greer, who is in her early 50s, sees the incident as a case of the older generation refusing to engage in an open dialogue with younger Jews who disagree with their positions.

“Why do we have to eat our young?” she said.

For most of the five years the Greers held their donor-advised fund, Lisa Greer — a JCFLA trustee — said they were happy with the arrangement. The Beverly Hills couple at various times has held anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million dollars with JCFLA.

Both are successful entrepreneurs in their own right. Lisa started Media Venture Advisors in 2000, a consulting firm that focuses on digital media and entertainment, and has since founded an egg donor agency and home health care business. Joshua co-founded RealD, now one of the world’s largest 3D technology companies, in 2003.

Their donor-advised fund allowed them to reap tax benefits immediately while waiting to give away the money. Lisa said she considered it a “double mitzvah” to hold her money with JCFLA: She would eventually give the money away, and in the meanwhile any management fees would go back to the foundation and, by extension, the Jewish community. The couple even appears on a brochure for the philanthropy’s donor-advised funds.

But in October, she got an unwelcome surprise when she tried to donate to IfNotNow, whose opposition to Israel’s military activity in Gaza and the West Bank brought it into direct confrontation with mainstream Jewish institutions.

Lisa first tried donating $5,000 to the group on Sept. 16. But by definition, the Greers could only recommend where the money should go. The funds are called “donor-advised” because they operate under the advice, not the direct control, of donors. 

A few days after Lisa entered the recommendation into the mobile platform JCFLA provides, she said she received a call from senior vice president Daniel M. Rothblatt saying the foundation was concerned about the donation and was looking into IfNotNow’s nonprofit status. Later, at an Oct. 5 meeting in the office of JCFLA President Marvin Schotland, Schotland and board chair Larry Rausch told her they wouldn’t make the disbursement.

Lisa recalled, based on notes she took at the meeting, being told that many donors give to Palestinian rights organizations — that wasn’t a factor. The real factor, she was told, is that IfNotNow takes a stand against the organized Jewish community. The foundation didn’t want its name on the donation, she said she was told, citing the organization’s “disruptive tactics.”

In an emailed statement, JCFLA confirmed Greer’s recollection of the meeting while defending its decision to reject the donation.

“The Foundation was being asked to act as the vehicle to provide support for an organization that is hostile to established Jewish institutions, indirectly including The Foundation itself,” the statement read. “We concluded that such a course of action would directly conflict with our core values, requiring us to deny this recommendation.”

Additionally, JCFLA wrote of IfNotNow, “it provides only limited public transparency, including no disclosure of its board of directors or financials.” Because the organization was officially formed in 2015, its financial disclosures are not yet publicly available.

IfNotNow admits to openly challenging the Jewish establishment. The group gained national attention during Israel’s last incursion in Gaza in 2014 by reading the Mourner’s Kaddish for Palestinian victims in front of major Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City, an umbrella group.

“The Foundation learned that [IfNotNow] has routinely included among the targets of its hostile activities such highly regarded Jewish organizations as the Jewish Federations of North America, with which The Foundation is affiliated, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International,” JCFLA wrote in its statement.

The statement made clear that disbursements from the Greers’ fund would technically be made in JCFLA’s name: “Donors have the right to recommend grants, but the charitable resources contributed by the donor legally become assets of The Foundation.”

IfNotNow’s co-founder, Emily Mayer, said her group consists mostly of young Jews who reject the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories and find the organized Jewish community’s response lacking.

“Jewish Community Foundation’s refusal to even allow Lisa to fund IfNotNow is actually a symptom of a larger problem, in which the institutions are actually out of touch,” Mayer told the Journal.

She added, “Jewish values tell us to stand up for the freedom and dignity of all people, yet when it comes to Israel that is no longer true” as far as the Jewish establishment is concerned.

David Myers, a professor of Jewish history at UCLA, first introduced Greer to Mayer’s organization. He said IfNotNow approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a perspective that is unique to Jewish millennials. 

“What they’ve grown up with is not a beleaguered Israel,” said Myers, who is also a Jewish Journal columnist. “They’ve grown up with Israel as the strongest kid on the block.”

For that reason, IfNotNow necessarily differs in its tactics from more established Jewish groups.

“Whatever has been tried to awaken the Jewish community out of its slumber as the occupation enters its 50th year isn’t working, so the tactics need to change,” he said. “And that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Lisa echoed the sentiment that the episode reflects a “horrible schism” between Jewish generations. 

Her case is not unique. Earlier this year, Michael Bien, a San Francisco-based civil rights lawyer, tried to donate $5,000 each to Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee through his donor-advised fund at the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

He knew of the Federation’s policies against engaging with organizations “undermining the legitimacy of Israel … including through participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.” However, he told the Journal, “I never assumed that they would apply to my donor-advised fund.”

When he tried to donate to the groups, both of which advocate for BDS, he was told it would be a violation of the Federation’s policy. He has since moved his money into a donor-advised fund managed by Morgan Stanley.

He found the Federation’s position to be hypocritical and worse, since donor-advised funds it holds have benefited organizations like the Hebron Fund, which is accused of paying a salary to convicted Jewish terrorist Menachem Livni.

“The only standard they’re applying is BDS,” he said. “They don’t care if you rape and pillage. It’s just BDS.”

Responding in the San Francisco-based Jewish newspaper j.,  to a February op-ed Bien co-wrote in that paper with colleague Jane Kahn about the experience, Federation CEO Danny Grossman defended the guidelines.

“The funding guidelines that we adopted several years ago are our community’s sincere and hard-won consensus on ensuring a safe space for a broad range of responsible views from left to right,” Grossman wrote.

In the six years since those guidelines went into place, the Federation has rejected just seven of 48,000 requested grants from its donor-advised funds, he wrote.

The Greers’ is the first and only donation JCFLA has rejected while donating millions of dollars each year, it said in the statement. “Since 2014 alone, through our Donor Advised Funds, over 20,000 grants have been made,” it wrote.

In the Jewish community and beyond, donor-advised funds are an increasingly popular vehicle for philanthropists, as they enable donors to decrease their tax base in high earning years while still allowing them time to choose recipients.

That tax incentive has given rise to a cottage industry worth $78 billion in 2015, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Large bank divisions that manage donor-advised funds regularly top lists of the nation’s largest charitable organizations. The financial services company Fidelity is now the second largest charity in the U.S., after the United Way, thanks to its donor-advised fund arm.

Greer is still considering what to do with her old fund and hoping she can find common ground with JCFLA.

“It kind of breaks my heart if I have to not work with them because of this episode,” she said.

Today’s peaceniks live with 60s envy

Not all demonstrations are created equal. Protesting for civil rights in the 1960s, for example, is not the same as protesting to “end the occupation” in 2016. The former was, literally, a black-and-white issue; the latter is anything but.

The thing with demonstrations, though, is that it’s often hard to tell which is which. Rebels protesting injustice all have that same look of righteous indignation. They demand immediate change and leave no room for doubt or complexity. When they hit the streets, they unleash their visceral emotions, not their thoughtfulness or intellect.

This past week, to coincide with the Passover holiday, hundreds of mostly young Jewish activists under the banner of #IfNotNow (INN) unleashed their emotions across the country to protest Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. They looked very much like those activists arrested in the civil rights marches in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s.

They proudly held up slogans such as, “No Liberation With Occupation” and “Dayenu — End the Occupation.” By trespassing on private property, some of them got arrested and made the news. I’m sure they were rock stars at their Passover seders. Martyrs for the cause.

But what cause, exactly?

What noble mission has aroused such certainty and passion in these activists?

Not surprisingly, it’s the most media-friendly cause in the world: Demanding that Israel end its disputed occupation of the West Bank. After all, if Blacks in the 1960s deserved their civil rights, don’t Palestinians today deserve to see Israel leave the West Bank?

Well, yes, except for a few inconvenient wrinkles, such as:

As soon as Israel leaves the West Bank, Hamas can swoop in and start slaughtering Palestinians, just as it did in Gaza after Israel left. ISIS can also move in and start chopping off Palestinian heads. In other words, “ending the occupation” can also mean “ending the protection” of Palestinians against Islamic terror. How’s that for a complication?

Here’s another complication you won’t see captured by INN slogans: Palestinian leaders have had several opportunities to end the occupation over the past 20 years, and they said no to Israeli offers each time.

One reason for their serial rejection has been their reluctance to compromise on their demand that Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants return to Israel proper, a move that would effectively end the Jewish state.

Another reason for their rejection is money. As long as they can claim victimhood, Palestinians get billions in international aid. For corrupt Palestinian leaders, this makes the occupation a personal ATM that funds their villas and private jets and keeps the global money flowing. Who’d want to end that?

And let’s not forget that while those leaders are getting rich, the occupation enables them to keep bashing the Zionist state they so despise.

Add it all up, and is it any wonder that irresponsible, corrupt and unaccountable Palestinian leaders have never rushed to see the end of the occupation?

I know, these are all messy complications for protesters who need a clean narrative — the narrative that it’s all up to Israel to make things better. These protesters are simply following the popular mantra that discriminates against the Jewish state: When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, everything is on Israel's shoulders. 

The protesters make no demands whatsoever on the Palestinians, such as ending their culture of Jew-hatred, corruption and chronic rejection. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren once put it, Palestinians have become “two-dimensional props in a Jewish morality play.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine INN activists demonstrating in front of the Palestinian Consulate with this slogan: “Stop Teaching Hatred and Start Teaching Peace,” or this one, “Say Yes NOW to Negotiations,” or this one, “Stop Stealing Aid from Your People.”

The inconvenient reality is that Israel cannot end this conflict on its own. This is an intractable, two-way conflict with no easy solutions and plenty of blame to go around. It’s a far cry from the black-and-white fight for the civil rights of Blacks in America.

Anti-occupation demonstrators need to know that when they scream for a simple solution to a complex problem, they hide the very complexity of the problem and make a solution that much more unattainable.

All eager peaceniks would be wise to listen to the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who had this to say to the INN protesters arrested in the lobby of the New York City building where the ADL rents space:

“It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

Will they take him up on it? I doubt it.

Greenblatt’s offer can never compete with the drama of getting arrested and making the evening news. There’s no adrenaline rush in engaging in honest dialogue and grappling with complex issues. For wannabe rebels who can't tolerate complications, it is only their smugness and certainty that are black and white.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

23 Jewish activists from Simone Zimmerman’s anti-occupation group arrested at Passover protests

Police arrested 23 activists from an anti-Israeli occupation group at two protests, one at an Anti-Defamation League office and another at an American Israeli Public Affairs Committee headquarters.

Seventeen protestors were arrested in the lobby of the ADL’s headquarters in New York City Wednesday. Six were arrested at AIPAC’s Boston office Tuesday after chaining themselves to a symbolic Passover seder table.

The activists were protesting on behalf of IfNotNow, a group formed in 2014 calling for “the end of the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation.” The group was co-founded by Simone Zimmerman, who was fired by the Bernie Sanders campaign two days after being hired as its Jewish outreach coordinator last week. Zimmerman, a former J Street activist, had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “manipulative asshole” in a Facebook post.

A similar protest was planned for Thursday in San Francisco.

At the New York protest, some 100 protestors held a sign reading “Liberation Passover seder” in the lobby of the building where the ADL is located, the Forward reported. They wore shirts reading “No liberation with occupation” and sang songs in Hebrew.

In Boston, around 75 protestors held a mock seder outside the AIPAC office building. Six who chained themselves to the seder table and refused to leave were arrested.

“The occupation is a daily nightmare for Palestinians who live it and a moral disaster for Jews who support and administer it. This year, we say that nobody can be free while others are oppressed,” IfNotNow said in a press release Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday, ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said IfNotNow and the ADL share the same goal of a two-state solution.

“ADL had no role whatsoever in the arrest of the protesters,” Greenblatt said. “The protesters trespassed in the lobby of a private office building in which ADL happens to be one of dozens of tenants.”

“It is unfortunate that [If Not Now] seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace,” he added.

Former ADL chief Abe Foxman had called for Zimmerman’s firing last week.

“I believe Bernie Sanders needs to fire Simone Zimmerman,” former Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman told Jewish Insider last Thursday. “No amount of word changes can cure her ugly characterization of the Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli army and people defending themselves.”