Demonstrators are gathering in over 30 U.S. cities today as part of a “Jewish Day of Resistance” against President-elect Donald Trump and his appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor. The group responsible for organizing the day’s events is IfNotNow, an organization of Jewish youth concerned with the rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia characterized by the rhetoric of Trump and his appointees.
In New York City, protesters will line up on the Brooklyn Bridge and outside the midtown office of Birthright Israel. In Washington, D.C., protesters already entered the lobby of the Republican Jewish Coalition, or RJC, holding signs to “Draw the Line” against policies that threaten to tear the country apart and calling for the coalition to stand against Bannon. The group was “violently forced” from the building by RJC private security, according to IfNotNow organizer Ethan Miller. The incident was recorded on Facebook Live.
“The political lines are being redrawn right now,” said New York-based IfNotNow organizer Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff. “We’re concerned that our institutional leaders are trying to cozy up to power, believing that will protect them.” One of those leaders, according to IfNotNow, is the Zionist Organization of America, or ZOA, which endorsed Bannon’s appointment. In response, IfNotNow helped organize a protest on Nov. 20 outside a ZOA gala dinner in New York where Bannon was scheduled to appear. The demonstration drew over 700 protesters, and when Bannon failed to show, Lerman-Sinkoff said the group counted this as “a major victory.”
Miller described Wednesday’s actions as building on the growing dissent catalyzed by Trump’s election, saying, “This is bigger than Bannon or Trump, it’s about what they represent.” He sees IfNotNow as representing the growing number of Jewish youth who are demanding a stronger moral stance from their leaders. “We refused to be sold down the river by institutions silently supporting Trump because he supports right-wing policies in Israel and supports the occupation.”
Opposition to the occupation was the founding objective of IfNotNow, which formed in reaction to the 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza. IfNotNow aims to bridge political divides by focusing first on dismantling the occupation. “Other organizations are focusing on policy, but we think all solutions will be stronger once the occupation has ended,” Miller said. The occupation is “a moral crisis” in the Jewish community, Miller continued, adding that Jewish leaders must recognize the “freedom and dignity” of the Palestinian people as integral to their community’s future.
IfNotNow, which has seven official chapters across the United States, has seen a surge in first-time activists since the election and has provided advice, support and two-day training sessions to meet the growing interest. They also work closely with fellow grassroots movements like the migrant justice group Cosecha, while maintaining a uniquely Jewish framework, by organizing actions around Jewish holidays and traditions, and singing Hebrew songs.
“There is a long Jewish tradition of having public moral discussions,” Miller said. “That’s what we want to do — to bring issues of justice into the public arena.”