Pro-Palestinan protestors rallied last Sunday outside Ann Arbor’s Jewish Community Center during an event commemorating May 14, 1948, the day Israel gained statehood and defended itself against an attack by six Arab nations.
Members of the emerging Pro-Palestine organization, Defend Palestine, voiced their dissatisfaction with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Though the protest drew only about a dozen participants, their presence evoked strong reactions from members of the Jewish community. Thought the protest drew only about a dozen participants, their presence evoked strong reactions from members of the Jewish community.
Members of the Jewish community encountered signs with phrases like “Zionism is Racism,” as they entered the JCC parking lot.
Monica Woll, the chair of the governing board of the University’s Hillel chapter, said in response to a protestor’s sign: “Zionism is the belief that Jews have a right to a homeland — that is no way racist,” Woll said. “To make a blanket statement like that is absurd.”
Jeff Levin, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County, stressed that the JCC’s event was not politically motivated.
“This isn’t a political rally,” Levin said. “In the same way that Americans of all political stripes can celebrate the Fourth of July, Jews of all political stripes celebrate Israel’s independence and her accomplishments of the last 50 years.”
Levin also said similar protests have been occurring in front of the Beth Israel Congregation, located on Washtenaw Avenue, for the past 20 months.
Toma Livshiz, a participant in the celebration and an incoming University freshman, said that though she supports everyone’s right to voice his opinion, protests in front of the synagogue are unethical. It is disrespectful to protest an area of worship where people are trying to pray, she said.
Etta King, a senior at Pioneer High School who plans to go to Israel next year, also said that she did not agree with the protestors’ style of expressing their dissatisfaction.
“Protestors come and protest every Saturday in front of the (Beth) synagogue,” King said. “I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion — even if I don’t agree with it. I just don’t agree with how they go about it. It really bothers me when they come to my synagogue when I’m trying to pray.”
Present at the protest, Henry Herskovitz, the spokesman for Jewish Witnesses for Peace, explained why protesting has continued for the last 20 months outside the synagogue.
“The flag of Israel hangs inside of the synagogue,” Herskovitz said. In addition to being places of worship, synagogues are a place of political support for Israel, Herskovitz said.
Woll said she did not agree with protests in front of the Beth synagogue.
“There’s a time and a place for these protestors,” Woll said. “By hanging the flag in the synagogue, the synagogues are showing that they stand behind Israel, because Israel is the Jewish homeland.”
Laurel Federbush, a protester and University alumnus, said that the University does not fairly recognize the issue and avoids talking about anything that is critical of Israel.
She spoke at a meeting of the Michigan Student Assembly held two months ago, when a proposal was brought before MSA to urge the University to form a committee to investigate the University’s investments in military companies that support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Federbush was one of many activists who accused the Israeli government of human rights violations.
Herskovitz echoed Federbush’s sentiments, saying that students must realize the importance of universally protecting human rights.
Livshiz also recognized that students might have power to impact the University’s dealing with Israel. While there are two sharply distinct views of the current situation, both sides agreed that peace was the ultimate goal for the region.
“We hope that next year the Palestinians can celebrate their own independence,” Levin said.Marcia Federbush, another protestor, also said she yearned for peace.
“I don’t see a reason why coexisting is impossible. We just need to get there,” Federbush said.