Last Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators stormed the Capitol. Although this might evoke some kind of 2021 déjà vu, this time, it’s not about Trump. It’s about Israel. Armed with megaphones and wearing T-shirts reading “Jews Say Cease-fire Now,” the demonstrators walked the Capitol corridors shouting “Let Gaza Live” and “Not in My Name.”
Police arrested 350 people. A few days earlier, 100 demonstrators were arrested in Brooklyn outside the home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he sat down for Friday night dinner ahead of flying on a solidarity visit to Israel. They blocked the entrance to the street, shouting “ethnic cleansing” and unfurled a huge banner reading “Jews Say Stop the Genocide of Palestinians.”
As pictures of busloads of detained, handcuffed demonstrators flooded social media, Jewish Voice of Peace (JVP) tweeted that those arrested included “rabbis, politicians, scholars and descendants of Holocaust survivors – ages 20 to 80.”
Among the demonstrators arrested was Tal Frieden, who said: “My great grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Hungary and they taught me that ‘never again’ for the Jews means ‘never again’ for anyone.”
Jessica Murphy, a 27-year-old medical student who lost her father on 9/11, was also one of the demonstrators. She feels bad for both Israelis and Palestinians and is concerned that a “false dichotomy” has been created whereby one either supports terror or the brutal state of Israel.
“I feel that Israel is making a similar mistake to the one the United States made after 9/11. War crimes, however horrific, do not entitle countries to commit crimes of their own. Obviously, the attacks by Hamas were a war crime. But that does not justify war crimes by the United States in Iraq or by Israel in Gaza,” Murphy explained.
JVP made no secret of its involvement in a large-scale, pro-Palestinian demonstration in Times Square only two days after the Hamas attack - while fighting was still going on in the same communities where some 1,400 Israelis were slaughtered. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, often described as an Israel hater and who is notoriously outspoken against Israel, addressed the demonstration. She was consequently taken to task by numerous elected officials including New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Even her progressive Squad partner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (known as AOC), who’s also under no suspicion of loving Israel, criticized the demonstration. “The bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday were unacceptable and harmful in this devastating moment,” she said.
As every day passes following that awful Saturday of October 7, pro-Palestinian demonstrations are spreading across the globe. In the United States, there are two leading Jewish organizations behind the scenes, transporting demonstrators and pouring funds into the protests: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow, a Jewish-American organization opposing the “occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.” But they are far from alone. They’re joined by a long list of pro-Palestinian groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Communist Party and the Party of Socialist Liberation (PSL), which harmful as its presence may be, infuses the protest movement with the validation that we’re not talking about a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims.
While both the Jewish organizations pride themselves on their “Anti-Zionist,” pro-BDS platforms, judging by their major source of funding they would more accurately be classified as progressive organizations with Jewish branding. Much of their funding comes from foundations whose main activities are not necessarily focused against Israel, but rather social agenda goals such as advancing privacy laws in the United States, unionizing workers, and lots of demonstrations against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president who is trying to out-Trump Donald Trump.
From 2019 to the present, JVP has received $340,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), possibly the most powerful family in the history of the United States, and $75,000 from the Tides Foundation, funded by, among others, musician Peter Buffet – known less for his vocal skills and more for being the son of billionaire Warren Buffet. These two foundations define themselves as progressive, aiming at advancing democracy, environmental issues, public health, workers’ and women’s rights, and matters relating to immigrants and the LGBT community. With the exception of their contribution to JVP and INN, they are hardly active in the Jewish or Israeli philanthropic world.
JVP’s donors, over the years, have included the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation – albeit donating no more than a few thousand dollars, and the charitable foundations of American finance giants Vanguard, and Charles Schwab, which have between them donated thousands of dollars to JVP over the years.
As for IfNotNow, the smaller organization of the duo: Since 2019, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has donated $160,000 and the Tides Foundation, $45,000. The New Israel Fund, which has been supported by donations from Jewish billionaire George Soros—among others—over the years, contributed $35,000 through its Progressive Jewish Fund.
JVP, the world’s largest anti-Zionist organization, boasts a membership of 60,000 with 70 branches across America, funded by an annual budget exceeding $4 million. Every year, it stars in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “Top 10 Anti-Israel List” and in 2018 made it onto the State of Israel’s blacklist prohibiting BDS activists’ entrance into its territory.
The organization describes itself as the “Jewish Branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign,” whose official purpose is to “end the occupation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and ensure the security and self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians." The organization’s official website also notes that it supports military insubordination as well as BDS, and promotes boycotting Israel.
The movement was found in San Fransisco in 1996 by three Jewish Berkely University students: Julia Kaplan, Julie Iny and Rachel Eisner. Committee members include: philosopher Noam Chomsky; author Naomi Klien; Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America” and “Munich”); and actor Wallace Shawn, best known as the voice of Rex in the “Toy Story” movie series.
JVP’s strategy, as stated by the organization’s executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson, is “to create a wedge within the American Jewish community to generate the impression of polarization over Israel.” Their tactic is to “dilute support for Israel in the Jewish community, toward the goal of reducing or eliminating the United States government’s economic, military and political support for Israel.”
This is carried out by organizing demonstrations, petitions, rallies and conferences as well as extensive activity on campuses incorporating pro-Palestinian and LGBT groups, activities in churches and on boards of large commercial companies as well as, obviously, online - where the group has been known to employ antisemitic imagery. In May 2022, for example, the organization posted a cartoon of Israeli soldiers drinking the blood of dead Palestinians.
But controversies surrounding this organization go much further back. The most memorable was in 2017, when the organization invited as a speaker Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist Rasmea Yousef Odeh, who had murdered two Israelis with an explosive device in a supermarket in 1969 and who had been released as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas October 7 attack, several leading organization activists declared that the Hamas activities were “in line with the rights of Palestinians to resist.” Stephanie Fox, the current director, along with political director Beth Miller, said that Israel was the “root cause” of the violence.
JVP sees itself as a patron to IfNotNow and lets it fight its battles. Since the attack in the south of the country, the latter’s rhetoric and activities have become more intense and have been focused on human rights violations and their claim of the “genocide” being carried out in Gaza by Israel’s “violent and bloodthirsty regime.” Organization members encourage pro-Palestinian resistance. They have marched on synagogues and the homes of politicians, including that of Vice President Kamala Harris. Meanwhile, several social media posts by local JVP branches explicitly glorified terrorist actions and the “Hamas courage” for their paragliding.
The name “If Not Now” is taken from the saying attributed to the sage and scholar Hillel The Elder (who must be turning in his grave): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” The organization was founded in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge by a group of young Jews including Simone Zimmerman, former spokesperson for progressive senator Bernie Sanders, and various J-Street lobby alumni protesting what they called Israel’s “disproportionate response” to Hamas rocket attacks.
The movement has concentrated on “fighting the occupation in the West Bank” that they believe to be “morally indefensible.” The movement’s website reads: “We are a movement of American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel's apartheid system and demand equality, justice and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis.”
Their membership views the Jewish-American establishment as a supporter of or partner in the perpetuation of the occupation, and explains that mainstream Jewish organizations provide a smokescreen for a “powerful coalition that exploits traumatic events of our past and present, like the Holocaust, to support Israel.” The 2023 documentary film, “Israelism,” aiming to convince Jews to oppose Israel, follows the movement’s founders.
Their methods are that of creative guerrilla activity, designed to disrupt events, including blowing a shofar during the swearing-in ceremony of then U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, or heckling New York Times communist Bret Stevens during his address in a synagogue. In 2017, IfNotNow activists were thrown out of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia after creating a pop-up exhibition about '50 years of occupation.'” In 2020, the organization sponsored the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Service, held on Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel, striving to “remember and recognize the pain of both sides in the conflict.”
With its annual $600,000 budget, the movement also organizes a great deal of demonstrations that stepped up during the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.
The organization also has a troubled history with Birthright Israel, which it describes as “an organization that goes against Jewish values.” It would, from time to time, have members infiltrate sponsored trips to Israel, and then withdraw from the trip in a public act of protest, opting for trips organized by the left-wing organizations Peace Now or Breaking the Silence. An IfNotNow campaign has claimed that Birthright “hides from us the truth about Israel.”