Jewish student organization stages small rally outside of Rutgers Hillel
Members of IfNotNow, a division of young Jewish members, met outside the steps of the new Rutgers Hillel building this past Thursday night to protest the institution's stance on the Israeli occupation of the West Banks and Gaza.
An estimated 10 students attended the rally.
The protest stemmed from Islamophobic comments previously made by Rutgers Hillel Director Andrew Getraer and an ongoing failure to forge a meaningful relationship with Jewish and non-Jewish groups critical of the occupation, according to the organization's press release.
Gilad Abarbanel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and member of IfNotNow, said Hillel pronounces itself as an apolitical home for Jewish students while it maintains its own agenda — specifically, the position Hillel has on the occupation of Palestine and the reluctance to openly discuss the topic.
By occupation, the organization refers to the enforcement of Israeli military in parts of the West Bank area and the expansion of new settlements that were not present prior to Israel acquiring the land, Abarbanel said.
Similar to how an individual from the United States identifies as an American, so too do members of the Jewish community identify with Judaism, Abarbanel said. The problem arises from a lack of understanding that rejecting certain ideologies and principles does not make a person any less Jewish.
“I feel like they feel that if you’re not always supportive of Israel or have anything critical to say about Israel then you’re a self-hating Jew, you’re anti-Semitic and you’re anti-Zionist. They ostracize you from the community and try to push you out. I don’t feel like it’s a place for me to be,” he said.
The need for organizations like IfNotNow comes from an ongoing feeling that individuals in the Jewish community are being misrepresented by major Jewish organizations, Abarbanel said. Most people have not been showing the full picture regarding the current situation in Israel. Through learning more they develop an urgency to take action and mobilize in the United States.
IfNotNow aims to completely end American support of the occupation by enforcing a stance on settlement building and avoid being passive voices to the ongoing issue. The way Hillel operates in conjunction with other Jewish organizations borders censorship as they refuse to discuss or acknowledge other members of the community, Abarbanel said.
Jacob Friedman, a member of IfNotNow, said the movement was initiated during the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza. A small group of Jewish individuals recited a prayer of the deceased for soldiers of the Gazan military, a very radical act in the American Jewish community.
“It was a wake-up call for a lot of people who thought, wow I really want to be Jewish, I really want to own my Judaism, but at the same time I really want to own my politics as this progressive person,” he said.
From there the movement took an underground approach only to return in 2016 in a run for the election. It has since gained momentum with chapters in major cities across the country, Friedman said. While the group is in solidarity with Palestinian people they feel they can have a different effect on the Jewish community.
“Members of the community see it as these are people I went to summer camp with, people that were in my synagogue, my high school. Those conversations all actually happen and by converging them we think that’s a really powerful thing,” Friedman said.
Liel Zahavi-Asa, the birthright coordinator for Rutgers Hillel, said as an avid member of the Israeli community on campus for the last two years that she feels these were people that had gone unnoticed. Rutgers Hillel hosts multiple events throughout the year that create space for students of all backgrounds to come together and discuss these issues.
Organizations like IfNotNow are prevalent throughout the country and engage in pop-up events at various locations, Zahavi-Asa said. The emotions evoked by these organizations are unique to them and should be shared over a respectful dialect between both parties regardless of context.
“I wish I had met these people earlier, in my career at Rutgers Hillel and in his as well instead of meeting at a protest. I wish I could’ve met them in a place of discussion and civil conversation as opposed to a protest holding up signs in front of the building,” she said.
A spokesperson for Rutgers Hillel was not available for comment by press time.
Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.