New York protest calling for ceasefire in Gaza targets pro-Israel senators

More than a dozen people were arrested Thursday evening during a peaceful pro-Palestinian protest inside a Manhattan building where Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats from New York, have offices.

Wearing black T-shirts that read “Ceasefire Now” and brandishing signs demanding that senators “stop funding genocide,” the protesters hugged each other and sat on the floor in front of the elevators in the lobby of the building at 780 of Third Avenue, chanting slogans and ignoring instructions to leave until police officers arrested them.

The demonstration, organized by a local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a progressive activist group, was the latest of what have become almost daily protests across New York since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Such attacks killed at least 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli officials; According to Gaza health officials, the subsequent Israeli military operation in Gaza killed 29,000 Palestinians. The growing number of victims and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza have prompted the international community to call for a ceasefire.

By about 3.30pm on Thursday, several hundred protesters had gathered in Dag Hammarskjöld Square, opposite the UN headquarters, where the US this week cast the only vote against a resolution calling for a ceasefire immediate in the Gaza Strip. . It was the third time the Biden administration blocked similar resolutions, signaling its continued support for Israel.

Accompanied by a heavy police presence, protesters on Thursday marched in light rain toward the headquarters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful advocacy group established decades ago to advance Israel’s interests in the United States.

Organizers blamed AIPAC-backed senators for approving an aid package this month that included $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas. The bill still must pass the House, where its fate is uncertain.

Elena Stein, director of organizational strategy at Jewish Voice for Peace, said Thursday’s demonstration is a “moral imperative” and a way to get the attention of lawmakers.

“People have done everything they could think of to try to get the United States government to end its complicity in Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians, from train stations to bridges to the halls of Congress,” he said, referring to past demonstrations, “yet they will not listen”.

Some protesters played musical instruments, while others carried large cardboard letters reading “Dump AIPAC” and signs with the names of New York elected officials and dollar figures representing the donations they would accept from the group.

As protesters chanted from behind metal barriers on Third Avenue, state Rep. Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a Queens Democrat, gave an impassioned speech encouraging the crowd to keep pushing for a ceasefire. About 20 counter-protesters, some wrapped in Israeli flags, gathered across the street, chanting “no ceasefire.”

Carolina Cositore, 81, said she was at the demonstration because “I’m American and I’m Jewish.” Referring to AIPAC, she said, “They buy our congressional staff to support Israel.”

He added that the bombing of Gaza “has gone from being simply terrible to monstrous.”

Separately, a group of protesters gathered for a sit-in at 780 Third Avenue, where they were arrested around 5:30 p.m., amid applause from the crowd of protesters who had joined them after their stop at AIPAC headquarters .

Louisa Solomon, 42, a rabbinical student, said it was up to Jewish leaders to “represent our tradition.”

“I was raised to feel, deep down, deep down, that when genocide was happening, it was my job to stand up and fight,” she said, adding, “For many of us, it’s the logical expression of Jewish values.” stand in solidarity with Palestine and oppose our elected officials who are enabling genocide.”

Ms. Solomon and May Ye, a 29-year-old rabbi from New Haven, Connecticut, were among those arrested Thursday.

In recent months, protesters in New York, many expressing support for civilians in Gaza, have gathered regularly, sometimes blocking bridges and roads, to call for an end to the conflict. In late December, Mayor Eric Adams said the New York Police Department had monitored more than 400 protests since October.

The pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests have also caused tension on university campuses, as fears of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic bias have grown in the city. According to police data, reported anti-Semitic hate crimes increased by 82% in January compared to the same month last year.

While people in the United States took to the streets, the conflict in Gaza continued and the death toll rose. Many of those killed were children and women, and aid groups have warned of growing acute shortages of food and water. The Israeli army on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of two neighborhoods in northern Gaza, where fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters has hampered the organizations’ ability to provide aid to around 300,000 people.

International pressure against Israeli military operations in the region has grown. South Africa, in a hearing before the United Nations’ highest court on Tuesday on the legality of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation” of Palestinian-majority territories, called Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians a ” extreme form of apartheid”. South Africa is one of 50 nations expected to go to court over the issue. The United States reiterated its defense on Wednesday that Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was part of its need to defend itself.

In another case, which began in January, South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide. In a preliminary decision that month, the court ordered Israel to take proactive measures to ensure that genocide does not occur, but did not go so far as to order an immediate ceasefire.

Israel has forcefully denied the charges, and to date, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted condemnation with both verbal and financial support from the United States.

This unwavering support, however, may be showing cracks. The New York Times reported Thursday that the Biden administration is circulating a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council that would warn the Israeli military not to carry out a ground offensive in Rafah, near Egypt, where it they shelter more than one million Palestinian refugees. this would require a temporary ceasefire as soon as possible.

Liam Quigley contributed to the reporting.