N.Y.C. Protest Calling for Gaza Cease-Fire 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 of New York, have offices.

Wearing black T-shirts reading “Cease Fire Now” and holding up signs demanding that the senators “stop funding genocide,” the protesters linked arms and sat on the floor in front of elevators in the lobby of the building at 780 Third Avenue, singing 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 in what have become almost daily protests throughout New York City since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Those attacks killed at least 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli officials; Israel’s subsequent military operation in Gaza has killed 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health officials. The mounting death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza have prompted international calls for a cease-fire.

By about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, several hundred protesters had gathered at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, in front of the United Nations headquarters, where the United States this week cast the lone vote against a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. It was the third time the Biden administration had blocked similar resolutions, signaling its continued support of Israel.

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

Organizers blamed senators supported by AIPAC for passing an aid package this month that included $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas. The bill must still go through the House, where its fate is uncertain.

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

“People have done everything they can possibly think of to try to convince the U.S. government to end its complicity in Israel’s genocide against Palestinians, from the train stations to the bridges to the halls of Congress,” she said, referring to past demonstrations, “and yet they won’t listen.”

Some marchers played musical instruments, while others carried large cardboard letters spelling “Dump AIPAC” and signs with the names of New York elected officials and dollar figures representing the donations they had reportedly accepted from the group.

As protesters chanted from behind metal barriers on Third Avenue, State Assemblyman Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a Democrat from Queens, gave an impassioned speech encouraging the crowd to continue pushing for a cease-fire. About 20 counterprotesters, some draped in Israeli flags, gathered across the street, chanting “no cease-fire.”

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

She added that the bombardment of Gaza had “gone from just being terrible to monstrous.”

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests have also caused tension on college campuses, as fears about antisemitic and Islamophobic bias have escalated in the city. Reported antisemitic hate crimes were up 82 percent in January compared with the same month last year, according to data from the police.

As people in the United States have taken to the streets, the conflict in Gaza has continued and the death toll has risen. Many of those killed have been children and women, and humanitarian groups have warned of increasingly dire shortages of food and water. On Tuesday, Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of two neighborhoods in northern Gaza, where fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters has hindered the ability of organizations to deliver aid to an estimated 300,000 people.

International pressure has grown against Israel’s military operations in the region. South Africa, in a hearing before the U.N.’s highest court on Tuesday about the legality of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation” of Palestinian-majority territories, called Israel’s policies toward Palestinians an “extreme form of apartheid.” South Africa is one of 50 nations expected to address the court on the matter. On Wednesday, the United States repeated its defense that Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was part of its need to defend itself.

In another case, which started in January, South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide. In a preliminary decision that month, the court ordered Israel to take proactive steps to ensure genocide does not occur, but it did not go as far as to order an immediate cease-fire.

Israel has strongly rejected the accusations, and, to date, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has weathered the condemnation with both verbal and financial support from the United States.

That unwavering support, however, may be showing cracks. The New York Times reported Thursday that the Biden administration is circulating a draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would warn the Israeli military not to carry out a ground offensive in Rafah, near Egypt, where more than a million Palestinian refugees are sheltering, and that would call for a temporary cease-fire as soon as is practical.

Liam Quigley contributed reporting.

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