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Some Jewish American peace activists pay a personal price for backing cease-fire


As the Israel-Hamas conflict has been intensifying, protesters have demanded a cease-fire. Many Jewish Americans have joined such protests, and some say they're sometimes met with hostility from within their own communities. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Last weekend, Ally was kicked out of family Shabbat dinner. Ally is 21 years old and from New York.

ALLY: My dad is a staunch Zionist. He said something in the lines of me like, you better not [expletive] have gone to that protest.

GARSD: Ally has gone to many protests and has requested anonymity due to ongoing harassment. Ally has family in Israel, some currently in the Israel Defense Forces.

ALLY: And he was like, you are not welcome at this dinner table.

GARSD: Ally, who is at Columbia University, is part of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is vocally demanding a cease-fire in Gaza. What Ally wants beyond the cease-fire is to address the human rights violations Palestinians have endured over the years.

ALLY: My position as a Jew is that it has always been our responsibility, according to our religion, to stand up for all those who are targeted, all those who are oppressed, all those who are facing violence because, as a people, we've been persecuted for so long.

GARSD: Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, also with Jewish Voice for Peace, says he's been hearing a lot of this lately.

ARI LEV FORNARI: I don't know a single person in my community who hasn't had a fight with a family member in the last two weeks, self included. And some of this is generational.

GARSD: Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace skew young, reflecting a shift in Jewish American political views. It also reflects the Israeli government's move to the far right, something which feels incompatible for many young, liberal Jews. According to the Pew Research Center, around half of Jewish Americans over 65 say Israel is an essential part of their Jewish identity. For Jews under 29, that number goes down to 35%. Arno Rosenfeld writes for The Forward, a Jewish American publication. He says right now...

ARNO ROSENFELD: The mainstream Jewish community has really unified behind a single message of solidarity with Israel and support for a military response to Hamas. And so really, the only release valve for American Jews who are opposed to that or who are calling for a cease-fire are these youth-led movements.

GARSD: He also says beyond these movements, a lot of liberal Jewish people are feeling lost, like their synagogues have abandoned concerns for Palestinian civilians. In the last few weeks, Ally has felt this sense of placelessness.

ALLY: Through our emails, through our Instagram, have received, like, multiple death threats. And it gets very scary because the places where I'm supposed to feel safe to practice my faith and my culture on campus are now places where I'm not welcome.

GARSD: Still, for many Jews, it's very difficult to reconcile a Jewish person protesting against Israel at this time.

LISA HARRIS GLASS: I was born in the 1960s, right? And we were really being raised by the post-Holocaust generation.

GARSD: Lisa Harris Glass is the CEO of Rutgers Hillel, a Jewish campus organization at Rutgers University. She feels the protests, many are inciting antisemitic violence. Glass has a daughter around Ally's age.

HARRIS GLASS: I remember giving birth to my daughter and holding her in my arms and thinking, there are people who want to murder her because she exited my Jewish womb - that she is born a target. That's what it means to be Jewish. We have to care what happens in Israel 'cause it's, like, your safety net.

GARSD: This echoes the position of many Jewish Americans - that Israel is defending itself and therefore Jewish people as a whole. And that is the fundamental disagreement with Jewish activist groups protesting against Israel. Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari from Jewish Voice for Peace says there's nothing inherently antisemitic about criticizing Israel's actions.

FORNARI: If you told me to boil down, like, what is Judaism about, I would tell you tikkun olam. It means the repair of the world or the fixing. I don't want to be part of a Judaism that is taken in my name to kill and occupy and imprison millions of Palestinians.

GARSD: He says protesters like him understand Jewish existential fear, but he doesn't want to become what he's afraid of.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.