Hamilton rabbi says he was among hundreds arrested in pro-Palestinian protest in Washington


Published October 19, 2023 at 1:14 pm

Pro-Palestinian protest Jews Jewish protest Israel demonstration Washington

A Hamilton rabbi known to be critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian cause was reportedly among hundreds of Jews who were arrested yesterday in a protest in Washington demanding a ceasefire and an end to what they said was the “genocide” of Palestinians.

An organizer of the Jewish-led protests on Wednesday (Oct. 18) said they were “peaceful” with hundreds of Jews and their allies led in song by rabbis, “advocating for treating all human life as equally sacred.”

The protests were in response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which was sparked by the surprise Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas, which governs Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by some countries including Canada, lsrael and the United States.

Rabbi David Mivasair, who previously lived in Vancouver before moving to Hamilton, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) just after 4 a.m. today (Oct. 19) that he had just left jail.

“These are my people – and I was there. Just got out of jail. On my way home,” he wrote, linking to another post from Jack Jenkins that included a video of the sit-in protest in the U.S. Capitol. Jenkins, a national reporter for Religion News Service, described on Oct. 18 at 3:25 p.m. that a video showed hundreds of mostly Jewish protesters were “slowly being arrested.” He said the protest shown in the video was taking place in the Cannon building, adding that demonstrators were calling on U.S. President Joe Biden and Congress to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

In a post on X on Wednesday, the U.S. Capitol Police said the group of protesters were demonstrating inside the Cannon Rotunda, which was prohibited. “We warned the protestors to stop demonstrating and when they did not comply we began arresting them,” they wrote.

They said among those arrested, three people were charged with assaulting a police officer during processing.

Protesters push for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

Ken Stone, who describes himself as a longtime antiwar and anti-racism activist and treasurer of Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War, also announced on X that Mivasair was among the protesters arrested in Washington. He said about 300 protestors were arrested at the U.S. Capitol.

Inthehammer.com reached out to Mivasair today for more details and didn’t immediately hear back from him.

There was contradicting information on the number of people reportedly arrested.

Another grassroots organization called Independent Jewish Voices said 500 Jews – including two dozen rabbis – were arrested Wednesday (Oct. 18).

Organizers said 10,000 rallied in the streets to “support and to demand a ceasefire and an end to Palestinian genocide.” They were chanting “Let Gaza live” and got arrested inside while a crowd of 10,000 were singing outside.

“We shut down Congress to draw mass attention to the U.S. complicity in Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians. But our work isn’t done,” Jewish Voice for Peace wrote on X. “We won’t stop until our demands of a ceasefire are met!”

Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow organized the protests, which began at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 18 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Progressive Democrats spoke at the rally, including Congress members Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature, and Cori Bush of St. Louis, the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress with roots as a Black Lives Matter activist. The congresswomen were among those leading the push for a “ceasefire now” resolution on the war.

Some have accused Mivasair of being anti-Semitic and many in the organized Jewish community have rejected the views of the Hamilton rabbi and others who believe Israel is an “apartheid” state and discriminates against Palestinians. Some human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have similarly made claims against Israel, which Israel and its supporters reject.

In his post from Washington, the rabbi said protesters were both “pro-Palestinian and pro-Jewish.” 

He explained that there was no contradiction. “Call it pro-all-of-God’s-children. I’m one of the 500 or so in the crowd. 3,000 more on the streets,” he wrote as he announced he was on his way home after leaving the jail. 

One of the organizers of the Washington rally, IfNotNow, said that American Jews were at U.S. Vice-President  Kamala Harris’s residence just before 10:30 a.m. today (Oct. 19) to demand Israel’s immediate ceasefire in Gaza, a territory ruled by Hamas and home to over two million Palestinians.

IfNotNow describes itself as a group of American Jews working to end U.S. support of Israel’s “apartheid system” and demand equality and justice for all. It posted a short video of demonstrators chanting “ceasefire now” as a security guard grabs a flag from a group in the upper level that appeared to read the words being chanted. In the video, people sitting on the floor hold a “Let Gaza live” banner.

Protesters accused of ‘unlawfully’ occupying rotunda of Capitol

ADL, which says its mission is “stop the defamation of the Jewish people,” wrote on X that “these far-left radical organizations do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.” 

In a statement today, Meredith R. Weisel, its regional director for DC, wrote: “Protestors have unlawfully occupied the rotunda of the Capitol to protest Israel’s clear right to defend itself against Hamas terrorists.’

“Although they claim to do so, these far-left radical organizations do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community. Rather, these groups are anti-Zionists that challenge Israel’s very right to exist.”

She said anti-Zionism is “antisemitism.”

“The responsibility for this war is on Hamas. Hamas’ goal has never been a two-state solution or freedom for the Palestinian people. Hamas aims to destroy the Jewish state and murder all Jews,” she added.

The American group said it is working “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

Hamilton rabbi accused of defaming Jewish organization

Mivasair had been caught in controversy in the past for his views critical of Israel. Independent Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada said in June that it launched a legal action against him in small claims court for allegedly defaming the organization. Describing him as a “long-time anti-Israel activist” who promoted “antisemitism,” it said the rabbi had called it an “anti-Palestinian hate group” and “racist,” among other statements it decried as false and defamatory.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” said Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith’s chief executive officer, in a statement on its website. “However, he has repeatedly defamed our organization, which acts as a mainstream national voice of the Jewish community, with false and harmful statements on numerous occasions. Unless he issues an apology, an immediate retraction, and a good faith assurance that he will refrain from making future defamatory statements, we will be forced to continue to seek a remedy through the courts.”

It said back in June that Mivasair never responded, so B’nai Brith is seeking a remedy before the courts.

The status of the case was not immediately known.

The Canadian Jewish News reported that a criminal charge against Mivasair was dropped in early 2022. He was accused of splashing red paint symbolizing Palestinian bloodshed on the stairs of Israel’s Toronto consulate building. It reported that he was also detained and released by the Israeli army for helping fix a road to improve access to Palestinian villages in 2019.

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