The lobby of the downtown Washington building that houses the Republican Jewish Coalition became chaotic on Wednesday when maintenance staff and security guards attempted to remove 10 left-wing Jewish activists who were protesting the RJC’s defense of Stephen Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial adviser, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.
“We were hoping to deliver the message that this is the moment where we need to draw the line that we as the Jewish community can’t allow these bigots into the White House,” said Chris Hicks, a demonstration organizer and member of IfNotNow, which called for the protest. “When we went to deliver that message, [the RJC] locked the doors and we had about five members of the security staff grabbing signs and banners from us.”
The demonstration quickly turned physical when the building staff tried to make the group leave. At one point a loud thud was heard in the lobby. The cause of the noise was unclear.
Yonah Lieberman, of IfNotNow, used his body to stand between another protester and maintenance staff, whom Lieberman said was attempting to assault the demonstration’s speaker.
The group delivered its message from the lobby and began chanting songs, including “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“We will Build this World with Love”). Police were called, organizers said, but did not arrive before the group left peacefully after 10 minutes inside the building.
Lieberman accused the RJC of ordering security to “physically assault” the Jewish protestors.
RJC spokesperson Fred Brown called the accusation “patently false.” He wrote in an email:
“Today, a small handful of progressive, anti-Israel protestors came to the lobby of the building where the RJC is headquartered, harassed a security guard, and attempted to disrupt the other tenants of the building. At no point did any member of the RJC engage with the protestors.”
In response to Brown’s accusation that the group is anti-Israel, IfNotNow member Ethan Miller said in an email:
“IfNotNow is an organization of American Jews dedicated to ending our community’s support for the occupation and we support freedom and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our movement is rooted in a deep love for the Jewish people and connection to our history, traditions and values. We know that the occupation hurts not only Palestinians but also Israelis, and we are motivated to do this work out of a desire for liberation for all people.
“Our protest today called on the Republican Jewish Committee to reject the anti-Semites and racists they have allied themselves with, like Steve Bannon, in their attempt to protect the status quo of the occupation. I think it’s safe to say that regardless of how you feel about the goals of a demonstration, responding to a peaceful protest with violence is never acceptable.”
IfNotNow held demonstrations in 30 cities across the country on Wednesday to protest Trump’s appointment of Bannon as senior counsel. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart, a news website he called a “platform for the ‘alt-right.’” IfNotNow held four protests in Washington alone on Wednesday.