Members of the left-wing Jewish activist group IfNotNow protested Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon for a top role in the White House, marching Thursday through downtown Washington to the government building that houses part of Trump’s transition team. Packed into the lobby of the General Services Building, they said the Shehecheyanu prayer for a “new era of Jewish resistance.”
Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League have accused Bannon of abetting anti-Semitism as the executive editor of the Breitbart news website, a claim Trump’s spokespeople deny.
In between singing “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“We will Build this World with Love”) and chanting “which side are you on?” the protestors faulted groups in the Jewish establishment for not speaking out against Trump for tapping Bannon. IfNotNow, which began in 2014 to oppose Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, began the protest in front of an office of the Jewish Federations of North America on I Street NW to pressure it and other organizations to speak out against Trump.
“[Mainstream Jewish organizations] have made it pretty clear that they’d rather be pro-Israel at all costs then stand up to anti-Semitism in America,” said Jenna Bluestein, 25, of Washington, one of the leaders of the protest.
The JFNA did not respond immediately for requests for comment on this story, but it did release a statement today to JTA, which said, “As with every democratically elected official in America, we believe that President-elect Trump needs to be given an opportunity to lead. We are hopeful that his actions align closely with the American values that we hold dear.”
A petition, started Tuesday by a new group, Jewish Community of Action Against Hate, had garnered nearly 2,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon urging the JFNA to condemn Trump’s choice of Bannon, JTA reported.
After rallying in front of the JFNA office, the group of about 150 protestors walked seven blocks to the General Services Building, holding signs and singing as they blocked traffic. One man’s sign read, “When he named the white nationalist guy as his top advisor, what did you do?”
“This is the time that we need to be making our voices heard, early on when these decisions are being made instead of later on when it’s too late,” said Claire Jaffe, 24, of Washington, who wore a pin with an image of Trump’s face and the words “not my stinkin’ prez.”
When the protestors reached the government office, they crowded into its lobby for about 10 minutes, singing and chanting as a group of police officers looked on.
— George Altshuler (@georgelouisalt) November 17, 2016
When more police officers arrived, the protestors left the building.
On the steps outside, Bluestein spoke into a bullhorn about how her grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and how that informs her activism.
“The Jewish community has seen this [hatred] before, and we know what it looks like when people use stereotypes and targeted violence turns into national policy,” she said in an interview.
Sarah Brammer-Shley, a volunteer organizer with IfNotNow, said she wasn’t surprised by the turnout of the protest.
“We recruited people through social media, through phone calls and through email, but I think this moment is really what recruited people,” she said. “I think people are angry and they want an outlet to do this work. We’re simply providing that outlet.”