Yesterday afternoon, we stood outside the Chabad House near UT Austin, protesting a publicly advertised lunchtime event, “Morality and Combat,” featuring a former IDF soldier, Leibel Mangel. Recognizing it was Shabbat, we chose to remain at a respectful distance. We held signs and sang songs.
UT Chabad has chosen to respond by mischaracterizing our protest, claiming that we impeded attendees’ access to the building, that we protested Shabbat morning services, and that we took video and photographs of attendees (including children) on Shabbat. Not one of these claims is true.
On the one hand, it is clear to us that the response to our peaceful presence reveals the deep pain and fear present in the larger Jewish community. We needn’t look further than our own experiences to know that these responses are born out of our painful historical struggle for safety, security, and basic survival. We, too, carry this pain and fear. One of our signs yesterday read, “My gramma was a survivor, too. Not in my name.” The trauma of horrific antisemitism lives in our bodies, too. We are deeply saddened by the ways in which our efforts to heal this trauma — by standing and singing for peace, freedom and dignity for all fellow humans — have been manipulated and distorted to perpetuate a narrative of isolation and fear.
On the other hand, we are also deeply saddened by the knee-jerk resort to misinformation, often the first tactic used by Israel-at-all-costs partisans when they know they can’t win the argument on the merits. Aside from the more ridiculous claims — that we disrespected norms of Shabbat by impeding access or photographing attendees or protested the service itself — we have also been called a fringe group. It’s a sad day when an ex-IDF soldier has a platform for propaganda inside a communal space on Shabbat, and a group of Jews outside singing songs like “Lo Yisa Goy” (“A nation shall not raise a sword against a nation and they shall not learn any more war” Isaiah 2:4) and “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“we will build this world with love”) is considered “fringe.”
Further, by mischaracterizing our actions as disrespecting Shabbat, some have questioned our Jewish identities; we know our actions were only mischaracterized because we spoke out against the Israeli occupation.
For us, Shabbat means living the world we want to see, imagining a beautiful peaceful world where all humans have freedom and dignity. For that reason, our Jewish values beckoned us to peacefully protest a public event promoting and justifying violence against occupied Palestinians.