Two Jewish anti-Zionist activists are facing up to 18 months in prison after they nonviolently protested a fundraiser for the Israeli army in May.
As The Electronic Intifada reported at the time, Gregory Williams and Daniel Fischer were arrested after being forcibly restrained inside Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut, where they had come to peacefully disrupt the event and read a testimony by a Palestinian woman at a luncheon for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).
About a month ago, Williams and Fischer first appeared in court. Williams pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges, and Fischer applied for accelerated rehabilitation, which, if granted, may result in community service before charges would be expunged. Their next court date is on 21 July.
There is a petition gathering signatures to urge Connecticut’s state attorney to drop all of the charges against the two activists.
In a recent interview with The Electronic Intifada, Williams said “it is really important for Jews everywhere to start to take these types of actions.” He and Fischer were charged with breach of peace and criminal trespassing.
Listen to the interview with Williams and Fischer via the media player above.
Silencing Palestinian women
The FIDF event was billed as an opportunity to show that the Israeli army is “a world leader integrating women in the armed forces,” Fischer said. He said that he spoke with women friends in Palestine before participating in the action, and asked them what he should do “as an American Jew who wants to stop the Zionist atrocities.”
He added that these conversations helped him realize that the claim that the Israeli army is good for women’s rights “is a way of silencing Palestinian women, of saying that they don’t matter.”
It was important, Fischer said, for him and Williams to read the testimony of a Palestinian woman living in the Gaza Strip, Nabila Abu Halima, during the protest to exemplify how Palestinian women are being silenced by an event to raise funds to support her occupier.
Abu Halima “watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead [in 2008-2009], and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre,” the protesters explained in a letter to local media.
Williams said that he and Fischer were violently assaulted after they entered the temple and explained that they wanted to read the testimony. After they were violently restrained, the pair started to read their statement anyway and began to shout “Free, Free Palestine!”
There were false claims that the protesters were armed. Fischer said that attendees of the FIDF fundraiser also claimed that they saw men “wearing headgarb” or that they heard the word fatwa.
“This kind of delusional hysteria wound up being quite dangerous because they filed a false police report which prompted five schools to go into lockdown [and] endangered Greg and my life because there was a report that we were armed — and a SWAT team came and pointed guns at us,” Fischer said.
It was threatening, Fischer added, “not only for the Palestinians who they’re raising money to help kill, but also for people there in Westport.”
“We are winning”
Williams, a scholar of religious ethics and a longtime social justice activist, recently graduated from Yale University’s Divinity School — though he said that he was not allowed to walk the stage to receive his diploma because he was attending a disciplinary hearing.
In a recent blog post, Williams noted that members of the FIDF, “some of whom are significant donors to Yale, contacted Yale Divinity School and exerted serious political and financial pressure to convince Dean Gregory Sterling to defer awarding my Masters of Divinity Degree and initiate a disciplinary process to investigate whether or not to terminate me as a student and to withhold my degree.”
A prominent politician also helped attack Williams when she signed on to a letter alleging that Williams was a “terrorist.” Senator Toni Boucher of Westport, Williams told The Electronic Intifada, “together with a number of members of FIDF, wrote to Yale and to Duke, where I’m set to do my doctorate, and said that ‘you have a terrorist in your midst.’”
“The literal claim is that any assertion of Palestinian dignity and humanity is equal with terrorism, and that’s the claim that Yale was taking seriously,” Williams added.
Williams says that attempts at repression and criminal charges against activists who speak critically of Israel’s policies means that “the Zionist establishment in this country has taken notice of the fact that the younger generation looks a lot more like Dan and me than it does like them.”
He added, “these charges also send a message that we can [win] and that we are winning.”