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Jewish Demonstrators Arrested at New York Protest Seder

About 300 people were detained near Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s Brooklyn home

Police arrested hundreds of people as a pro-Palestinian Jewish group gathered to protest in Brooklyn, New York.,Anadolu/Getty Images

Hundreds of Jewish anti-war demonstrators have been arrested during a Passover seder that doubled as a protest in New York, as they shut down a major thoroughfare to pray for a ceasefire and urge the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to end US military aid to Israel.

The 300 or so arrests took place on Tuesday night at Grand Army Plaza, on the doorstep of Schumer’s Brooklyn residence, where thousands of mostly Jewish New Yorkers gathered for the seder, a ritual that marked the second night of the holiday celebrated as a festival of freedom by Jews worldwide.

The seder came just before the US Senate resoundingly passed a military package that includes $26bn for Israel.

The protesters called on Schumer – who is among a minority of Democrats to recently criticize the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – to stop arming Israel’s military, which relies heavily on US weapons, jet fuel and other military equipment.

“We as American Jews will not be used, we will not be complicit and we will not be silent. Judaism is a beautiful, thousands-year-old tradition, and Israel is a 76-year-old colonial apartheid state,” Morgan Bassichis, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace, told the crowd.

“This is the Passover that we take our exodus from Zionism. Not in our name. Let Gaza live.”

The mass arrests came after the seder rituals. Speakers included journalist and author Naomi Klein, Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, and several Jewish students suspended from Columbia University and Barnard College over the protests that have rocked US campuses in recent days.

Rabbi Miriam Grossman, from Brooklyn, led a prayer before the first cup of ritual wine. “We pray for everyone besieged, for everyone facing starvation and mass bombardment.”

“This Passover is not like other Passovers,” said Klein. “So many are not with their families but this movement is our family,” she added in reference to political disagreements that have divided Jewish families since the start of the war.

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Klein spoke after eating the bitter herbs that represent the bitterness of slavery at the seder. “Our Judaism cannot be contained by an ethnostate, for our Judaism is internationalist by its very nature. Our Judaism cannot be protected by the rampaging military of that ethnostate, for all that military does is sow sorrow and reap hatred, including hatred against us as Jews.”

Jewish communities have often used Passover to protest about global injustice. Tuesday’s protest, organizers said, was inspired by the 1969 Freedom Seder, organized by Arthur Waskow on the anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s death. The original Freedom Seder sought to connect the Jewish exodus story with the struggle for civil rights in the US and against the war in Vietnam.

One protester, a 31-year-old Jewish woman who asked not to be named for security reasons, said: “Passover is about liberation. In our family, Palestinians have always been part of our celebration and mourning. The call for liberation is more important now than ever … As Americans, the billions of our tax dollars in the Israeli military bill is outrageous and horrifying.”

Jewish groups have staged a number of high-profile antiwar actions in the US since 7 October, shutting down sites from the Capitol to the Statue of Liberty. Jewish activists held another seder on Monday, the first night of Passover, at Columbia’s protest encampment.

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza including 13,000 children. The 7 October 2023 attack by Hamas killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel. Tuesday marked 200 days since the war began.