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Midwestern Jews demand end to ‘Israeli apartheid system

CHICAGO (AP) — Hundreds of Jewish peace activists and their allies converged at a major train station in downtown Chicago during rush hour Monday morning, blocking the entrance to the Israeli consulate and demanding US support for an Israel cease-fire in northern Gaza.

Midwestern Jews and allies travelled to Chicago from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois for the demonstration, organisers said.

The Israeli consulate in Chicago is in a building connected to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, a major commuter rail station.

Over 100 protesters who had blocked escalators leading to the consulate were arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and escorted out of the building, according to Ben Lorber, who helped organise the protest led by Chicago chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Never Again Action. That information was not confirmed by Chicago police, who could not immediately provide information on the number and reasons for arrests, and how many demonstrators participated.

Israel was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 retaliative surprise attack, whose response has led to thousands of deaths — and much destruction — across Gaza.

Advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace led a similar sit-in in New York City’s Grand Central Station on October 27, where a sea of protesters filled the main concourse during evening rush hour, chanting slogans and unfurling banners demanding a cease-fire as Israel intensified its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. At least 200 demonstrators were detained by New York police officers.

And more than 300 people were arrested in Washington, DC on October 19 for illegally demonstrating, and three people were charged with assaulting police after protesters descended on Capitol Hill to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The Chicago rally is unique from the previous Jewish Voice demonstrations because in the Midwest, “progressive Jewish communities are far smaller and separated by distance,” according to an emailed press release from organisers.

Chicago protesters cheered Monday as police led demonstrators from the building with hands zip-tied behind their backs, many in black T-shirts that read, “Not in our name.”

“We will not let a genocide happen in our name,” said Clara Belitz of IfNotNow Chicago during an Instagram livestream of the protest. “Our Jewish values compel us to speak out.” IfNotNow describes itself as a movement of American Jews organising to end US support of “the Israeli government’s apartheid system.”

A spokesperson for Metra, the city’s commuter rail system, said that trains continued to run normally, but protesters blocked the southern exit and commuters were forced to leave the station through other doors.

“They shut down access to our platforms from the 500 West Madison building,” where the consulate is located, said Meg Reile, a spokesperson for Metra. “Trains continued to run throughout.”

The Israeli consulate in Chicago did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jews supporting Palestinians demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza at Chicago’s Ogilvie Transportation Centre on Monday. PHOTO: AP