IfNotNow is a movement working towards an American Jewish community that stands for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians by ending its support for the occupation.
American Jews need to decide: Will we allow the out-of-touch establishment to continue leading us down a path of isolation and fear that is wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of Palestinians and alienating a generation of young American Jews? Or will we unite to fight the occupation, and in doing so, resist the burden and bonds of a victim narrative and make Judaism relevant and meaningful to our generation?
IfNotNow is bringing this crisis of conscience into full public view for our community. Through public action and imaginative ritual, we are demanding that our community take action in the struggle for mutual liberation. Our strategy is inspired by a long legacy of social movements in this country — from the Labor Movement to the Civil Rights Movement to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter — that have used nonviolent action to create urgency around moral crises and catalyze massive changes in the mainstream.
Days after Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza in 2014, a group of leftist millennial Jews gathered to plan a public protest of the military operation.
The new group, which called itself IfNotNow, discussed a public demonstration in front of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an establishment Jewish umbrella group.
Max Berger was one of the planners who urged them to take it a step further: The protesters should get arrested at the Presidents’ Conference headquarters in New York, he suggested. And they should recite kaddish, the traditional Jewish mourner’s prayer, for Israelis and Palestinians who had died in the fighting.
When the protest took place, on July 28, 2014, that’s what they did. Berger was one of nine Jews arrested in the Presidents’ Conference building.
“Max, because of the experience that he brought, understood the value of raising the stakes and bringing the crisis to the door of an institution through the strategy of direct action in that way,” said Simone Zimmerman, a fellow IfNotNow cofounder. “He knew how to bring that seriousness and depth of pain and anger and betrayal, how to support a group into bringing that out.”
IfNotNow was a new group, but for Berger, disruptive protest was an old game. Berger, 33, is already a journeyman of the activist left, from Occupy Wall Street to IfNotNow to Justice Democrats, the outfit that supported Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely primary win.
Now, he’s working for Sen. Elizabeth Warren as her director for progressive partnerships, placing a leader of the millennial Jewish left-wing insurgency inside an ascending Democratic presidential campaign.
The Warren campaign did not make Berger available for an interview. But his friends, as well as the reams of online articles by him and quoting him, indicate that he clicks with Warren’s combination of anti-establishment rhetoric and detailed, wonky plans. In addition to IfNotNow, Berger co-founded Momentum, a group that trains progressive activists.
“Warren matches even his demeanor and his style of politics, which is very deliberate and well thought out,” said Waleed Shahid, who has partnered with Berger in progressive movements and is now the communications director at Justice Democrats. “It’s funny that Warren’s slogan is ‘I have a plan for that.’ Max would do trainings at Momentum about how organizations don’t plan enough.”
Carinne Luck, a co-founder of IfNotNow, clarified that while Berger personally supports Israel boycotts, he does not identify with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
For much of the Jewish pro-Israel mainstream, on the left as well as the right, BDS is anathema, because its Palestinian leadership refuses to accept a Jewish state in any part of historic Israel. Critics of IfNotNow note that, according to its principles, the Jewish group does “not take a unified stance on BDS, Zionism or the question of statehood.”
Berger’s presence on Warren’s campaign may be paying off for those who want candidates to be tougher on Israel: When IfNotNow activists asked Warren, at a campaign event, if she would “push the Israeli government to end the occupation,” she replied, “Yes, yes,” then added, “So I’m there.”
In a June interview with The New York Times, Warren called Israel a “good friend” and voiced support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. She said that the United States “cannot dictate the terms of a long-term settlement” but added that “the current situation is not tenable.”
“They face enormous challenges and they are our strong ally,” she said. “We need a liberal democracy in that region and to work with that liberal democracy. But it is also the case that we need to encourage our ally, the way we would any good friend, to come to the table with the Palestinians and to work toward a permanent solution. I strongly support a two-state solution.”
Berger has more moderate views than some of his Jewish leftist comrades. He criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar’s statements echoing anti-Semitic stereotypes, as well as the Movement for Black Lives accusing Israel of genocide. He also encouraged the Jewish community to stand with both Omar and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Berger grew up in Massachusetts and attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. His leftist streak started early. In high school, he organized a trip to Washington, D.C. to protest against the Iraq War. His mother, Judy Berger, remembers that he submitted a middle school paper about social issues in Chiapas, Mexico, after he got interested in the local politics on a family trip there.
“One of the teachers accused him of plagiarism and I was livid,” she said. “There was no plagiarism involved. This was something this young kid was concerned about and read about and knew about.”
After college, he worked at J Street, the liberal Israel lobby, as a new media assistant. He gained notice as an organizer of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, where he was part of its more moderate wing.
“I don’t want to live in a fucking commune. I don’t want to blow shit up. I want to get stuff done,” he told New York magazine.
Berger bounced around progressive organizations. He worked for Rebuild the Dream, founded by former Barack Obama aide Van Jones, as well as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. In 2017, after Donald Trump won the presidential election, he and Shahid co-founded All of Us, a campaign to elect progressive Democrats that eventually merged with Justice Democrats.
In 2016, he was an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders, writing in Haaretz that the Vermont senator “speaks with a prophetic voice that is at the heart of our tradition.” But even then, he carried a torch for Warren, writing in a Medium post on the first debate between Sanders and Hillary Clinton that “there isn’t anyone else on stage who people can imagine as president. [Clinton’s] real victory came months ago when Elizabeth Warren decided not to run.”
“He ultimately, really is much more focused on a certain kind of winning or a certain kind of impact,” said Lissy Romanow, Momentum’s executive director, who also worked with Berger in IfNotNow. “He’s ultimately much more sympathetic to Bernie’s ideology and his politics, and that ultimately, what it will take to win and to govern, you will need something more like what Warren has.”
Friends say Berger is also good at dealing with the kind of backlash he’s experienced from his pro-Israel critics. Zimmerman, who was fired from Sanders’ 2016 campaign after a similar wave of condemnation, recalls that he was supportive to her then in speaking out for her and crafting an effective response.
Sanders suspension controversy
“As somebody who is 100-percent pro-Israel ... in the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace to that region, which has seen so much hatred, and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” Sanders explained. “I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I think, to an approach that works in the Middle East.”
This is what Simone Zimmerman, Sanders’ now-suspended Jewish outreach director, said she believes. And it’s a good distillation of what JStreet, the progressive advocacy group fighting for a two-state solution and against inertia in the American Jewish community, believes. (Zimmerman was president of JStreet’s campus arm, JStreet U, while in college.)
As The New York Times reported Thursday evening, Sanders’ campaign suspended Zimmerman just two days after it hired her, after the conservative Washington Free Beacon published a past Facebook post of hers in which she wrote, “F—- you Bibi,” using Netanyahu’s nickname, and described the Israeli leader as “arrogant, deceptive, cynical” and “manipulative.” She criticized Netanyahu for trying to “derail” the Iranian nuclear negotiations and for leading the charge into Gaza, where roughly 1,500 Palestinian civilians were killed during the 2014 invasion.
Zimmerman’s suspension suggests a couple of things, including that Sanders’ campaign does not vet staff members and that it feared alienating New York’s Jewish voters if it didn’t respond to the calls for her firing.
“The smear campaign being waged against Simone Zimmerman is a reflection of how out-of-touch the American Jewish establishment is with the Jewish community,” said Yonah Lieberman, who co-founded IfNotNow with Zimmerman and others. The group is dedicated to ending the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“This is not the first sign of this disconnect — it just the most blatant example of the American Jewish establishment trying to intimidate and silence young people acting on the very Jewish values we were taught by our community,” Lieberman continued. “The Jewish establishment won’t stand for anyone criticizing Israel — no matter the truth or reason. When young Jews call for freedom and dignity for the Palestinians, the establishment can only respond with intimidation and fear.”
IfNotNowJune 29 2019·
Our members in New Hampshire just asked Bernie Sanders if he’s also an anti-Occupation Jew and looks like the answer is YES!
Learn more about our efforts to bring the crisis of Israel’s military occupation over the Palestinian people to the forefront of the 2020 election with this exclusive from POLITICO: https://www.politico.com/story/2019/06/29/progressive-jewish-ifnotnow-2020-1390733 — with Becca Lubow, Emma Glazer, Noah Schuettge and Aviva Schwartz.
Rebecca Hornstein June 26, 2018:
With Eli Vered, Noah Schoen, Rebecca Millberg, Elliya Cutler, Emily Dora, Eliza Kaplan, Lily Ann, Roz Freeman, Aliza Schwartz, Michelle Weiser, Helen Bennett, Aidan Orly, Liz Krushnic, Jonathon Feinberg, Leslie Goldstone Orly, Becky Wasserman, Devra Goldstein, Alyssa Rubin, Davida Ginsberg, Hannah Weinronk and Nadav David.
Hannah Blazer December 5, 2018 ·
With Jonathan Brown Gilbert, Stacey Papernick, Sterling Kathleen, Romney Copeman, Anna Blachman, Hannah Cohen, Sanchi Illuri, Becca Briana, Harry Weissman, Gabe Fine, Ethan Burg, Антон Биип Бууп, Hilary Barlow, Judith Muster and IfNotNow.
IfNotNow Bay Area training
Sari Bilick February 8, 2017 ·
This weekend I joined the IfNotNow Bay Area training along with 50 other awesome young Jews committed to ending American Jewish support of the Occupation. I'm excited to continue to build the #JewishResistance with these folks. If you are interested in coming to the next IfNotNow training, sign up here: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sign-up-to-attend-an-ifnotnow-bay-area-training
And please join IfNotNow for the West Coast action of the Jewish Resistance at AIPAC - L.A. to send a clear message to AIPAC: when you continue to support 50 years of occupation, you do not speak for the majority of the Jewish community.
Sign up to get on a bus from the Bay Area! — with Ophelia Melusine-Marmorie Tiamat, Emily Friedman, Sam Gast, Becca Kahn Bloch, Alison Ganem, Julie Elya Aronowitz, Ari Bloomekatz, Becca Holtz, Ariel Axelrad-Hausman, Molly Kcilib, Sara Shor, Elaina Marshalek, Benjamin Koatz, Jeremy Oziel, Emmanuelle Berdugo, Hannah Lieberman, Cody Zeger, Lauren Parker and Ilana Master.
Pele IL May 23, 2016 ·
This weekend, an amazing group of young Philly Jews came together to begin building a Jewish community that lives out our values. Drawing on millennia-old Jewish traditions of resilience, learning, and healing, our community will stand up for a future of freedom and dignity—for ourselves, and for all Israelis and Palestinians.
We will build this world with love, Join us! IfNotNow IfNotNow Philly
Sign up for a training here: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sign-up-to-attend-an-ifnotnow-philadelphia-training?&source=philadelphia
Not in philly? find your city here: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sign-up-to-attend-an-if-not-now-training — with Roman Kay, RC RC, Girard Dopkins, Sara Blazevic, Adam Bleiman, Morriah Kaplan, Susan Rauscher, Ian Gavigan, Matt Karlin, Janet Rauscher, Jesse Kudler, Milo Giovanniello, Sarah Giskin and Emily Mayer.