On Wednesday, November 8, members of Portland’s Jewish community and allies shut down Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office by blocking the entrance for over three hours. Neither Blumenauer or Oregon’s other U.S. Representatives have called for a cease-fire in Gaza, where more than 10,000 people have been killed by Israeli militants over the last month. While Blumenauer did call for a humanitarian pause in the conflict, some constituents feel this isn’t enough.
In an effort to put pressure on Blumenauer to support a cease-fire, more than 50 protesters marched to the congressman’s office in Northeast Portland, hung banners, and chanted “Not in our name.” While Portlanders have called on other local political officials to support a cease-fire, advocates believe Blumenauer may be more receptive to their cause due to his progressive background.
Blumenauer also may not be as sensitive to political backlash: The congressman recently announced he won’t seek re-election in 2024 after representing Portland in the U.S. House for more than 25 years. But so far, on the topic of a cease-fire, he hasn’t budged.
Israel’s recent airstrikes and ground invasion in Gaza come after the October 7 attack on Israel by the Gazan militant group Hamas. Roughly 1,400 people were killed in Israel during the attack, and the group took more than 200 people hostage. In the weeks since, however, much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, and thousands of people—many of them children—have been killed indiscriminately. Those critical of the Israeli government’s actions believe the response has been disproportionate.
Zia Laboff, a Portland Jewish activist, led Wednesday’s demonstration. Other protesters included Kent Ford—a founder of Portland’s Black Panther Party—as well as descendants of Holocaust survivors.
“This is a time of emergency and urgent action is a necessity,” Laboff said. “We cannot let business go as usual for our government when they're complicit in supporting and funding genocide.”
Laboff pointed out Blumenauer’s progressive political career, which includes leading House efforts to address the water crisis in Gaza. As he ends his time in Congress, protesters are encouraging him to consider his legacy.
“He’s one of the more progressive of our federal elected officials, and has been an anti-war candidate for many years—that's why many of us voted for him,” Laboff said. “We wanted to emphasize to Blumenauer that this is your moment to leave a legacy that’s in line with the reputable years of service that you've had in office, and to not end your legacy with complicity and genocide.”
The protesters have so far been disappointed in Blumenauer’s response to the crisis in Gaza. In a statement on October 25, Blumenauer said he is “deeply concerned for the safety and security of two million civilians in Gaza, half of whom are children.” He also called for a humanitarian pause and safety corridor out of Gaza to allow a reset for food, water, medicine, and fuel—all of which would help Palestinians safely evacuate. However, protesters feel this is not enough.
“A humanitarian pause is nothing. Israel is not going to pause. A cease-fire is the bare minimum,” Laboff said. “Having a pause so they can get more supplies and then just get bombed again... what does that do for the people of Gaza? Nothing.”
Many of the Jewish community members who organized and attended the protest feel they have been used and misrepresented by the Israeli and U.S. governments to justify killing Palestinians. This has been a common theme throughout other Jewish-led protests since the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza began.
“‘Never again’ means ‘never again for anyone,’” said Sophie, a descendant of Holocaust survivors. “We are here today because we’re taught in our bones that when a state can engage in the wholesale slaughter of 10,000 people, the bombing of hospitals, ambulances, schools, and neighborhoods, because of their identity, it is an existential danger to us all.”
“When I tell people that my grandparents survived the concentration camps, I’m always met with remorse,” another speaker said. “They say, ‘I cannot imagine that kind of pain. I cannot even imagine what that’s like.’ And I want to see that same remorse for the people in Gaza…. This lack of remorse is what concerns me so much in our so-called leaders. This lack of remorse is what made the Holocaust possible.”
“Everyone can learn and speak out about this. You are not anti-Semitic for being pro-Palestinian,” Laboff said. “And that's a key role that we feel Jews have to play right now, is to reinforce that so Palestinian voices can be listened to without being called anti-Semitic.”
While protesters attempted to enter the building, the doors were locked, so they sat outside. They bundled in blankets, sat on top of cardboard to stay warm, drank hot coffee, and sang songs. Protesters said they prepared to be arrested for their actions during the sit-in, though no arrests were made.
Blumenauer’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Cat Petru, another protest leader and co-founder of social justice-oriented production company We Rise Production, acknowledged the difficult task ahead, but said she’s confident in their group’s ability to make change.
“It does take a tremendous amount of clarity and courage to challenge powers that are so entrenched,” Cat said. “We believe in people power, and know that the vast majority of folks are in solidarity with Palestine. We want to activate, mobilize, and use our power and voices to correct the narrative in the media that says otherwise.”