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As public opinion shifts in support of a ceasefire, a Jewish peace activist has mixed feelings

A line of people in black shirts that say 'CEASE FIRE NOW' in white letters, singing along.
Scott Greenstone
Kate Raphael (third from right) at a demonstration in front of the Space Needle in Seattle on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.

Kate Raphael first demonstrated in support of Palestinians in 1982, outside an event in San Francisco where ultra-nationalist Meir Kahane was speaking.

"We were a vigil, mostly silent, just with signs," Raphael said. "And people coming to that event, who looked like people I'd grown up with in my synagogue, came up and spat on us."

Raphael has continued to protest Israeli policies toward Gaza and the West Bank for decades. But it was not until the last few weeks that she's felt the tide of American opinion shifting about Israel's war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

Under a grey sky and the Space Needle, protesters gather.
Scott Greenstone
Protesters on the steps of the Space Needle on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2023. Demonstrators held signs saying "Protect Gaza: Cease Fire Now" and "Jews Say: End Israeli Apartheid Now."

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week, 68% of respondents countrywide said Israel should call a ceasefire.

In the decades since that first demonstration, Raphael, 64, co-founded the Bay Area area group Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism; two decades ago she was arrested by Israeli police during a demonstration. Raphael moved to Seattle in 2021, where she writes and teaches fiction.

She's been to small sit-ins at the federal building in Seattle and larger actions like one on Sunday at the Space Needle, where Raphael and others locked arms and blocked the entrance for several hours.

The Space Needle management didn’t respond to questions about impacts.

Over a thousand people RSVP'd to attend, according to organizers with Jewish Voice for Peace Seattle. Demonstrators carried banners calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, pointing to estimates that thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the last six weeks.

Speakers pointed to demonstrations across the country in recent weeks.

"Everywhere, from the Statue of Liberty to the Space Needle, we will do everything in our power to demand an end for U.S. support for genocide and apartheid," speaker Shelby Handler shouted into a megaphone.

But Raphael said she still feels demoralized. The move from the federal building to the Space Needle is a switch-up in tactics: The focus of these actions has been Washington Senator Patty Murray, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and they haven’t had the desired effect.

There's a crowd of people in black and in the foreground, a sign that says 'Free Palestine.'
Scott Greenstone
Jewish Voice for Peace Seattle, which organized the Sunday rally, said over a thousand people RSVP'd.

"We have been at the Federal Building for five weeks straight, demanding that Senator Murray call for a ceasefire," said Michael Grant, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace Seattle.

"We have hung banners from her office. We have occupied her office. We have blocked all entrances to the federal building in a massive act of civic disobedience. And now we are showing up here at an iconic Washington landmark to say 'there is no business as usual while thousands and thousands of Palestinians are being killed, while millions are being displaced.' And we are here as Jews saying 'never again' and 'not in our name.'"

While Seattle’s Representative Pramila Jayapal has called for a ceasefire along with other members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Murray has called for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting rather than a full ceasefire.

“As she has said repeatedly, Senator Murray believes that Israel has a right to defend itself against the very real and continued threat that Hamas—a group that espouses genocidal intent against Jews—poses to civilians, but Israel must do so according to international law,” Naomi Savin, Murray's deputy communications director, said in an email. “She continues to make clear in every conversation with the Biden Administration and Israeli officials that protecting innocent civilians—including Palestinian civilians and those being held hostage in Gaza—has to be a top priority in Israel’s war against Hamas.”

The swell in public support leaves Raphael with a mix of emotions.

"On one hand, you can feel feel gratified that 'hey, we're a majoritarian movement now,'" Raphael said, "and on the other, like, it's not stopping Palestinians from dying of starvation for one minute."

Updated: November 21, 2023 at 10:31 AM PST
Added statement from Senator Patty Murray's office.
Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.