Hundreds of California Jews demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, along with like-minded allies, overwhelmed a federal building in Oakland on Monday, leading to mass arrests.
More than half of the estimated 700 protesters in attendance were arrested after refusing to leave the sit-in at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as it dragged on into the evening, according to Hayle Meyerhoff, a spokesperson for IfNotNow, one of the Jewish groups that organized the rally.
The demonstration followed similar actions staged across the country, including in Chicago and New York, both of which interrupted major transportation hubs. Smaller protests across California have called for local leaders to support a cease-fire in the escalating war, targeting defense contractors in El Segundo and the Israeli Consulate on the Westside of Los Angeles.
In Oakland on Monday, organizers with the two Jewish organizations that led the sit-in — IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace — called on President Biden to support a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli’s military offensive over the last few weeks has killed more than 11,000 people, thousands of them children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel declared war against Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, after its militants’ ambush on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people in Israel were killed, most of them civilians, according to the Israeli government, and more than 200 were taken hostage.
United Nations leaders have warned the situation in Gaza is reaching the point of “catastrophe” — beyond a humanitarian crisis — as Israel has also cut off fuel and vital supplies from entering the territory.
“As Jews, we know that every life is sacred,” Meyerhoff said in a statement. “We have been horrified by the murders of Israelis on Oct. 7 and we continue to be horrified by murders of over 11,000 Palestinians in the past month.”
Many demonstrators at Monday’s sit-in wore shirts reading “Jews say cease fire now” and “Not in our name,” some holding signs reading “Let Gaza live,” while joining in song, chants and dance, photos and videos from the rally show.
Oakland filmmaker Boots Riley, writer-director of “Sorry to Bother You,” joined the protest, as did prominent rabbis and descendants of Holocaust survivors.
“Without a ceasefire, we will see more death, more bloodshed, and more families shattered. Guns and bombs will not bring freedom or safety for either Palestinians or Israelis,” Bay Area organizers of IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace wrote in a joint statement on Instagram, noting that they are “Jews who refuse to let the Israeli government perpetrate unspeakable violence in our name.”
IfNotNow describes itself as a group of American Jews dedicated to the end of “U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system,” according to its website. Jewish Voice for Peace is a “progressive Jewish anti-Zionist” organization, its website says.
The rally was intentionally held not far from where Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco. The Jewish organizations called on the president and vice president to “follow the lead” of Rep. Barbara Lee, an Oakland Democrat in Congress who has been calling for a cease-fire since the war began.
As the sit-in continued into the early evening Monday, law enforcement officials with the federal building told protesters to disperse — an order many refused. Soon, officers with the Federal Protective Service began making arrests, according to updates from IfNotNow organizers, shared on X.
The Oakland Police Department, which responded to the protest, declined to comment on the incident because it was not the primary responding agency. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Protective Service, did not immediately respond to questions from The Times.
Meyerhoff said 450 people were arrested, with most issued criminal citations accusing them of failure to disperse. She called the sit-in California’s largest-ever protest of Jews in solidarity with Palestinians, as well as the Bay Area’s largest mass arrest event in recent years.