By Aleysha Haniff
Associate News Editor
Before last Wednesday, Judy Rebick hadn’t been arrested since the 1970s.
“I grew up in the 60s,” the Ryerson professor said. “If you breathe, you’re an activist.”
Rebick was one of eight Jewish women protesting at the Israeli consulate on Bloor Street against the country’s occupation of the Gaza Strip on Jan. 7. After gaining entrance in smaller groups, Rebick announced that they were holding a peaceful demonstration.
Two hours later, the women were arrested and held in a police transport vehicle. They were eventually released without being charged.
In 1973, Rebick was arrested and charged for a protest encouraging Chilean immigration to Canada. The charges were later dropped. In the 1980s, she was a spokesperson of the pro-choice movement.
Today, as the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, she encourages activism on campus.
Rebick joined the group of activists the Sunday before the protest. Unaffiliated with any formal organization, the team of 15 banded together around their common goal of protesting the Israeli occupation.
Smadar Carmon was one of the initiators of the group. She also participated in it, chanting and singing protests about human rights violations.
“We could have gone on singing for hours and still had more,” she said.
Carmon has been active in the pro-Palestine movement for nine years. She is also a member of Not In Our Name, a non-Zionist Jewish group, among other social justice organizations.
She acknowledges the contributions Rebick made to the team.
“It helped that we had Judy because her name is known in Canada and even beyond Canada.”
Prominent people can help generate media attention, she said. Rebick was the president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1990 to 1993. She has also published three books.
“She’s had experience with this [protesting]… Most of us had never done something like that.”
Throughout the most recent action, Rebick said that she stayed calm. When she saw a consulate guard try to drag a protestor away, she knew how to stop him.
“I said, take your hands off her or I’ll charge you with assault.” She’s seen protests turn violent, and she knew that she has to deal with it authoritatively.
“The only time I felt scared was in the paddy wagon,” Rebick said. The isolation from the rest of the group – each woman was locked in an individual cell – was alarming, she added. “It was hot, it was hard to breathe… that was unpleasant, very unpleasant.”
But it was only a moment of panic. “They were very nice… The police treated us with kid gloves except that they cuffed us.”
Once inside the consulate, Rebick said that they sent texts to alert their supporters and the media.
During the protest, Rebick kept the world updated with Facebook posts and a Twitter feed.
“The amazing thing was the reaction… I never had any idea that it would get media coverage all over the world.”
Rebick said that she and the other women who dealt with the media have received hundreds of emails. She has fielded calls from New York and San Francisco, asking her how to organize protests of their own.
“When you see a massacre like this against civilians, you have to speak out about it,” she said.