Ithaca, N.Y. — Two women from Ithaca were arrested in Washington, D.C., this weekend ahead of the controversial upcoming speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Ithaca residents Beth Harris and Ariel Gold were arrested with three others outside the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee while chanting “Netanyahu, War Criminal, Free Free Palestine.”

Harris and Gold are part of Ithaca Jewish Voice for Peace. The group said in a statement that they were aiming “to draw attention to the special interest lobby’s complicity with Israel’s illegal occupation and war crimes.”

Harris and Gold were were charged with Blocking Passage, held for about six hours, paid $50 and agreed to waive their rights to a court hearing, according to Gold.

About 300 activists in total were at the protest at AIPAC. (AIPAC is a lobbying organization — one of the most powerful in the U.S. — that lobbies Congress to support pro-Israel policies.)

Here’s a video of the arrest, posted by News2Share:

The video shows a chaotic scene as law enforcement work to remove the protesters in front of the building and a large crowd chants loudly. At 4:58, Gold is handcuffed and led away by officers before being taken to a police vehicle.

“I am here today because I believe that the liberation of the Jewish people is bound up in the liberation of the Palestinian people,” Gold said, according to a statement from Ithaca Jewish Voice for Peace. “I am here today to say NO to AIPAC for the sake of peace and justice and in the pursuit of safety and security for all children.”

Here are some photos of the event (the first 3 are courtesy of Gold; the others are reprinted courtesy of the conservative blog Legal Insurrection):

Here’s’s summary of why Netanyahu’s speech has become a lightning rod of controversy:

Netanyahu’s goal is to convince Congress to torpedo the US-led Iranian nuclear negotiations, which he thinks will result in a deal that hands Iran the bomb on a silver platter. He wants Congress to vote to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would kill the talks, and thus significantly alter US policy toward the Middle East.

The Obama administration sees Netanyahu and Republicans as working to undermine not just Obama’s efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, but his presidential authority over foreign policy. Democrats are angry at the perceived insult to the president. The effect has been to politically polarize an issue that has long been bipartisan in Washington: support for Israel.

More today in The New York Times and in The Atlantic. Here’s Legal Insurrection’s take on the protest at AIPAC.

Here’s the rest of the press release from Ithaca Jewish Voice for Peace:

Beth states, “Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC claim to speak in the name and interests of all American Jews.  This is a lie.  They do not represent the many American Jews who support peace and stand for the rights of people everywhere, including Palestinians, to live with dignity and freedom.”

AIPAC, one of the most influential lobby organizations, plays a leading role in pressing Congress for unconditional U.S. support and gaining more than 3.1 billion dollars a year for military aid to Israel while the budgets of American communities across the US are being slashed. Both AIPAC and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will be attending the conference and then addressing Congress on March 3rd, are also trying to undermine President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. Israeli policies under Prime Minister Netanyahu, including confiscation of Palestinian land, the continual expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, massacres of Palestinians In Gaza to Operation Protective Edge, and a prolonged siege on Gaza, are in direct opposition to international law and cause massive suffering for Palestinians.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.