"As we say in IfNotNow, we’re in a moment of the whirlwind… There's chaos right now in the world, in America and in the Jewish community, and it’s a scramble to figure out where we stand as a community. It's our job in this whirlwind to organize so that when it settles down, we land the right way. We don't want to land on our head; we don't want to land on our shoulders; or on our side. We want to land standing up. It's INN’s job to organize, to get the American Jewish community landing after all this standing on the right feet."
2016 - present
March 25, 2017
Isaac Samuel Flegel-Mishlove grew up in a Jewish home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with little connection to Israel. His first exposure was a synagogue-sponsored trip to Israel with his family when he was in seventh grade. And that was it until college.
At Georgetown University, Flegel-Mishlove “started getting really interested and invested in Jewish life, the Jewish story, Jewish peoplehood, and Jewish community.” He took some classes on Israel and ended up studying abroad at Tel Aviv University in his junior year. “As a young gay man I thought it would be very cool to be in Tel Aviv.”
Flegel-Mishlove had an incredible time in Tel Aviv including a short but serious relationship with an Israeli. However, he found it frightening to recognize that someone he loved so much had been involved in warfare as a soldier. He was also horrified to know that his two young Israeli cousins would need to serve in the Israeli military.
After returning home, Flegel-Mishlove became absorbed in reading about Israel and the movement for Palestinian justice. He was hesitant to get involved in Israeli-related activism without a strong knowledge base.
Flegel-Mishlove first got involved with IfNotNow (INN) after a friend recommended that he attend their mid-March 2016 training. It was life changing. He liked the group’s understanding of intersectionality. “Working to end the occupation is tied up with anti-Semitism and is tied up with the liberation of gay people and trans people and black people and indigenous people and undocumented people.” He was also moved by a visioning discussion of what an alternative, joyous, liberated Jewish community could look like.
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Flegel-Mishlove went on to become active with the Washington, DC hive of INN. “I have a wonderful full-time nine-to-five job and love what I do but sometimes I feel like I need a place where I can really be a leader in a movement. And so IfNotNow often is just a great space where I feel like I'm really supporting the front lines, making a difference.”
In fact, Flegel-Mishlove was one of three people from INN arrested after disrupting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for ambassador nominee David Friedman on February 16, 2017. Isaac recounts how he came to be involved in creating “a trigger moment, a really visible and meaningful action to inspire people leading towards resistance at AIPAC.”
Out for a casual dinner, a friend said to him, "I know we are just having dinner, but I want to talk with you about the Friedman hearing." He responded, “Listen, I can't do it if there's any kind of arrests. I've got my job. I want to apply to law school. What if I get arrested, and I can't get admitted to the bar? I just can't do it.” But she wasn't going to let it go.
She sighed, sat back in her chair, and said, "You know, the Trump administration is being normalized. People are going back to work like you. I get it. But we can't normalize this.” This struck Flegel-Mishlove. He responded,, “Oh, my God. We cannot normalize this. But wait … there are older people who already had a chance to go to law school and find stability and can take these risks..” She said, "But they haven't stepped up. You still could.”
Flegel-Mishlove agreed to at least accompany the two that had committed speak up at the hearing to the Senate, and he agreed to get on a call with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) the day before the hearing to talk through the risks of the action. But as the call with NLG got closer, Flegel-Mishlove’s friend’s line about not normalizing the Trump administration “really got to [him].” “We cannot let Friedman have a hearing that's not interrupted by Jews. J Street wasn't going to interrupt. JVP wasn't planning to interrupt,” he recalls thinking, “and I said to myself: ‘IfNotNow needs to be the group that interrupts this, and I would be happy to put my body on the line for that.’”
He continued to describe the lead up: “We planned this beautiful disruption with a shofar and beautiful text [singing ‘olam chesed yibaneh,’ ‘a world of love will be built,’ from Psalm 89:3]… We were taken out of the hearing room and arrested, and we were in the Capitol police jail for about six hours. One of the other IfNotNow arrestees was given a citation and went back to court and the other two of us were offered post-and-forfeit. The two Muslim men that disrupted the session before us were given harsher charges and continue to fight in court. We are in touch with them and are doing what we can as individuals to support them, and working on a plan to mobilize IfNotNow in support of them, too.
“When we were let out of jail, I was really nervous to look at my phone because I thought it would really be a bummer if we did all of this and no one noticed. I had 100 Facebook notifications and dozens and dozens and dozens of texts. It was a mix of support and people tagging us in and sharing posts. It really was an incredible reaction both of support and excitement around how important this moment is.”
Flegel-Mishlove wonders if many years from now, INN will still be fighting to end American Jewish community's support for the occupation or “if we will have moved on to other huge issues to heal the American Jewish community and this will have just been the first hurdle."
“As we say in IfNotNow, we’re in a moment of the whirlwind… There's chaos right now in the world, in America, and in the Jewish community, and it’s a scramble to figure out our position as a community. It's our job in this whirlwind to organize so that when it settles down, we land the right way. We don't want to land on our head or upside-down. It's ‘aleinu’ - upon us, our generation - to organize, to get the American Jewish community prepared to land after all this, and to land in a good position. A position supporting freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis.”
Isaac Flegel-Mishlove was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1993 and raised in the suburbs of Milwaukee in a Jewish home with politically progressive parents who rarely spoke about Israel. He believes that his grandparents “probably identified as Zionists if you had asked them, but it wasn't a big part of our family life.” In fact, other than a family trip to Israel, Israel had no presence in his life until he went to college.
He attended college at Georgetown University where he studied Israel in several classes, including a class on the conflict with Ambassador Dennis Ross, and subsequently spent a semester at Tel Aviv University in 2014. He graduated in 2015 with a B.S.-Foreign Service in in Regional and Comparative Studies with a minor in Jewish Civilization. and has worked at HIAS, “the Global Jewish Nonprofit that Protects Refugees,” since May 2015.
In March 2016, he joined IfNotNow where he went on to become a leader in the Washington, D.C. hive. His activism has included leading, organizing, or participating in over a dozen mass protests and small actions, including at the 2016 and 2017 AIPAC conferences. He also serves as a “Strategy Coach” for the Washington, D.C. hive.
Flegel-Mishlove considers IfNotNow to be the at the center of his current activism and Jewish community.