Forty-eight hours after making headlines from multiple news outlets throughout Connecticut, Dan Fischer still looked shaken.
Last Tuesday, officers from two police departments-Westport and Weston-arrived at the Westport-based Temple of Israel armed with patrol rifles because a caller reported that Fischer and fellow New Haven activist Greg Williams, who came to protest an Israeli Defense Forces fundraising event, had a gun.
They didn’t. Someone had mistaken Fischer’s button-down over shirt, which he had draped over his shoulder as the two walked up to the building, for a weapon. Three schools, a nursery, and a church were put on lock down due to the report.
The two were taken into custody and charged with first degree trespass and breach of peace. They were denounced as “terrorists” on comment threads that followed online news reports of the incident. Then came the death threats. Fischer says he got them by email.
Fischer, who is Jewish, is not one to shy away from controversy. The Southern Connecticut State University student is active in demonstrations regarding political and social issues locally. He says he knew that the protest-a reading of the testimony of a Palestinian woman who lost her son to the conflict in Gaza-would not be popular among The Friends of the IDF members who had gathered at the Temple to hear an address from IDF Bridgade General Gila Klifi-Amir.
Kili-Amir served as the Chief of the General Staff’s adviser on issues pertaining to women in the military, and is regarded as a pioneer in improving women’s access to administrative positions within the IDF.
The objective, Fischer says, was not to cause fear, but start a conversation.
“We thought we’d read the statement, respond to a few questions, and respectfully leave,” Fischer says. “We thought it’d only take a few minutes.”
But Fischer says that when he and Williams stated their intentions, event goers panicked. According to the Westport Police Department, the two were asked to leave and refused. A Department press release says that Temple staff “had to physically prevent” the two from entering the meeting room.
“We explained very clearly that we were trying to non-violently protest the IDF event,” Fischer says. “Nonetheless, synagogue security assaulted and tackled us.”
Staff at Temple of Israel did not return a request for comment.
“They accused us of being violent, but in that room they were having somebody who runs an army that’s massacring people,” Fischer says.
He’s referring more specifically to the United Nations-reported 2,100 Palestinians that were killed when the Gaza conflict escalated last summer with Israeli forces moving into Palestinian territories. The U.N. estimates that close to 70 percent of Palestinian casualties during that period were civilians.
Nabilah Abu Hamila, the Palestinian woman whose testimony Fischer and Williams had come to read, had to flee her home last summer when Israeli forces bombarded their border neighborhood. In 2009, she had lost her 17-year old son, Matar, to an Israeli bombing that also took the life of his 12-year old cousin, Muhammad.
“I was taught in Hebrew school to fight against oppression and to ensure that the forces of oppression that led to the genocide of Jews never happens again,” Fischer says.
And that’s a fight that he feels is universal.
“The very concept that the Israeli army empowers women is to silence Palestinian women,” he says. “It’s to say Palestinian women don’t matter.”
Through a spokesperson, Friends of the IDF said that they would not comment on the incident specifically.
“Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that promotes the non-political, non-military mission of providing educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the well-being of Israel’s soldiers and their families,” the organization said through an email from a public relations representative.