Members of IfNotNow Austin protest outside the University of Texas Chabad House, Feb. 23, 2018. Photo: IfNotNow / Facebook.

A chapter of a left-wing group staged a protest outside the University of Texas Chabad House on Saturday, while congregants gathered to participate in morning prayers, the community’s rabbi said.

Less than ten people affiliated with the Austin chapter of IfNotNow stood outside the Chabad House — which was set to host a lecture with a former Israeli soldier that afternoon — with signs including “Occupation is not moral,” and “My gramma was a survivor, too. Not in my name.”

In a statement subsequently disputed by IfNotNow, Rabbi Zev Johnson said the group had blocked “the entry and exit to Chabad House,” and “shockingly … spoke to my young children and gave them flyers.”

He also accused protesters of taking photos and videos of individuals, including his children — “something which is traditionally prohibited on Shabbat for religious reasons.”

Johnson quoted his 4-year-old daughter asking, “What are those people doing outside? They just asked me to leave Chabad and come sing with them Daddy.”

Yet IfNotNow Austin rejected the rabbi’s account, noting in a statement later on Sunday that the protesters “chose to remain at a respectful distance” because of Shabbat, and were not targeting the prayer services. They rebuffed accusations of impeding access to the building or recording and photographing any attendees, including the rabbi’s children, writing, “Not one of these claims is true.”

While Johnson called the event with ex-IDF soldier Leibel Mangel “a thoughtful and meaningful conversation … with no politics but plenty of love and mutual respect,” IfNotNow described it as “promoting and justifying violence against occupied Palestinians,” and rejected characterizations that it is a marginal group in the Jewish community.

“It’s a sad day when an ex-IDF soldier has a platform for propaganda inside a communal space on Shabbat, and a group of Jews outside singing songs like ‘Lo Yisa Goy’ (‘A nation shall not raise a sword against a nation and they shall not learn any more war’ Isaiah 2:4) and ‘Olam Chesed Yibaneh’ (‘we will build this world with love’) is considered ‘fringe,’” IfNotNow said.

In an earlier statement, IfNotNow Austin invited UT Chabad “to join us in opposing the occupation,” and alleged that “Jews have survived in diaspora for thousands of years, largely through solidarity with other oppressed groups.”

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