With a protest and a staged arrest in front of the White House last week, a group of rabbis and activists shattered months of virtual silence by the Jewish community concerning the war in Bosnia.
Sixteen rabbis and rabbinical students affiliated with a group known as Jews Against Genocide in Bosnia were arrested by police here last Friday in a carefully orchestrated campaign that included an instruction sheet titled “Procedures for Those Getting Arrested.”
Joined by another estimated 50 protesters – mostly Jewish, but also a few Muslim – speakers at the rally urged the Clinton administration to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia, defend the Bihac region that has nearly fallen into the hands of Bosnian Serb forces and convene a war crimes tribunal.
Amid cries of “Never again,” speakers evoked the Chanukah holiday in calling for immediate action.
“President Clinton can make a miracle in our time,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, chairman of the Conservative movement’s Social Justice Committee and one of those arrested.
Some of the demonstrators privately admitted that some rabbinic colleagues had refused to participate in the rally because they believed it was too late to do anything.
Suggesting that the Jewish community has been “far too quiet” on the issue in recent months, Moline stressed the importance of the demonstration.
“It’s never too late if one life can be saved. Imagine if there were protests in the 1940s that helped someone live,” he said.
Several Jewish organizations have been outspoken in the past on the issue, urging the Clinton administration to intervene to end the Bosnian genocide. Many have evoked the silence of the world during the Holocaust to encourage action in Bosnia.
Joshua Goldstein echoed Moline’s remarks, saying, “Anything you do for Bosnia is too little too late, but that’s no excuse not to act.”
Goldstein heads the campaign here for Jews Against Genocide in Bosnia, which was founded at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia tow years ago.
“Now is the time to stand up. Enough is enough,” said Lisa Kapin, a Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student who traveled from Philadelphia to participate in the protest.
The hour-and-a-half rally culminated in a somber walk from Lafayette Park to the White House sidewalk across the street, where a shofar was blown, yahrzeit candles were lit and kaddish was said to commemorate the hundreds of thousands who have died during the war in the former Yugoslavia.
The arrests came after the 16 demonstrators refused to leave an area in front of the White House where, for security reasons, demonstrators are required to continue walking.
Those arrested were taken to police headquarters, fined $50 and released.
Organizers of the hastily arranged protest said they had planned to limit the number of those arrested to ensure their release before Shabbat.
Ironically, one day before the rally, a pro-Serbian demonstrator set up a vigil in Lafayette Park with a sign painted with swastikas that called for the expulsion of “Jews and Muslims from Europe” and proclaimed “Long live Serbia.”
The protester slept through last Friday’s Jewish-sponsored demonstration.