NEW YORK (Jul. 19)
For Mendy Lieder, a student at a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Detroit, stopping Israel’s upcoming withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a political and religious obligation. “Our brothers are being taken out of their homes,” said Lieder, 18. “We need to be with them, praying to God.”
“America and England aren’t withdrawing their troops from Iraq,” he added. “Why should we?”
Similar sentiments were on full display Tuesday in a rally in Manhattan’s Times Square, where Lieder joined more than 1,000 people, including many students, to voice their opposition to the Israeli government’s plan to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
The New York rally, organized by the Alliance for Eretz Yisrael, a group that encompasses various Jewish organizations opposing the withdrawal, was timed to coincide with rallies in Jewish communities throughout the world, including London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami.
In Washington, more than 200 protesters filled the narrow sidewalk across from the Israeli Embassy, spilling onto a grassy hill nearby. They were held at bay by half a dozen policemen and secret service agents.
Chanting “Two, four, six, eight, we will not evacuate,” and “Let my people stay,” the crowd — dressed in orange, the color that withdrawal opponents have adopted for their cause — held U.S. and Israeli flags as well as signs denouncing the withdrawal and calling on the United States to cease funding the Palestinian Authority.
The rally also included a responsive reading of Psalm 130, traditionally reserved for times of peril, as well as an emotional appeal by Rabbi Herzl Kranz of Silver Spring, Md.
“We’re a group of concerned Jews and Christians and we’re here to speak out against the withdrawal,” said organizer Rebecca Chesner of Pikesville, Md.
In New York, the energetic crowd endured 90-degree heat and stifling humidity, responding enthusiastically with chants and dances to speakers who emphasized the dangers of handing over land to the Palestinians.
“Not one inch!” was a frequent refrain.
“We have a tremendous responsibility,” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told a cheering audience. “We have to send a very clear message to the government of Israel, to Ariel Sharon: The land of Israel is not for sale!”
Referring to the Israeli prime minister, the audience chanted, “Shame on you!”
Additional speakers at the New York rally, which featured several performances by Jewish bands, included Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America; Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat; Batya Medad, a teacher from the Shiloh settlement; and Esther Levens, president of the Kansas-based Unity Coalition for Israel, an alliance of more than 200 Christian and Jewish organizations.
“I’m here to tell you that there are millions of Christians and Jews who oppose this terrible disengagement,” Levens told the crowd. “It represents a massive threat to Israel’s very existence.”
Many at the rally held signs reading “Leaving Gaza Rewards Terror,” or “Sharon’s a Traitor.” Withdrawing from Gaza is a surrender to terrorism, they said.
“Ariel Sharon, you are bringing the utmost danger, not only to the Jews you wish to expel from your homes but to the entire world,” said Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, which co-sponsored the New York rally. “Retreating from terrorism in Israel will bring terrorism to everyone’s front door. Please reverse your evil decree.”
“It’s disastrous,” said Janet Lehr, an art dealer from New York. “There is no reason for this disengagement. We lose the fear that we have embedded in the Arabs that we can always win. We’re allowing them to believe that they are strong.”
“This is a very self-destructive policy that will endanger the fight against terrorism around the world,” said Linda Allen, a finance professor at Baruch College in Manhattan. “We have to fight against terrorism, not give into it.”
At the Washington rally, Phil Beechy of Harrisburg, Pa., said he has been driving to the capital once a week for the past month and a half, standing in solitary protest in front of the Israeli Embassy and the White House.
On Tuesday, the Christian Zionist stood with a large orange banner carrying the image of the Land of Israel superimposed on a map of Texas.
“I wanted to show my support and do what I could do,” he said. “There’s a sense that some people know you’re right.”
“I’m happy to be here,” said Alex Bouton, 7, who was wearing a homemade orange shirt and was accompanied by his parents and four siblings. “We’re saving people from moving out of their homes.”
Chanina Rosenblum brought her two children, aged two and seven months, from Baltimore.
“I brought them here in support of Gush Katif,” she said. “It’s the land that God gave us, and giving it away will just hurt more Jews.”
JTA Correspondent Avi Mayer contributed to this report from Washington.