Rally for Israeli soldiers slams U.N.

Many young people from several overnight summer camps, including these URJ Campers, added enthusiasm at the rally to free the kidnaped Israeli soldiers Monday July 16, 2007 near the United Nations. (Justin Sulsky)

Many young people from several overnight summer camps, including these URJ Campers, added enthusiasm at the rally to free the kidnaped Israeli soldiers Monday July 16, 2007 near the United Nations. (Justin Sulsky)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Thousands of demonstrators showed up for a rally organized by Jewish organizations to call for the release of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah last summer.

But instead of focusing their outrage exclusively at the two Islamic militant movements, speakers at Monday’s event lashed out at the United Nations and other international organizations for not doing enough to aid the soldiers.

“We’re standing here next to the U.N.,” Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of one of the kidnapped soldiers, told the crowd at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. “What have they accomplished? Nothing. Where’s the Red Cross and Palestinian leaders?”

Hezbollah militants abducted Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, on July 12, 2006, precipitating last summer’s 34-day war in Lebanon. Their abduction came just weeks after Hamas grabbed Gilad Shalit, 20, in a raid on Israeli soil.

The energized crowd, which consisted of many campers from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox camps in the region, chanted “Free Them Now” several times. Several Jewish organizational leaders and politicians called on the crowd to chant loud enough that U.N. workers could hear their requests for help from the world body.

The focus on the United Nations comes as Jewish organizations are writing off its Human Rights Commission as hopelessly anti-Israel, while also holding out hope that the world body’s new secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will stake out a more balanced position on Middle East issues. On Monday, several speakers stressed their dissatisfaction with the United Nations.

Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said the United Nations deserved all of the condemnation it received at the rally because it was not exercising its diplomatic influence to free the soldiers.

“We’re thankful that the new secretary-general is aware of the matter,” Miller told JTA the day after the rally. “But we know for certain that more can be done and more needs to be done, so we can celebrate their return back home rather than mark their continued captivity.”

One speaker at the event, New York City mayoral hopeful U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, drew applause as he called the United Nations “feckless.” Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel also denounced the U.N. for not doing enough to release the soldiers.

“Why is the U.N. Commission on Human Rights silent?” Wiesel declared.

The lineup of speakers included several local New York politicians and five members of the House of Representatives. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), an African American representing parts of Queens, received an ovation when he told the crowd it was important for blacks to show solidarity with the unjust capture of the Israeli men just as Jews historically have contributed so much to the civil rights movement.

“Sometimes voices are silent,” Meeks said, “and when voices are silent bad things happen.”

Representatives from the Korean, Latino, Turkish and Catholic communities also received warm greetings.

Most speakers failed to offer specific plans to bring about the return of the soldiers, but had harsh words for their captors and their ideology.

“There is more than one inconvenient truth,” said Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). “In addition to global warming, there is Islamic terrorism. We need to wake up and acknowledge this. And we need to bring these men home.”

At the end of the rally Gabrielle Flaum, a 16-year-old activist, presented a petition demanding action from the United Nations. The petition, signed by 40,000, is to be sent to the U.N. secretary-general, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Flaum, who came with the contingent from the Reform movement’s Eisner Camp, is the founder of SOS: Save Our Soldiers, an organization that advocates for the release of the abducted soldiers by collecting petition signatures and lobbying political leaders.

“People are not going to stop fighting,” Flaum, of New Jersey, told JTA after the rally.

Flaum said she was motivated to create SOS after seeing the hardship of war firsthand while on a Reform youth group trip to Israel last summer.

“One counselor told us his best friend had been killed, and another had to leave us to serve in the reserves,” she said. “I came home with an incredible image and I couldn’t let them go unnoticed. I had to make a difference.”

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