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America Decides 2004 As Republican Convention Opens, Jewish Protesters Denounce Bush

August 30, 2004
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Nestled among the effigies of President Bush and posters of Che Guevara that anti-Republican protesters held aloft through the streets of midtown Manhattan, were banners deriding another leader: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Sharon is a murderer, the intifada will win!” several marchers chanted — in Hebrew.

A few feet away, another group of drum-banging, banner-waving protesters shouted: “Free, free Palestine,” “Intifada, intifada!” and “Long Live Palestine.”

Nearby, marcher Yori Yanover shook his head.

“The fact that I have to march with people who stupidly carry signs about ending the occupation and who misunderstand the settler movement saddens me,” said Yanover, 50, who fought for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. “But I’m driven to cooperate with whoever is out there to help me get rid of Bush, this stain on America.”

The organized Jewish community was to hold an event celebrating Jews’ ties to the GOP later Sun! day afternoon, in honor of the Republican National Convention to be held this week at Madison Square Garden.

And earlier Sunday, about 700 people turned out elsewhere in the city to read names of Israeli terror victims. Survivors of terrorist attacks and families who lost loved ones joined top Jewish community representatives and Israeli diplomats in addressing the crowd afterwards.

But at the anti-Bush protest, among the tens of thousands who flooded by Madison Square Garden on a hot and muggy day were numerous Jews who did not believe that speaking out against Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was at all stupid.

“People should be outraged at what’s going on. My tax dollars are paying for the massacre of Palestinians,” said Terry Weber, 57, who was holding a sign reading, “Another Jewish Mets fan against the occupation.”

And though both men hope to see President Bush ousted in November, their different takes on the situation in the Middle Eas! t highlight a dilemma facing many Jews as the presidential election dr aws near.

Over the three-plus years of his presidency, Bush has maintained extremely close ties with Israel and has made several historic decisions favoring the Jewish state. Many supporters of Israel see him as the most pro-Israel U.S. president in history.

But some Jews think Bush’s approach to the Middle East has dampened the prospects for peace, and his domestic policies have flown in the face of American Jews’ traditionally liberal takes on social and domestic issues.

“Even though the Bush administration does support the Israeli government, there are too many other things they are doing domestically and internationally that are outrageous and impossible to ignore,” said Andrew Moers, 33, who works for an Internet company.

Bonnie Hulkower, 30, who several years ago studied in an Israeli yeshiva, agreed.

“Even though Israel is very important to me, that doesn’t override health care, education, the environment, jobs,” she said.

According to a recent poll! by the National Jewish Democratic Council, likely U.S. Jewish voters favor the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, over Bush by 75 percent to 22 percent.

Sergio Yahni, 37, will not be among those voting for Bush. Yahni, who lived in Israel before moving to New York, acknowledges that Bush is pro-Israel — but said that’s precisely the problem.

“Supporting Israel means supporting an ethnic, racist entity,” he said. “Israel should be a democracy.”

Marvin Itzkowitz, 75, said he was uncomfortable marching side-by-side with such anti-Israel protesters.

Still, he said, “when you’re so concerned about a major issue, getting rid of Bush, you can’t be too critical of those who go along on the same big issue.”

But for Itzkowitz’s granddaughter Kate, 22, Bush is too pro-Israel.

“Being absolutely pro-Israel isn’t necessarily a good thing,” she said. “I think Bush is not listening to all sides of the issue.”

Gershon Gottleib, who spent four yea! rs at a yeshiva in the West Bank, said he had come out “to find myself in all this.”

As several of the anti-Israel protesters passed by, Gottleib said, “The people who say ‘Free Palestine,’ I hope they also say there should be democracy there and freedom of the press. Just supporting militant groups in not a good step.”

Several Jewish groups took part in the protest. Among them were Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews Against the Occupation, Camp Kinderland of Tolland, Mass., and Heeb Magazine.

They carried signs bearing stencils of elephants — the symbol of the Republican Party — emblazoned with, “Elephants aren’t kosher,” and were among the thousands chanting “Fire Bush” and “Three more months.”

Adam Messinger, wearing a kipah and a “Bye-bye Bush” button, traveled from Chevy Chase, Md., with his wife and two young children to voice his dissatisfaction with Bush.

Messinger, 35, said the Bush administration’s foreign policy is dangerous for both Israel and the United States.

“I don’t expect my president to solve! the problems in the Middle East, but I expect him to try in a way that might work,” said Messinger, carrying his one-year-old daughter on his shoulders. “Pissing off the Arab world is not good for Israel.”

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