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Jewish Groups Mostly Ignoring Anti-occupation Rally in Washington


Some Jewish groups will protest a rally against Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, but most will largely ignore this weekend’s event coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice are co-sponsoring a rally on Sunday and a lobbying day on Monday to “change those U.S. policies that both sustain Israel s 40-year occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and deny equal rights for all.”

StandWithUs, a non-profit Israel education group, is organizing a counter “Stand With Israel Rally” for Sunday. Participants will march parallel to, but apart from, the main demonstration. The Zionist Organization of America also is planning a counter-rally.

Part of U.S. Campaign s goal is to collect 100,000 individual signatures and a thousand organizational endorsements. Thus far it has been endorsed by 300 organizations and collected “thousands” of signatures, said Josh Ruebner, the grassroots advocacy coordinator with the U.S. Campaign.

The rest of the signatures will come in with rally organizers, he said.

“We re expecting a very strong turnout,” Ruebner told JTA. “Buses are coming in from all over the eastern United States, which is unprecedented in this scope of protesting.”

StandWithUs is equipping the counter-protesters with talking points about the Arab-Israeli conflict and signs with such messages as “Israel We Stand With You” and “Free the Palestinians from Hamas.”

The American Jewish Congress’ Western Region, the Endowment for Middle East Truth and a number of conservative groups are supporting the Stand With Israel Rally.

The clashing viewpoints are visible on the walls of the rapid transport system here, the Metro. Starting last month, U.S. Campaign ads appeared depicting a Palestinian child on his way to school with an Israeli tank looming in the background, gun barrel lowered.

“Imagine if this was your child s daily path to school,” the captions declare.

StandWithUs responded with its own Metro ad blitz, showing Palestinian youths holding weapons with the caption, “Teaching children to hate will never lead to peace. Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad Change your charters and your future.”

Ruebner called the StandWithUs ads “disturbing and blatantly racist propaganda” for identifying children as agents of hatred.

Roz Rothstein, national director of StandWithUs, countered that the anti-occupation groups “want to ignore the fact that children are being taught to hate and murder. It doesn t matter what color a kid ! is — ta ke a kid from any background and teach them hate and violence, and they will glorify hate and violence.”

Rothstein charged that the U.S. Campaign rally was not about ending the occupation but attacking Israel.

“Israel left Gaza,” she said, referring to Israel’s evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements in 2005. “It s a pretense.

The ZOA also is planning a counter-rally, said Morton Klein, president of the group. The rally “is promoting the falsehood of there being an Israeli occupation since Israel has given away all of Gaza and half of Samaria, so the occupation ended years ago.”

He added: “These people are ignoring the primary reason why there is no peace and that is Palestinian violence. This is the main issue that needs to be addressed, not the phony occupation.”

A series of rollbacks since the Oslo peace process began collapsing in the late 1990s has reverted the vast majority of the West Bank to Israel’s security control. Palestinians say that Israel’s control of all but one of the passages into the Gaza Strip means the area also remains under occupation.

The San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace says it is putting together a sizable Jewish contingency for the anti-occupation rally.

“One valid point is that a better future for Palestinians is absolutely crucial for Israelis to have hope for a secure future,” said Mitchell Plitnick, the group’s director of education and policy.

Plitnick rejected criticism that Jewish Voice for Peace was standing with Israel’s enemies.

Rocket attacks from Gaza “are abominable and need to stop,” he said. “The imperative to end the occupation does not diminish the Palestinian actions.”

However, Plitnick said, “At the same time as one can t say everything is Israel s fault, one can t absolve Israel.”

A complication for the Jewish groups that oppose the occupation is that the U.S. Campaign and Jewish Voice for Peace will not count out a “one-state” solution, which would bring Israel and the Palestinians into one state.

“We will not be participating in the rally,” said Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now. “We are a Zionist organization and we do not share the views of the organizers.”

The bulk of the Washington-area community will simply stay away, said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. Those opposing the anti-occupation rally are allowing themselves to be defined by it, he suggested.

“Who are they protesting against — the other protesters?” Halber wondered. “We appreciate StandWithUs, and we agree with them 99 percent of the time, but when the media discusses the event we don t want it to be about dueling protests.

“People in the middle are not suddenly going to support Israel because they see a rally. You don t promote Israel by attacking your attacker all the time.”

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