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Jews Raise Their Voices Against War As Rallies Draw Throngs Around the World

February 19, 2003
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“The World Says No to War” read one Hebrew message on signs held during this weekend’s massive peace protest here.

Although posters supporting Palestinians were in evidence during Saturday’s rally, the focus was on opposition to an impending war in Iraq.

“What I was most heartened by was the fact that it was an international day of protest and in New York, the crowd was unbelievably diverse,” said Ruth Messinger, the president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service, who spoke at the rally.

The antiwar message that was on display in New York and major cities around the world over the weekend has been tinged with anti-Israel sentiment.

In Germany, the Berlin Association Against Anti-Semitism accused the German peace movement of anti-Semitism following Saturday’s rally there, which was attended by 500,000 protesters.

From the start of the Berlin demonstration, it became clear that groups were involved whose worldview includes nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism,” said a letter, signed by about 100 scholars, Jewish religious and communal leaders, and activist groups from Germany and abroad.

“Revisionist banners and anti-Israel chants were heard. Israel was depicted as pulling the strings in the Iraq conflict; its politicians were cursed as ‘child killers,’ and a few flags of the Islamic extremist Hamas and Hezbollah groups were waved,” the letter added.

But in New York, Jews stood side by side with an estimated 100,000 to 400,000 protesters, who lined New York’s East Side in wintry weather to listen to speakers ranging from Messinger to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Messinger, who said she had been turned off by some of “the anti-Zionist signs in Washington” at a Jan. 18 protest, said she believes her presence as a speaker here on Saturday sent a different message.

At an interfaith prayer service before the rally, she read a Hebrew prayer for peace and at the rally itself, she quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Amit Mashiah, a sergeant in the Israeli army and a co-founder of a conscientious objector group, also spoke at the New York rally.

“If Bush really wants to spread democracy and peace around the world today he can start with Israel,” he said. “Everyone can learn from our experience that violence doesn’t solve conflict.”

Mashiah said that although he thinks that terror needs to be condemned and terrorists brought to justice, “to really eliminate terror you have to deal with the reason for hatred. You cannot get rid of terror just by force.”

Mashiah dismissed the anti-Israel sentiment in the anti-war movement.

“I oppose every movement that is against Israel’s right for existence,” he said.

The protest movement’s anti-Israel side came into focus days before the rally in San Francisco, where Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun Magazine, was prevented from speaking because he was deemed too “pro- Israel.”

On Sunday, several hundred marchers began the San Francisco rally by gathering for an interfaith prayer vigil.

After a Muslim call to prayer and words from a Methodist minister and a Buddhist priest, Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco greeted those assembled in both Hebrew and Arabic.

While praying for peace in both Israel and Palestine, she focused most of her attention on the people of Iraq.

The Jewish renewal rabbi prayed that Iraqi civilians are able to “escape the violence perpetrated by Western military forces, and are free from the violence perpetrated by their own people.”

Liberal Jewish voices were in abundance at the San Francisco rally, but Rabbi Stephen Pearce was the only mainstream Jewish leader to speak.

As the senior spiritual leader of the Reform Congregation Emanu-El, the largest and most influential synagogue in Northern California, he was criticized by some for appearing at a rally sponsored by groups known to be hostile to Israel.

But he offered another Jewish voice to those urging President Bush to refrain from attacking Iraq for now.

“Jewish tradition teaches of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving thy fellow creatures, and drawing them near to the rule of law,” he said.

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