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Rabbis Block Traffic in N.Y. to Protest Fence Hearing Overseas

February 24, 2004
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Two rabbis and a coffin blocked traffic across from the United Nations to protest the International Court of Justice’s hearings in The Hague.

It may sound like the opening to a joke, but the activists involved were deadly serious.

“We were carrying the coffin to the steps of the United Nations to tell them that this is ‘exhibit A’ in their trial,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the vice president of Amcha-The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, which earlier Monday staged a rally that drew hundreds to lambaste the hearings, which also began that day. “The coffin symbolizes the many hundreds of people who have been killed by this terrorism that has affected the world like a plague,” he said.

Herzfeld, along with Rabbi Eliot Pearlson of Miami Beach and Amcha’s media adviser, Glenn Richter, were arrested for obstructing traffic on Manhattan’s busy First Avenue, but soon released with a summons to appear in court April 2.

At that time, Herzfeld says he will continue to make his case — defending Israel’s security fence in the face of Palestinian terrorism and claiming anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly recommended that the international court take up the fence.

Amcha underscored its views about Israel and the United Nations in a rally that drew some 600 New York area high schoolers to the United Nations and several members of New York’s Jewish community.

Perched on a dais in Dag Hammarskjold plaza across from the United Nations, Herzfeld and others wore old-fashioned judges’ regalia — long black robes and ruffled scarves — to mock the court’s proceedings across the ocean.

Aiming to put Palestinian terrorism on trial, activists held placards with such phrasing and paraded pictures of terror victims.

For many in attendance, the cost of terrorism and the need for Israel’s fence was underscored by Sunday’s Jerusalem bombing, which claimed eight lives.

“After yesterday’s tragedy, it’s incumbent upon us to show support for anything that can help security for our brothers and sisters in Israel,” said Rabbi Heshy Blumstein, who teaches Talmud to 12th graders at the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway in Long Island, N.Y.

The large number of youth at the event added a frenzied fervor to the rally, which erupted in religious dancing, shofar-blowing, Hebrew singing, Hatikvah and the Star-Spangled Banner.

“The fence is for defense,” Josh Rosner, 18, told JTA. Earlier, he bellowed that opinion from the stage, jutting his arms into the air with rock-star like intensity to elicit a responsive chant.

But some of the participants were more staid.

“I’m a Jew. I’m a survivor of the Holocaust, and I believe in the Bible,” Paul Scheck, 73 said. Israel is “the country that God gave to the Jews and no one has the right to contest” it. If Scheck had his way, the “fence should be at the real border,” he said, suggesting Israel encompass the West Bank, Gaza and even Jordan, he said, but hinted that conquering Jordan was a lost cause.

For Neil Rothfeld, attending the rally was important enough for him to take time off from his law practice.

There’s a “new phase” of anti-Israel animus, Rothfeld said.

At a time when it’s considered OK to compare Nazi symbols to Jewish ones and attitudes within the United Nations are virulently anti-Israel, he said, “we as Jews have to stand strong in support of Israel.”

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