Wearing white masks with eyes surrounded by red paint and streams of red teardrops, a coalition of protesters gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate last week to speak out against Israel’s invasion into Gaza. Chief among them were members of Los Angeles’ Jewish community, many of them active in L.A. Jews for Peace.
“Every single human being in Israel, whether I agree with them or I don’t agree with them, deserves their human rights respected,” said Rick Chertoff, co-chair of the organization. “Solve the problem without killing people. Do they [Israel] have the power? I think it’s so obvious that they have the power.”
“And to oppress people in that way and expect them not to react and then damn them for the resistance,” Chertoff continued, referring to Israel’s blockade of the territory, “is not only nonsensical, it doesn’t conform to human decency, and that’s why I’m here.”
A Jan. 12 Rasmussen Reports poll shows Americans closely divided on the issue. Forty-five percent support Israel taking military action, and 38 percent say they should have pursued a diplomatic solution.
Across Europe, thousands have marched in protest of the violence that has erupted in the Middle East. Close to 900 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died in the conflict so far, according to recent news reports.
And although some city leaders, among them L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have publicly supported the Jewish state, asserting the country’s right to defend itself from the rocket fire that continues to hit its most southern parts, Wednesday night’s demonstration — and future demonstrations are planned — reveals that the Jewish community is far from unified on the issue.
Among those seen enthusiastically carrying signs at the protest were Latinos and some, like Victor Kozaski, Jewish Latinos.
“We, the Latinos, feel the injustices felt by people everywhere,” he said in Spanish, while a poster reading “Latinos united with the people of Palestine” waved in the background.
“We are part of the same pain,” he said.
Carolyn Rosenstein, 71, explained her decision to stand against Israel this way: “I was raised on the story that it was, you know, a purely good, wonderful thing that happened that Israel was established,” she said.
But “there’s more to the story than that, which is somebody else was living there when they came there,” she said. “There’s blood on everybody’s hands.”
Although the number of protesters gathered at the candlelight vigil was relatively small, with an estimated 150 people stemming from three different organizations, including the Quaker group, American Friends Service Committee, and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, members of the Jewish community have also been heard on local radio stations speaking out against the war.
That same week, KCRW’s “Which Way, L.A.?,” the station’s discussion-oriented program led by moderator Warren Olney, welcomed as a guest Diane Balser, executive director of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a grass-roots organization dedicated to promoting a two-state solution.
“This is a political problem,” Balser said on the program. “It can’t be solved militarily.”
As Balser exchanged opinions with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, she revealed that many of the differences that exist among Jews over the Gaza war stem from a disagreement over what is the best course of action for Israel — not from a lack of desire for a peaceful Jewish state or from any kind of support for Hamas.
“They’ve [Hamas] acted stupidly, there’s no question about it,” said Jeff Warner, action coordinator for L.A. Jews for Peace, at the protest.
“But, you know, they’re the weak party; the people who have to act smart are the strong party, which is Israel,” he said.
Some rabbis have also begun speaking out against the war, including Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA Hillel and Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.
In a recent letter to The Jewish Journal, they wrote that the war had “led to the loss of lives of innocent civilians without offering any prospect of political resolution to either Israelis or Palestinians.”
That night in front of the consulate, as cars whizzing by honked their horns, Warner went one step further and argued that his organization represents a majority of Jewish opinion, not the minority.
“I think most Jewish Americans really are on the same side as I am, but they’re silent,” he said.