It was straight out of central casting; a Fellini B movie, if ever there was one. Only it wasn't a movie. It was ugly, and it wasn't supposed to be entertainment. It was the way people behaved toward us -- the L.A. Pro Israel Rally Committee (LAPIRC) -- at the Not in Our Name anti-war demonstration on Sunday, Oct. 6, across from the Federal Building in Westwood. Our group of 25 people, many over 80 years old, experienced baiting, namecalling and general histrionics from those attending the demonstration.
For the last 15 months, LAPIRC has shown up every other Sunday at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue to show support for Israel by carrying banners, signs and Israeli and American flags. Little did I understand what I was getting myself in to when I decided to go ahead with our usual rally on Oct. 6.
A week earlier, LAPIRC co-organizer Greg Deych e-mailed me that a group, Not in our Name, was planning a demonstration against President Bush going into Iraq. Theirs was to be in front of the Federal Building. "Should we cancel our usual rally?" Greg asked me.
I was stupid enough to say, "No it will be fine. We have security and the anti-war group will be across the street." I added that even though the group probably sees Israel as an aggressive bully, I think it will be all right. But it wasn't.
It was a very, very hot day. Our group couldn't drink enough water and Gatorade. We stood and held American and Israeli flags and our pro-Israel banners. People began gathering at the crosswalk signal in order to get to the Federal Building. When they saw us they started cursing. Without first saying hello, or anything, a young Latino man told us to "f--- off."
He began yelling at one of our older Russian Jewish supporters, Isaac, "You are Zionist Nazi pigs. You are Nazis!" It was surreal. People on the corner were all yelling at us in such a fevered pitch I couldn't hear myself talk.
I stepped between the Hispanic man and Isaac and said -- or rather, yelled -- "That's enough. It's enough already."
A woman in the crowd told me to mind my own business and that it wasn't enough.
Eventually, between 2,000-3,000 people were assembled across the street from us. LAPIRC was only 25 people. We continued to hold signs that read, "We send shalom and greetings of concern to Israel."
Around 2 p.m., a group of African Americans marched across the street into our rally, beating on drums and chanting, "Free the Palestinians, Free the Palestinians." I thought this was supposed to be about President Bush and Iraq. The group kept marching up and down, forcing our people to move from their positions.
Some brought cameras and video equipment, and ignored our requests to refrain from photographing us. They chanted, "First Amendment rights" and "This is a public place." One man photographed one of our small signs that read "Israeli flags-$6." We sell flags to pay for the security. I could only imagine this photo being used in some anti-Semitic book similar to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
One woman who videotaped me yelled that she could do what she wanted to because she had First Amendment rights. I told her that she lacked grace. She turned around and said, "Well you lacked grace when you slaughtered my people." She was referring to Native Americans. Again, I thought this was about President Bush and Iraq. Was everyone with a personal beef here at this demonstration?
For two hours, people kept coming to our side of the street to either try to convince us we were wrong or to tell us that what we were doing looked bad. To them we looked like a pro-war group. I kept explaining that we were here to support Israel. This fell on deaf ears. Several news people interviewed us but they only wanted our views on the anti-war demonstration, not on our support of Israel.
And then the coup de grâce: As the 1,500 or so demonstrators began to march west down Wilshire Boulevard (the police sectioned off the street) toward Sepulveda Boulevard, they somehow managed to form a long line in front of us. At this point, our security guy put eight L.A.P.D. officers in front of us for protection. The name-calling continued full force, interspersed with occasional cries of "shame on you."
As proud of Americans as I was during Sept. 11, that's how ashamed I was of all these Americans. We were just 25 people standing on the sidewalk. It was as if Yasser Arafat's propaganda over the last 10 years had reached most of these people. They saw Israeli flags and went wild with hate.
I shudder to think what would have happened had the police not been there.
This may have been advertised as an anti-war rally, but I could hear in the distance, as I looked at the hate-filled faces, military boots marching on broken glass.
Suzanne Davidson is the founder of the L.A. Pro Israel Rally Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org