"Bush, Sharon, you will see, Palestine will be free," chanted some 100 demonstrators, waving placards and walking in a circle in front of a high-rise housing the Israeli consulate last week.
"Shame on you, shame on you," shouted the 50 counterdemonstrators on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, waving Israeli flags.
By the standards of the civil rights and Vietnam War protests, the event on July 25 wasn't much of a show, but what was there gave a clear edge to Los Angeles Jews for a Just Peace (LAJJP) over the StandWithUs supporters across the street. LAJJP, formerly known, or unknown, as Not in Our Name: Jewish Voices for Peace, had the obvious advantage in preparation and organization.
Four Israeli and American spokespersons were on hand to pass out press kits, the placards ("End U.S. Military Aid to Israel," "End the Occupation") looked professional and monitors saw to it that the protesters didn't annoy the considerable number of policemen present. Leaflets also demanded the "right of return for Palestinian refugees" and "self-determination and equal rights for all peoples in the region."
Harking back to the 1960s and '70s, there was a bit of spontaneously rehearsed street theater, with four young people dressed in makeshift uniforms and a Star of David pasted on their helmets, dashing into the middle of busy Wilshire Boulevard during traffic light changes to set up 10-second "checkpoints."
In another shtick, they "arrested" a heavily pregnant woman with a kaffiyeh draped around her head.
Barry Trachtenberg, a 32-year-old graduate student in Jewish history, said that LAJJP could count on 80-100 activists, but in this event was "honored" by the support of Christians and Muslims.
Among the former were two middle-aged female expatriates, one from Ireland and the other from England, holding up a large PLO flag.
One Arab participant was Michel Shehadeh, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Orange County, who said he had come "in support of my Jewish friends, who are working for peace."
Shehadeh was asked whether he knew of any demonstrations in the Arab street against the policies and tactics of Palestinian militants, including suicide bombings. "Once we [Palestinians] are free, we will hold our government accountable," he said. Lending a weird touch of déjà vu was a man passing out a slick, multicolored leaflet with a photo of Lyndon LaRouche, warning that "Targetting [sic] One Billion Muslims Will Start a Clash of Civilizations!" The flier also urged support for the ex-convict and perennial candidate in the 2004 presidential race.
On the north side of Wilshire Boulevard, Jack Salem was defiantly holding his "Stand with Israel" placard and observing that the peace chanters were literally and figuratively "on the wrong side of the street."
Allyson Rowen Taylor, vice president of StandWithUs, attributed the modest turnout on her side to having had only two days to organize her counterdemonstration via e-mail.
Meirav Eilon-Shahar, Israeli consul for public affairs, noted in a phone interview that "in a democratic country, like the United States or Israel, it is the prerogative [of LAJJP] to demonstrate, though I believe their thinking represents a very small part of the American Jewish community.
"The day we see Palestinians demonstrating in front of the PLO embassy in Washington, that day we'll know that the Palestinian Authority is on the way to becoming a democracy," she said.