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Jewish Journal

Just a Peace Rally? Read the Fine Print

by David Finnigan

September 25, 2003 | 8:00 pm

This Sunday's "End Occupation" rally in Hollywood has led Jewish watchdog groups to be concerned about the increasing anti-Semitism of the antiwar movement.

"How did the antiwar movement become anti-Semitic?" asked Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). "I don't think all anti-Israel statements are anti-Semitic, but I do believe anti-Zionism statements are anti-Semitic."

Antiwar rally organizers have struggled this year between anti-American and anti-Israel platforms and outreach to key leftist Jewish peace activists such as Tikkun magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner. Anti-war rallies have been by hosted virulent, at times profanity-driven, anti-Israel speakers, while an open split in the antiwar left began last January after San Francisco activists tried to ban pro-Israel Lerner from a rally speaking slot.

"Even someone as far left as Michael Lerner finds himself not kosher enough for the antiwar movement," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The "End Occupation" march on Sunday, Sept. 28, starts at noon at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, with a rally at 2 p.m. at Hollywood and Highland, as protesters denounce Israel plus U.S. policy on Iraq, Cuba, Syria and elsewhere. It is being organized by the Los Angeles chapter of International Answer, a far-left group closely tied to the U.S.-based, pro-North Korea Workers World Party; the chapter's listed coalition or steering committee members include the National Lawyers Guild, the Palestinian-American Women's Association, the Free Palestine Alliance and the local chapter of the American-Arab Discrimination Committee.

Rally endorsers do not include the Progressive Jewish Alliance but do include college student groups and a typical grab-bag of obscure, leftist or Israel-hostile peace groups such as the Coalition for World Peace and cultish Fidel Castro socialists. Also listed as rally endorsers are the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Al-Bireh Palestine Society and the Palestine Aid Society.

Some peace groups feel the anti-war movement has gone too far.

"We are uncomfortable with the strident, and I guess, over-the-top method of the ANSWER coalition," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a progressive Jewish Alliance board member. Beliak said that at a local ANSWER-Run Rally last spring, "Part of what they were doing was they were egging people on to get arrested."

He also said that PJA and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace -- another group in which Beliak is involved -- did not endorse the rally out of respect for the Jewish Holiday.

The Palestinian activist agenda at such U.S. events seems to be, "to sort of push the antiwar movement [into thinking], 'If people hate Bush, they should hate Israel,'" said Cooper. "It seems to have worked very well in Europe, it hasn't gotten traction here."

Of growing concern to British Jews is the rally's build-up event in London -- a Sept. 27 demonstration marking the third anniversary of the Palestinian intifada. Alongside the British antiwar movement's anti-Israel wing, a key event organizer is the Muslim Association of Britain; the group's Web site recently promoted the Sept. 9 London lecture, "The Roots and Nature of the Zionist Project," by Abdelwahab El-Messiri, an Egyptian professor whose Arabic language books include, "Secrets of the Zionist Mind" and "The Invisible Hand: A Study in Secret and Subversive Jewish Movements."

Anti-war celebrities, notably Martin Sheen, spoke at U.S. peace rallies earlier this year, but generally did not distance themselves from the event's harsher anti-Zionist speakers. Susskind said the ADL has not approached activist actors about what's being said at the rallies.

"We could do more outreach to the celebrities in our own backyard," she said.

Coinciding with this year's Sept. 11 memorial services, the ADL issued a separate report, "Unraveling Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories" about Israeli and Jewish involvement being central to fringe thinking on the attacks.

The ADL believes that various conspiracy theories, "are essentially updated versions of classical anti-Semitic canards," focusing in part on supposed Jewish influence at the World Trade Center, on Wall Street and in geopolitics.

"The Big Lie has been repeated by imams, the press and government officials in the Arab world,"ADL national director Abraham Foxman stated in the report, "and is contributing to disturbing and dangerous mutations in global anti-Semitism."

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