Jewish Journal

Postcard From the Westwood Protest

by Marc Ballon

Posted on Apr. 3, 2003 at 7:00 pm

On the day the war in Iraq began, I endured a migraine-inducing traffic jam on Wilshire Boulevard. As I inhaled car fumes for nearly an hour, my frustration grew. It reached the boiling point when I learned the cause behind the gridlock: antiwar protesters. The blocking of traffic by the No-War-In-Iraq protesters not only had no impact on the events unfolding abroad, but they diverted valuable police resources from fighting crime and preventing terrorism. They also made me late for dinner at my parents' house.

So it was with scant enthusiasm that I went to the Federal Building in Westwood a few days later to cover the antiwar marches for The Journal. On my way to the rally, I walked by a hippie with a stringy gray ponytail. Shouting "Bush is a fascist" in a stentorian voice, he gave the Nazi salute to shocked motorists, presumably an expression of his anger toward the administration.

His antics failed to move me. Neither did the opinions of the first protester with whom I chatted. After accusing the United States of going to war for oil, he said America was "killing innocent Iranians for no reason."

Call me uninformed, but I thought the America was fighting in Iraq.

I then spoke to a Muslim of a mixed Persian-Bangladashi heritage named Said. His voice rising in anger and his forefinger thrust in my face, he began cataloguing the alleged motives that led Bush to war. They ranged from a push for global hegemony to "wanting to protect the honor of his daddy, who Saddam Hussein tried to kill." Just as I was about to tune Said out (actually, an elderly woman banging a drum made it nearly impossible to hear him), he started to make sense. Lots of it.

He said the United States could have avoided bloodshed by simply keeping its troops in the Persian Gulf and letting U.N. inspections proceed. With the world united against Saddam Hussein and pressure mounting, the Iraqi dictator would have likely turned over his illicit arsenal. By attacking him, the United States has only increased the likelihood that Hussein will unleash the chemical and biological weapons that America so fears.

There were a handful of Jews among the diverse crowd of about 100. Given the strong anti-Israel speeches and placards that have recently appeared at some antiwar demonstration, I was especially curious to hear their thoughts.

Elizabeth Kaye Sortun, holding a sign that said, "War Is Not The Answer," repeatedly flashed the peace sign at passing cars. Dressed in black to show solidarity with "all the victims," the 46-year-old daughter of a Holocaust survivors said protesting an unjust war upheld the Jewish tradition of social activism.

"I think Saddam is bad, but the United States shouldn't unilaterally invade another country. The U.N. said no, and yet this administration is behaving like a cowboy," said Kaye Sortun. "The U.S. isn't the boss of the world."

Although the Los Feliz landscaper has seen the occasional anti-Israel sign at antiwar rallies, Kaye Sortun said fellow protesters have made her and others feel welcome, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian. To make the world a safer place for her 10-year-old daughter Ava, Kaye Sortun said she planned to march as long as the bombs dropped in Baghdad.

Nearby, Carol Honigman waved a sign that said "No War." The 64-year-old therapist said she worried about a backlash if the conflict goes badly, including increased terrorism in Israel.

"Jews are always the scapegoats. It's always our fault," Honigman said. "This could worsen everything."

Her niece Melanie Weiner, 36, shared her antiwar sentiments. Weiner, who had lived in Israel for seven years as a child, said the United States was behaving hypocritically. She asked what right did America have telling Iraq to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction when the United States has a huge stockpile of nuclear bombs?

Weiner, a therapist, said countries should initiate military action only as a last resort to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity. America's war against Iraq falls far short of that standard.

After 2 1¼2 hours, the rally began to wind down as protesters headed home and the banners came down. Weiner, who came to the event after a busy day at work, had a parting thought explaining her willingness to the verbal abuse heaped on her and other demonstrators by some passersby.

"I need to do what I can, even if my voice is drowned out," she said. "Otherwise, there's too much despair, too much depression for those of us on the left. It doesn't matter if we succeed. We have to keep fighting the good fight."  

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