October 12, 2000
Jewish groups mobilize forces to show solidarity.
The organized North American Jewish community's reaction to the violent events in the Middle East can be summed up in a few words: solidarity with Israel.
As displeasure with the Jewish state's response to Palestinian rioters mounted across the world, the Jewish community - mainly through op-eds and advertisements in newspapers, and in community-organized rallies - sprang into action.
To be sure, there were scattered attempts at fence-mending - as in New York, where Arab and Jewish community leaders signed a statement of unity.
But for the most part, talk of coexistence and peace has taken a back seat to defending the Jewish state in the face of what is seen as unfair criticism.
Local Jewish communities - including federations and community relations councils - were sponsoring pro-Israel rallies slated for later in the week.
The largest of the rallies was expected to be held Thursday outside the Israeli Consulate in New York, but communities across the United States and Canada - from Boca Raton, Fla., to Calgary - were planning to hold similar demonstrations later in the week.
The immediate goal of the rallies "is to try and reach across the ocean and give the people of Israel a sense that the American Jewish community is with them in this difficult time," said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), an umbrella group of community relations councils.
Ads in The New York Times this week expressing solidarity with Israel and announcing the New York rally were sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations as well as by the United Jewish Communities, the JCPA and the UJA-Federation of New York. Leaders of all these groups participated in a conference call Tuesday - with 250 participants - in which activists across North America were encouraged to send op-eds to local newspapers and encouraged to hold rallies.
The demonstrations "send a strong message to the American government and the American public that the Jewish community is deeply concerned about these developments and feels strongly about the need to press Yasser Arafat to act responsibly," Raffel added.
Some 700 people attended a rally outside the PLO mission organized by the Coalition for Jewish Concerns - AMCHA on Sunday in support of Israel, according to Rabbi Avi Weiss, the president of the group. AMCHA sponsored a smaller rally on Tuesday at which it called on President Clinton to find those responsible for the death of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, a U.S.-born Jew living on the West Bank who was killed over the weekend.
Meanwhile, other Jewish activists are staging rallies to express a different sentiment.
In New York, longtime Jewish peace activists were planning to hold a counter-rally at the Israeli consulate. The need for a counter-rally stemmed from a need some Jews felt to stand up against some of the abuses that Israel has committed, said Donna Nevel, one of the rally's organizers.
"As Jews, we do not support what the Israeli government is doing," she said, referring to the more than 80 Palestinians killed in the recent clashes.
At a similar rally outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Sunday, the eve of Yom Kippur, organizers atoned for "justifying the use of excessive lethal force" and called for "an improvement in this year which has begun so tragically."
"We're not pointing fingers," said David Shneyer, one of the vigil's organizers. "We're expressing our anguish, our frustration and our hope for a peaceful solution."
The tragic events in the Middle East - and the world's reactions to them - also prompted several organizations to take out newspaper advertisements.
In advertising for the New York rally in the Times, the Conference of Presidents said it deplored "dangerous and exploitative use of violence by the Palestinian Authority to achieve political gains." A similar view was expressed by Hadassah and the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) in their ads.
In its advertisement that by Tuesday had run in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, the AJCommittee attacked the Palestinian leadership for having "deliberately overblown" Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to the Temple Mount, which sparked the violence.
The ads are read not only by the American government, but by diplomats and their staffs as well. The AJCommittee was also reacting to the U.N. Security Council's resolution passed over the weekend that condemned the "excessive use of force" against Palestinians without mentioning Israel by name.
The group said it was sending letters expressing its displeasure with the resolution to foreign ministers from the 15 countries on the Security Council.
"We were just stunned that when Israel is under attack," that hours later the "Security Council could pass a resolution focusing on excessive use of violence against the Palestinians," said AJCommittee's Kenneth Bandler, referring specifically to Hezbollah's taking three Israeli soldiers hostage on Saturday. "There's a feeling that Israel is under assault."
The Washington Jewish Week contributed to this story.