Just a Peace Rally? Read the Fine Print

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."

Postcard From the Westwood Protest

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

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

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.”