[Marxism] "Israel was off the agenda"
jacdon at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 2 08:53:13 MST 2007
Washington Jewish Week 1-31-7
A change in tone: Anti-Iraq War protest
participants say Israel was off the agenda
By Gabe Ross
Jews who participated in weekend protests against continued U.S. presence in
Iraq agree that the demonstrations lacked the anti-Israel rhetoric that has
sometimes appeared in the past.
Although some participants at Saturday's rally on the National Mall in the
District were critical of Israel, the overwhelming focus this time was
dedicated toward protesting the Bush administration's policies vis-a-vis
Iraq, according to several Jews who attended the rally.
"There were very, very, very few signs that had anything to do with Israel,"
said Rabbi Michael Lerner, who led a guided prayer meditation at the
beginning of the rally.
One of the chairs of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, an event
co-sponsor, Lerner said he had pushed for and received assurances from the
rally's organizers that the speakers would be exclusively about Iraq.
United for Peace and Justice was the rally's principal sponsor. According to
its Web site, the organization is a coalition of more than 1,300 local and
national groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq.
For the most part, Jewish groups do not participate in events that are held
on the Sabbath. Therefore, most Jews who attended the rally did so on an
individual basis or as part of non-Jewish groups.
The Shabbat-observant Lerner, though, said his participation in the event
did not violate Halacha, Jewish law. "There is no injunction against
speaking to people and sharing d'vrei Torah with a larger crowd," said
Lerner, who found himself refusing requests to sign his book, The Left Hand
of God, due to a prohibition on writing on Shabbat.
In September 2005, United for Peace and Justice had co-sponsored a protest
rally with International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and Racism), which has
anti-Zionist positions. That group's presence among the rally's official
organizers had deterred many members of the Jewish community from taking
part in the protest.
Instead, some Jewish groups organized a Shabbat service for that morning at
the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District.
"We were so distressed by what was planned for the rally that we held a
religious service during the rally," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of
The Shalom Center in Philadelphia.
This time, an interfaith prayer service was held prior to the rally. "We
were able in an hour and a quarter to weave together Jewish, Muslim,
Christian and Buddhist" teachings, said Waskow, who along with Lerner led
part of the service. Waskow said the venue for the prayer service, the
300-seat Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill, was overflowing.
Following the service, participants made their way over to the National
Waskow said the lack of attention directed toward Israel was a credit to the
peace movement. "I think they have matured enough in three years to realize
this is where the energy needs to be," he said.
Though estimates varied, according to Lerner's account posted on tikkun.org,
there were roughly 150,000 people in attendance.
One of those was Sarah Morse, program director of Am Kolel in Beallsville,
who attended with her 13-year-old son.
Morse, who also participated in workshops and lobbying efforts on Sunday and
Monday, did not notice any criticism of Israel at any event.
"I was actually quite impressed by that," said Morse, who had attended
previous rallies where anti-Israel rhetoric was present.
"I hope the changing tone of the rally that we saw on Saturday will
hopefully encourage more in the Jewish community" to participate, said Rabbi
Biber, who is rabbi of the of Machar, The Washington Congregation for
Secular Humanistic Judaism noted that Jews have been active in the anti-war
movement since before the Iraq war began.
Like others, Am Kolel member Justin Frank also cited positive developments.
"I really felt there was some healing that took place in the anti-war
movement," said Frank, author of the book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the
Mind of the President, published by HarperCollins.
Frank, who has been present at a number of protests against the Iraq War,
said that though he had been angry at speeches that condemned Israel, he had
thought it more important to voice his opposition to the administration's
"I was not going to not attend because of it," said Frank.
"To protest by withdrawing is not how to make change," he added. "You
protest by stepping up to the plate."
Other participants agreed that the scope of the rally was sufficient to
bring people together.
"I think it's important to keep our eye on the concern that everyone has
come out for and not to get distracted by ... [other] issues that could be
contentious," said Mark Posner, a member of Bethesda's Kehila Chadasha, who
attended the rally with his 11-year-old son.
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