by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, , May 20, 2009
Washington, DC Israel Vigil
As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu entered the White House lion’s den with US President Barack Obama on Monday, more than 100 pro-Israel supporters showed up outside with two messages: (1) No Nuclear Iran; and (2) No Terrorist Palestinian State on Israel’s borders.
For more than three hours sign-clad Israel-supporters sang and chanted and talked about the existential threats posed by both a nuclear Iran and a Palestinian State. The crowd was unabashed in its support, and the vigil continued for several hours.
Based on the current emanations from Washington, many Israel supporters have begun to fear that the present US government no longer shares Israel’s view of what is the best strategy for stabilizing the Middle East. The concern is that the new US compulsion to make friends with the Arab leadership in the region may now trump its previous stalwart allegiance to what has always been its closest ally in the Middle East - Israel.
Although few in the crowd actually believed that their presence was likely to have an impact on the geopolitical wrestling going on in the White House, they still felt compelled to be there.
“About a week before Netanyahu’s visit, committed Zionists began circulating emails asking who was going to be in Washington representing our viewpoint,” said New Yorker Hillary Markowitz of AMCHA, a grassroots organization started by Rabbi Avi Weiss, “and I realized I had to do it because no one else had yet committed.”
Markowitz obtained a permit for a pro-Israel vigil in Lafayette Park across from the White House, organized buses to take New York area supporters to and from Washington, and began an email blitz publicizing the vigil.
In just a few days people rearranged their lives to converge on Washington. In addition to more than two bus loads from New York, others came from up and down the east coast. There were Christian Zionist supporters who made the trip all the way from Orlando in order to inform the two statesmen of the importance of Israel’s safety and sanctity. The largest organizational contingent was from Chabad, which brought large signs and even larger voices.
Elliot Holtz, a Philadelphian who had never before traveled outside of his hometown to attend a political demonstration explained why he made this trip: “The critical importance of President Obama hearing the message of ‘no pressure on Israel for the sake of dialogging with Iran’ was worth my day.”
While the pro-Israel crowd numbered fewer than a thousand, “those present were actually better than if thousands had arrived because they were so highly motivated,” Laban Seyoum, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian who was present, later told pro-Israel activist Jerry Gordon of Florida.
Unlike many other demonstrations about the Middle East, the supporters of Israel far outnumbered those who showed up to demonize Israel. Of course, a few Code Pink (gay rights extremists - think the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s analog to the civil rights movement) members came, hoping to attract attention with their street theater antics.
They were dressed as Israeli police officers — in pink, of course — with cardboard cutout machine guns and large displays representing the Israeli checkpoints. When told that in the Muslim Middle East homosexuality is strictly prohibited, the practice of which is punishable by death, the young woman blowing on her police whistle was incredulous. Her fall back position was to insist that Israelis kill gays. Confronted with the news that gay Arab Palestinians actually go to Tel Aviv in order to be openly gay without fear of murder, she simply walked away. They don’t let facts interfere with their rhetoric.
But it wasn’t only the ladies in pink who repeatedly demonstrated their ignorance of facts, and who refused to allow that to stand in the way of their gleeful demonization of Israel.
The shirt of one anti-Israel protester (left) read: “Got Human Rights? Palestinians don’t.” He refused to believe that Arab Palestinians have greater freedom of the press in Israel than in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories. This was surprising, given the man was wearing a press pass, showing him to be a member of the National Press Association.
One of the handful of other anti-Israel protesters proudly held a sign condemning “Israeli Apartheid.” When she was asked to give an example of Israeli apartheid, she shot back, “Palestinians aren’t allowed to vote in Israel.” When told that Arab Israelis serve on the Israeli Supreme Court and in the Israeli government, including the cabinet, she continued to insist that Israel is an apartheid state.
The vigil was a symbolic push for the US superpower to assist Israel in protecting itself from a nuclear Iran and from a terrorist state being carved out from within its own borders. Those who showed up to represent that view were satisfied that, even if Israel no longer has the kind of friend it needs in the White House, they showed that despite the glee on the Arab street, Israel still has its supporters on the American street.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus writes about the Middle East