Israel vs. The Rest, Part Three

A review of my experiences at yesterday’s pro-peace Rally, this is Part 3 in a series of posts on rallies related to what’s going on the Mideast. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, as I think about yesterday’s rallies, I am certain of three things:

1. The frequency of people tagging blogs with “Gaza,” “Israel,” and “Palestine,” has shot through the roof. Needless to say, not everything is newsworthy or even cogent, but at the very least, it does indicate an increased awareness.

2. In my next post, where I focus on what a rally really is, and what it really needs to entail, I’ll argue that the vast majority of the 10,000 people at the pro-Israel “rally” don’t know much about what they are supposedly rallying for. For now, I’ll throw this out there in support of why our protest was a real rally, and the other wasn’t:

No dialogue resulted from the other “rally.” It was just a bunch of guys on a podium shouting platitudes, with a bunch of people cheering. There was no working to bring about change. It was monolithic. Everyone even looked alike, as all were given “tzeva adom” (red alert) hats to wear. The organizer informed the multitudes that these hats were “a symbol that the missiles would stop falling, and the alerts would end.” Right. Hats. Why not take the money that was spent on the hats, and donate it to assist those lives in peril in southern Israel? That’s really advocacy. That’s real activism.

At our rally, there was dialogue (albeit hostile at times), that had the express intent of bringing about a change to the status quo in the Jewish community. We may not have changed people’s point of view, but we made it undeniably clear that this is not a black and white issue. We got attention from a wide variety of media and press, including Radio-Canada, who interviewed me in French when they heard I was Canadian. They all seemed mildly surprised that there could possibly be supporters of a “middle-way.” No surprise, given that much of the media was focused on the giant stage on 42nd Street.

3. Here’s a run-down of the colourful remarks hurled – by Jews – at me and others yesterday:

“You’re leading the way back to Auschwitz!”
“You’ll bring about another 9/11”
“You’re not Jewish! Take off your kippas! You’re not a real Jew!”
“There are no innocent civilians in Gaza!”
“Shame, shame shame!” (Repeat, ad nausea…)

Deeply hurt, I didn’t take any of these slurs personally. They hurt because they’re a stewing indicator of the inability of people to see beyond their own point of view. If there is a solution to the shit, it lies in people who are able to see beyond their limited horizons and outside of their borders.

While I’m not so sure I want to remember everything, I’ll have photos and video posted soon.

Next up, Part Four: Rallying the way to Victory

Israel vs. the Rest, Part One: Cheerleading the way to Victory

york16 years ago, during my first year at York University, it was the height of the second intifada. Both in Israel and on my campus, tensions flared, screaming matches in public places were common, and a war was waged by both sides to win over the compassion of the media. And on some days in Vari Hall, the central court on campus, if you squinted your eyes just enough, you might have actually thought you were in the West Bank. After all, they had bombed out buses, and we had bombed out buses. They had a separation fence wall, and we had a separation fence wall. They had checkpoints, and we had checkpoints. They had screaming Jews and Arabs, and we had screaming Jews and Arabs. Really, the only difference between the two locales was the lack of terrorists killing people and an armed response. Aside from that, it was war on all fronts.

As an impressionable freshman, fresh out of high school and youth group, I was only too eager to join in the protests and become an activist. I donned my IDF uniform, draped myself in an Israeli flag, and held up posters of victims of terrorism, shouting my support for Israel and feeling ever so proud. Yes, I was an activist. I didn’t tell people that at that point, I had never been to Israel or the West Bank, because it didn’t matter. I read Israel newspapers, and I watched international news. But not CNN.

04protestxlarge1This is the story of far too many members of the Jewish community in North America. Switch sides, and it’s the story of far too many members of the Muslim/Arab community in North America. The details really are the same on both sides. People – many of whom have never been to the land they are yelling about – engaged in screaming matches, fueled mostly by pent-up emotions and an unhealthy dose of propaganda from whatever news outlet is telling the story in the way they want to hear it.

Thankfully, I got tired, grew weary, and mellowed out. I saw the bigger picture. I tried to broaden my horizons. I saw through the vitriol and realized that these rallies, protests, and screaming matches really didn’t accomplish anything. For the most part, they were nothing more than a giant way to get to catharsis for each party. Whoever screamed the loudest, pushed the hardest, showed the most gruesome photos, and attracted the largest group of unimpressed observers won. There was nothing activist about these rallies, nothing influential, and nothing lasting. Sure, they made the newspapers the next day, and spawned a screaming match of words in the letters-to-the-editor section. But that was it. These rallies didn’t influence any change in policy, they didn’t win over larger groups of fence-sitters, and they didn’t raise any knowledgeable awareness among the “activists”. They were and always will be a small blip on the time-line of the conflict.

Which is why I surprised myself yesterday, as with trepidation I joined Hanan – one of our shlichim – and walked down to the Israeli consulate in New York yesterday to watch a pro-Israel/anti-Hamas rally. Not to take part. Just to watch. I wanted to see what a rally looked like after the supposed end of the second intifada. I wanted to see what a rally looked like here in New York.

nyp_m1And here, in the centre of the Jewish world outside Israel, I saw more of the same. Yelling and shouting; some of it filled with hatred, some of it filled with passion, but none of it filled with activism. If anybody there thought that their speeches, chanting, and anthem-singing would actually stop Hamas from raining down rockets on Israel, they were sorely misguided. If anybody there thought that their speeches, chanting, and anthem-singing would actually change US policy on Israel, they were sorely misguided. Maybe in a country or city where support for Israel wasn’t natural, a rally such as this could have had a substantive purpose. But this is New York City! The thousands of people crowding Second Avenue weren’t there to accomplish anything other than a giant feat of cheerleading. And unimpressive cheerleading at that – nobody was tossed into the air, there was no marching band, and there were no pompoms.

At the rally, Malcolm Hoenlein, the Chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had an interesting statement to share with the crowd:

“We tell the United Nations today: Stay out. Let Israel do what it has to do.”

Mr. Hoenlein sure is a great cheerleader. He pretty much sums up my entire argument. Thanks, Mr. Hoenlein. What these cheerleaders and rallyers want most of all – more than dialogue, more than constructive discussion, more than engaging activism on the part of North American Jews – is for their side to win. They view Mideast politics as a football game, where North American Jews are cheerleaders jumping around wildly on the sidelines. They don’t want anyone else to get involved, they don’t want to hear the commentary from the pundits (people who actually know something about what’s going on), they just want to see their side pummel the other side without any interference. The UN may have many issues, including a woefully poor track record on being balanced when it comes to Israel, but at least it tries to be a representative voice of moderation. Much more than we can say for Mr. Hoenlein – a man who is supposed to represent the major Jewish organizations, and thus supposedly, the majority of organized Jews.

cheerleaderAnd unfortunately, this isn’t just a Jewish problem. It’s the same on both “sides.” Most of the Western World is content with viewing the conflict in Israel as a football match, because it means they don’t have to get hurt and dirty. They can just dance wildly from the sidelines, cheering and screaming, holding up signs and feeling as though they’re contributing to the welfare of their team.

But cheerleaders don’t get to win the Super Bowl.

Tomorrow — Israel vs. The Rest, Part Two: Those who have the Guts to get Dirty