Anti War Demos

It would be understandable if one had the impression that American Jews were united in their support for Israel, particularly given the events of the past month. However, the escalation of the conflict in the last few weeks is jarring many American Jews from their reflexive support for Israeli policy. A significant number of Jews, including me, attended the April 20 anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC, protesting America’s “war on terrorism” and supporting Palestinian independence. I joined a large group from the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and traveled from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. As a group, we called for an end to the “war on terrorism”, for a U.S. foreign and domestic policy based on social and economic justice, and for the development of a peaceful resolution to the current conflicts.

Overall, the march was a powerful call for peaceful alternatives to war. Admittedly, there were aspects that I found disconcerting. Anti-Semitic messages and insinuations, particularly those associating Zionism with Nazism, was disturbing and counter-productive, even though they were only a small minority of the demonstrators. The slogans were so clearly designed to offend Jews that part of me wished that I had stayed home. However, the overwhelming majority of the messages were positive calls for non-violence and peaceful tolerance.

Most of the protesters sought freedom, justice, and self-determination for the Palestinian people – and as a matter of conscience I felt it was important to be present. I found that many of the Muslim and Arab demonstrators were grateful to the Jews who did march in solidarity with them. I also felt that the demonstration had major significance, not only as one of the largest demonstrations of Arab and Muslim Americans in U.S. history, but also because many Arab and Muslim Americans have been reluctant to go out in public since September 11 for fear of racial profiling – both official and unofficial.

A growing minority of American Jews strongly criticize the current Israeli and American policies in the Middle East. Many of us feel that Israel’s recent offensive, undertaken in the name of defense, is a disproportionate, shameful and unjustifiable assault on innocent civilians. Many of us feel that Israel’s military occupation of Palestine must end, and that Palestinian statehood must be realized immediately. Many of us feel that Ariel Sharon – more than anyone – is the real threat to Israel’s existence, because his racist, aggressive policies undermine both the security and the moral integrity of Israeli society. Many of us feel that US military aid to Israel should be curtailed.

We take these unpopular positions, all the while acknowledging the importance of Israel to the Jewish people and reaffirming Israel’s right to a secure existence. We condemn all manifestations of violence and demand a just peace for all parties.

The April 20 demonstrations prove that America’s “war on terrorism” does not have universal support, and that the state of affairs in the Middle East is unacceptable to many. April 20 has encouraged me to feel less pressured to choose between the incompatible rhetoric of the “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israeli” positions in a conflict that is becoming increasingly polarized. I am more confident that these characterizations reflect an oversimplification of the issues involved. There is a nucleus of people who reject these labels and believe that peace and justice are possible for all without recourse to violence. We believe that all human beings have intrinsic worth, that intolerance is futile, and that both Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately learn to coexist with equality on a shared patch of earth.

For us, it is not a question of choosing one “side” or the other. It is a question of asserting universal principles of dignity and compassion, and striving for non-violent responses to human suffering.



The author works for the American Friends Service Committee, a peace and justice organization based in Philadelphia.

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