I stood at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza with a group of colleagues fromwork, barely able to move, sweat trickling down my back. I have been here before, I thought. But this time, it feels different.
I scrolled through Facebook seeing people I know post that they were in the crowd, “Am Yisrael Chai!” I kept receiving text messages from others: my husband, a friend’s son, a friend, asking where in this crayon box of 10,000-plus I was packed.
I could tell them in an instant. I was standing with my people.
We were there to support Israel. No matter where we stood on the political spectrum the group at the United Nations on July 28, wanted to unequivocally say Israel had a right to support itself. No, it was simpler than that. We wanted to say that Israel simply had the right to be.
These past weeks have been brutal for Israel, and for the Jews who love it. Ever since the kidnapping and murder of the three young men in the West Bank at the hands of Arab thugs, because really, let’s call a spade a spade, and the subsequent murder of an Arab teen, at the hands of Jewish thugs (be fair), that region has erupted like a volcano under pressure. Hamas terrorists have rained missiles, not just on Israel’s south, but on any city they can reach. We have watched the technological miracle that is Iron Dome stop them dead in the sky.
And we have had more than three weeks of war. Estmates put the Gazan dead at around 1,400. And the number of Israelis killed, mostly soldiers, has grown to 64, and horrifically today — during a 72-hour cease-fire asked for by Hamas who then immediately violated it — one captured soldier.
And in New York, I stand, with thousands like me, celebrating the complicated, frustrating, amazing, beloved miracle that is Israel. Peacefully.
Yes, without running through the street, without threatening anyone else, without violence. I entered the plaza and opened my camera bag for security without attitude. My coworkers did not throw firebombs, stand atop buildings with smoke bombs in nationalistic colors and chant death to my opponent. All those people looking for me on Facebook and in text? Not one of them charged bystanders or police. Not a single one overturned or torched a car.
But that has not been the case with gatherings from the other side. Around the world, their rallies have turned violent and ugly. I’m not talking about a few “die-ins” and testy exchanges in which protestors in Boston, Chicago and other North American cities have engaged. We value free speech and they have their right to say it.
What has been more frightening are the rallies taking place in Europe, especially in France, where Muslims supporting the Palestinian cause have violently protested in the streets of Paris and in other cities. Even if you accept that the Jewish Defense League — a Meir Kahane’s organization banned in both this country and in Israel but legal in France (although French officials are now considering a ban) — helped escalate the threatening situation when Muslims protested at a Paris synagogue, you have to wonder why they chose a synagogue in the first place. Wouldn’t the Israeli embassy have been more appropriate if there were just a matter of Israel on the international political stage? What were they doing throwing chairs, wielding bats and and shouting, “Death to the Jews”? This is happening in a country where only two years ago, a Muslim shooter killed a rabbi and his children at Jewish school in Toulouse.
Protestors in Germany shout “Gas the Jews.” Kedem, a cosmetics store in Manchester, England that sells Israeli products, has been the site of daily protests and callers have harassed the owners with death threats.
And Hamas has executed at least 20 Palestinians in Gaza who have protested their rein of terror, that extends to its own people. Ironically, those same protestors could have made their point just fine — as many have —across the border in Israel, where there have been protests to Israel’s latest incursion into Gaza.
I’m not trying to create a moral equivalency here. But Jewish protests usually don’t involve heavy, thrown objects, death chants, or for that matter, death. Paris held its first pro-Israel rally on August 31, in front of — where else — the Israeli embassy. The event was peaceful. While there have been images of a handful of Iraelis celebrating rockets falling on Gaza, and a retaliation murder for the kidnapping and murder of Gilad Sha’ar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach before the current ground war began, we don’t, as a rule, hand out candy to our children and celebrate when one of our enemies is killed. The Talmud teaches us that, the Israelites seeing their Egyptian pursuers swallowed in the roiling waters of the closing Red Sea, celebrated. God interrupts with a question that can only be meant to shame: “My handiwork is drowning and you want to sing?”
When we fail to follow that admonishment, we are reminded by the world how bad this looks, quickly condemned and judged in the press. As we should be. What bothers me most with this imbalanced scale, tipping not so much at holding Israel and Jews to a higher standard, is that one side is laden with an inherent prejudice, buried in how little we expect civilized behavior and discourse from Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular.
These scenes of violence around the globe aimed not just at Israel, but at Jews, are frightening. That they come from Europe’s well-groomed metropolitan centers only reminds us of what horrors took place in those places just seven decades ago. How far away is a Muslim atop a car, shouting death to the Jews while the police stand aside, from a German citizen during Kristallnacht adding kindling to the inferno that were Berlin’s synagogues?
The protests taking place in Europe — and the echo they have from that time of devastation — make Israel’s most eloquent case. Yes, Zionism — that aspiration for a Jewish homeland, where we would always be welcome and safe — predates the Shoah by more than 40 years. Herzl saw in the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a French army captain falsely convicted of spying for Germany, a never-ending future of Jewish persecutions. Israel’s presence offers sanctuary for Jews who need it — like those from France leaving in massive waves right now — and reminds the rest of us (mainly those of us who live secure in North America) that we have a strength and presence we once did not.
Before there was Israel, we marched rather obediently into gas chambers, powerless to protest with few exceptions. Sometimes I think the world simply refuses to understand when it objects to Israel’s might, why we aren’t willing to be that compliant once again.