Pullout Critics In U.S. Draw Few Backers

By Jennifer Siegel

Published August 19, 2005, issue of August 19, 2005.
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American opponents of the Gaza pullout drew limited support this week as they held several vigils and demonstrations in New York and other cities that warned the disengagement plan would only fuel terrorism.

On Tuesday, as Israeli forces were preparing to forcibly remove thousands of Jewish settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank, between 200 and 300 demonstrators gathered at a rally across from the United Nations in New York that was organized by the Israel Concert in the Park Committee and by the Zionist Organization of America. The total fell short of the “thousands” predicted in an earlier press release put out by organizers.

The Alliance for Eretz Yisrael, another anti-disenanother anti-disengagement group, held a rally Monday in Miami that drew about 250 protesters, according to The Miami Herald. And this past Saturday night, to coincide with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, a number of vigils were held across the country. The New York vigil, held at the Israeli Consulate, drew about 500 people, according to Morton Klein, president of the ZOA.

In contrast to these relatively modest numbers, Israeli opponents of the disengagement turned out 70,000 people for a last-ditch prayer vigil at the Western Wall on Wednesday, August 10, according to Ha’aretz.

At Tuesday’s rally across from the U.N., organizers openly expressed their feeling of abandonment by the mainstream Jewish community.

“Some people are conspicuously absent” today, said David Romanoff, of the Alliance for Eretz Yisrael. He was one of the hecklers who disrupted Sharon’s May 22 speech to Jewish leaders in New York. Romanoff went on to point the finger at several major organizations: “Where are you, Anti-Defamation League? Where are you, American Jewish Committee? Where is the American Jewish Congress today?”

All three groups belong to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which released a statement this week declaring its support for the disengagement, and saying, “We must isolate those who seek to divide and deny them the imprimatur of legitimacy.”

Romanoff also singled out for criticism the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America — two of the most important Modern Orthodox-dominated organizations in the country. Both groups declined to rally publicly against the pullout, though each represents significant constituencies that maintain close ties to the settlement movement and oppose the disengagement plan. As a result, they have been criticized in some Orthodox circles in Israel and America.

American leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement also have faced criticism from within their own ranks for not doing enough to fight disengagement — especially among those who believe that the movement’s late religious leader, or grand rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, was the messiah.

Chabad activists have emerged as some of the most militant opponents of disengagement in Israel. And while opposition to the plan is widespread within Chabad in America, the central leadership in the United States — which directs the rabbis who perform outreach around the world — has avoided organizing an official campaign against it.

Earlier this week, some of the Chabad activists in New York made calls directly to the personal cell phones of members of the Israeli police and army and urged them not to participate in the disengagement. It was not known how they obtained the phone numbers.

Chabad activists have also represented a significant percentage of the crowd at some American anti-disengagement events. During a vigil in front of the U.N. Sunday on Tisha B’Av, the crowd of about 200 people received a boost when a Chabad-dominated motorcade from Brooklyn drove by to show support. The cars, about 130 of them, were decked in the orange favored by disengagement opponents. Also, in recent days, some Chabad activists have been seen passing out fliers warning that Sharon is “bringing a Holocaust upon us.”

The pullout was strongly condemned in a statement issued by the American Board of Rabbis, a marginal Orthodox group with a long record of incendiary comments. The group’s president, Rabbi Mordechai Yitzchok Friedman, was quoted in the statement as saying that “giving up any part of biblical Israel” was a “capital crime.”

Friedman also was quoted as saying that his organization “encourages the settlers to use any and all means to repulse the expulsion,” and he argued that “Jewish Law mandates lethal force.”

In general, though, leading American critics of the plan have been arguing that it would prove to be a strategic disaster, not a religious one. Along those lines, scholar Daniel Pipes wrote a column Monday in USA Today, declaring, “The Israeli government’s removal of its own citizens from Gaza ranks as one of the worst errors ever made by a democracy.”

If the overarching message of Tuesday’s rally at the U.N. was that the disengagement plan represented a dangerous capitulation to terrorists, the mood was a mix of political defiance and mystical resignation. Demonstrators held orange signs and wore orange T-shirts with slogans that have become commonplace at anti-disengagement events: “Jews don’t expel Jews,” “Not one inch” and “Gush Katif Forever.” Some assumed the appearance of traditional Jewish mourners. One young woman prayed quietly on the outskirts of the crowds, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Despite the small size of the rally, it drew more than its share of colorful supporters and detractors.

G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent who was later convicted for his role in planning the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration, called in during his talk show on satellite radio to lend his support. “What you people are doing in your rally is really a mitzvah,” he said. “Blow the shofar.”

Despite the crowd’s discontentment with Sharon and the Israeli government, protesters reacted angrily to the sudden appearance of a small band of anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews. As the men, members of the Neturei Karta sect, crossed the street and approached the gathering, the crowd booed loudly.

“This is the most lunatic face of Judaism on the face of the earth,” ZOA’s Klein said from the stage. “They won’t even marry people outside of their sect — that’s why they have so many diseases.”

During his speech, Klein vowed that the rally was not the “last stand.”

“We will continue to speak out,” he said.

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