We gathered on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, diagonally across from the Waldorf Astoria hotel, on a balmy evening last week to serve as a counter-protest against those who would defame and denigrate the IDF.
Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of Staff of the IDF, was being honored at a Waldorf dinner hosted by Friends of the IDF. The haters of Israel – not only Arabs but also a host of left-wingers, including Jewish groups – had announced plans to protest the salute to the IDF, and the usual defenders of Israel rose to the challenge and planned the counter protest.
As executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI, one of the first organizations to always get out in the streets to voice support for Israel, it was only natural for me to join with Marvin Belsky and Andy Upton of the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam, and Lori Lowenthal Marcus of Z Street, who were in the forefront of the planning.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel was working with us along with the members of Get Out The Facts, Shalom International, Stand With Us, the World Committee for the Land of Israel, and the ZOA. So many familiar faces were in the crowd – too many to name here, but they are our mini-army of supporters.
Waving flags, carrying signs, distributing flyers, listening to the speakers, they carry with them hearts filled with love for Israel. There were also those who were with us for the first time. Many Russians joined us, explaining that they are eager to come to Israel’s defense. Young students showed up en masse, not bused in by their schools but coming voluntarily to show their support. It was a heartwarming display of unity.
But where were the mainstream organizations and their leaders? The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is comprised of 52 Jewish groups. Where were they? Why is it that Israelis like Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim, Yossi Baumol of the Hebron Fund and Col. BenZion Gruber felt they had to come and speak to the crowd? Why did Rabbi David Algaze feel it was important enough for him to attend and give a rousing talk? Where were the other rabbis who should have been there with us?
We needed the thousands the Presidents Conference could have brought along in order to offset the endless number of anti-Israel demonstrators. They marched along Park Avenue directly in front of the Waldorf carrying professionally made black signs with white lettering, all declaring the brutality of Israel. Their organization was impressive, with marshals directing their route.
A great deal of money had obviously been put into the planning and execution of the demonstration. They had a huge sound system set up at the location assigned to them by the police, but most of the demonstrators were not inside their designated “pen.” The majority were marching through the streets. It was especially distressing to see the Jews from groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No!, and Neturei Karta joining with our enemies. Would that our pro-Israel Jews were as visible and vocal.
Our group had been assigned to our “pen” on the west side of Park Avenue, between 50th and 51st streets. We obediently remained within the barricades, displaying our banners, flags, and signs until I saw the anti-Israel marchers walking right past the entrance to the Waldorf. The police officer I had spoken to in arranging our permit had assured me the “antis” would not be allowed to march. And there they were, not only marching, but passing the front doors of the hotel as the dinner guests were arriving.
What I hadn’t understood when planning our counter-protest was that it was perfectly all right to be a moving protestor – it was standing in one place that wouldn’t be permitted. So a group of us crossed the street with our signs and Israeli and American flags and began walking also. Shortly after we appeared, the police put a barricade up in front of the hotel. I wouldn’t say the NYPD was working with the antis and against us, because we’ve always had great support from the police. This time, however, the police seemed to have been outsmarted by the antis and only caught on when we came into the picture.