WASHINGTON (JTA) – Several thousand people spent a sweltering afternoon outside the United States Capitol at a rally on Sunday that denounced anti-Semitism as anti-American and argued that Jewish identity and support for Israel are inextricable.
These were the unifying messages of the “No Fear” rally on Sunday, which drew around 2,000 people, but there were differences between speakers and the crowd over how precisely Israel figures in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Some of the strongest messages have come from people who have suffered anti-Semitic attacks in recent years. A recurring theme among these speakers was that they never expected to experience such attacks in the United States. Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Noginsky, who was stabbed in a July 1 attack in Boston, appeared with his arm still in a sling, and in obvious pain.
“I was born in the Soviet Union in the city of St. Petersburg,” Noginsky said in Hebrew, after explaining that he was still too sorry to speak English fluently. “I remember how, even as a child, I experienced terrible anti-Semitism. Never in my darkest dreams had I imagined that I would feel the same here in the United States, the land of freedom and endless possibilities.
The crowd shouted “heroes! As Noginsky spoke. He had kept the assailant at bay outside a Chabad center where about 100 children were in summer camp.
Another speaker hailed as a hero was Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who described saying the viduy, the Jewish prayer before death, as a gunman 11 worshipers shot dead in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Myers was the first to alert police to the attack.
“We take these truths for granted that all men are created equal, that they are all endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Myers said, citing the statement. of Independence. “Being anti-Semitic means you don’t accept this pact to be American.”
The rally attracted a wide range of sponsoring organizations, spanning the religious spectrum and many mainstream right-wing and pro-Israel central Jewish organizations.
Notably absent were representatives of more left-wing groups who were invited to join but chose not to participate because some of the sponsoring groups adhere to a definition of anti-Semitism that encompasses harsh criticism of Israel, including the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. Groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose BDS, but refuse to define it as anti-Semitic.
Melissa Landa, who heads the Alliance for Israel, a relatively new group whose central premise is that BDS is anti-Semitic, set the tone from the start of the event. She had launched plans for the rally after anti-Semitism increased during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May,
She spoke of the “shared promise for our children, that they will be free to live as proud Jews and exercise their religious freedoms granted by the Constitution of the United States, free to wear their kippah and Magen Davids and free to talk about their love of Israel. without being assaulted on the streets of New York or Los Angeles.
Landa, like other speakers, has appointed lawmakers on the left or the right who have been accused in recent months of anti-Semitism. Mentions of Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota whose criticism of Israel was seen by Jewish groups as a shift to anti-Semitism, in particular elicited much louder boos than those of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who drew fire for peddling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and for compare coronavirus restrictions to Nazi laws.
Noa Tishby, an Israeli actor, appeared with conservative expert Meghan McCain and Alma hernandez, a lawmaker from the Democratic state of Arizona. Everyone has suggested that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism.
“Much of today’s anti-Semitism simply attributes to the Jewish state all the evil tropes, lies and slander that have been used for centuries to justify the worst horrors against the Jewish people,” Tishby said, who is well known in Israel and recently published a book called “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on the Planet”. “As you will hear today, this hatred is used to attack our Jewish communities. It is used to impose a heavy price on anyone who identifies as a Jew or even God forbid, Zionist. “
McCain has become a staunch advocate for Israel on “The View” talk show – from which she announced her departure earlier this month – and elsewhere.
“I am Meghan McCain and I am a Zionist because apparently this is now something that is controversial to say,” she said at the rally.
Elisha Wiesel, the son of the late Holocaust columnist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, had joined in planning the rally to bring together dominant and liberal groups after Landa hit a wall in them. making come.
Large traditional groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, as well as the Orthodox Union and reformist and conservative movements, have signed on as sponsors, but few of their representatives spoke.
Wiesel said he feared division but was appeased by the unity he saw.
“The sages teach that it was our own hatred for each other that caused the destruction of the first and second temples,” he said. “And in the weeks leading up to this gathering, it was this fear that dominated my field of vision, the fear that our community would be irreparably divided. This fear is our enemy’s dream. But looking at you all today, if it becomes clear that instead of dividing us, the enemies of the Jewish people, whether on the right or on the left at home or abroad, they have instead United.
Wiesel appeared to nod at concerns from some liberal groups – that criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians would be mistaken for anti-Semitism at the rally.
“We can disagree even passionately, without being divided. We can even disagree on Israel, ”he said. “We must not tolerate calls for an end to the Jewish state of Israel, through a one-state solution that once again leaves Jews defenseless. We must also not tolerate denigration or hatred of the aspiration for dignity and self-determination of our Palestinian cousins. If we hate, we won’t win.
Just minutes after her own speech, Wiesel stepped in to help another speaker – Erika Moritsugu, Assistant Assistant to President Biden, who represented the White House, and was booed. A group of supporters of former President Donald Trump shouted during her speech, particularly when she mentioned that President Joe Biden had decided to run after the murderous 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. Asset ambiguity in condemning the marchers, which has become a sensitive point among his followers.
“Stolen election! A man shouted. “You pay the terrorists money!” another said. One of them held up a sign saying “Screw Kristen Clarke”. Clarke, who heads the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, was criticized during her confirmation hearings for having hosted an anti-Semitic speaker at an event while a Harvard student decades ago.
Moritsugu looked pissed off and others in the crowd silenced the booers. After he finished speaking, Wiesel stepped in and said, to applause: “I would like everyone to thank you. President Biden for the way the White House stood alongside Israel during the Gaza war.
The Reverend Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness – the public advocacy wing of the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly – called on the Civil Rights-era Black Jewish Alliance to acclaim.
“I am here today to express my support for the Jewish community in the face of anti-Semitism, the shooting deaths and attempted murders in synagogues, shops and homes,” he said. “Now is the time for solidarity. Now there is a time of unity.
A couple from Kensington, Maryland, Bruce and Malka Kutnick, were annoyed by the presence of the Jewish far right at the rally. Malka Kutnick said she was reassured by Wiesel’s claim before the rally that people who don’t care about Israel’s existence and the Kahanists – supporters of the end extremist rabbi Meir Kahane – would not be welcome. She was holding a sign saying “No to occupation, no to anti-Semitism”.
“I just got accosted by someone in a Kahane shirt,” she said. “He said I should stay with the Netorei Karta. A small group of this marginal group, both haredi orthodox and anti-Zionist, gathered on a green across the street.
Marie Berlin-Fischler, a 28-year-old preschool teacher from Washington, DC, stood with a poster saying, “My progressive comrades, you missed a place: stop anti-Semitism.
She said she felt detached from the progressive movement, which she otherwise supports.
“The problem is in this country lately, I don’t feel like someone like me can exist in a progressive space anymore without checking my intersectionality at the gate,” she said. “When I am asked to be a part of myself by presenting myself in these spaces, the gap is bridged. There is nowhere for people who want to be American like I do.