Two rallies: which crowd do you want to be in?

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Two diametrically opposite worlds existed nearly side-by-side June 1.

Just blocks away in Midtown Manhattan, dueling rallies expressed their views on the massacre of 9 activists aboard the Turkish Mavi Mamara, part of a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip. One rally, on 46th St. and 1st Ave., near the Turkish Mission to the U.N., was in “support of Israel’s flotilla self-defense,” while the other, at 42nd St. and 2nd Ave. across from the Israeli Consulate, denounced the killings.

Pamela Olson (who wrote about one aspect of our experience here), a journalist working on a book titled Fast Times in Palestine, and I met at the rally across the street from the Israeli Consulate, but decided to check out the pro-flotilla massacre rally.

The contrast was striking on a couple of levels. As Olson wrote, the pro-Israel rally only had about 150 people, while the Palestine solidarity rally had nearly 1,000. But what’s even more striking to me was what the make-up of the dueling rallies said.

At the action supporting Israel, I would guess it was majority Jewish. Some were religious, some were secular, but they all shared the delusional belief that Israel was under attack from the whole world (well, maybe not so delusional anymore, given that virtually every nation besides the U.S. has condemned Israel over the raid), that the people on the boats were terrorists, and that there was nothing wrong with what Israel did. Oh, and that there’s no crisis in Gaza. Everything there is just fine.

They chanted and sang, “am Yisrael chai”– the people of Israel live, in Hebrew.

If this act of murder on the high seas doesn’t change their mind, nothing will. According to them, nobody can criticize Israel; if you do, you’re a terrorist-sympathizing anti-Semite.

The pro-Israel rally was demographically homogenous, much older on average, and a poor reflection of the diversity of New York City.

Before a police officer threatened me with arrest if I stayed where I was, I engaged, civilly, with some of the Jewish supporters of Israel’s “self-defense.” I wanted to hear what they had to say, but it wasn’t anything novel. It was the standard hasbara line about the ships. One person interjected in the conversation I was having, and said, “don’t talk to him, he doesn’t like Jews.” When I informed him I was Jewish, he rolled his eyes, as if he did not believe me or that he thinks the only way you are truly Jewish is if you support Zionism.

Olson said to me that these people were like the whites in the South who opposed integration during the civil rights movement. Yes, as John Mearsheimer put it, these were the New Afrikaners.

At the Palestine solidarity rally, it was a beautiful display of multi-ethnic, multi-religious unity, condemning the Israeli massacre. Muslims, Arabs, Turks, Christians, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics. And yes, many, many Jews of conscience. These Jews are the “righteous Jews,” as Mearsheimer said. More and more of the “great ambivalent middle” are going to cross over to the “righteous” side, the side that is about justice and equality, because of the deplorable actions Israel continues to take.

The world on display at the Palestine solidarity rally is the one I want to live in.

It’s the world where Jews and Arabs join hand in hand fighting for justice.

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