Three days before a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli security forces during a violent confrontation in the West Bank Friday, Rabbi Avi Weiss warned the United Nations that a Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state might “inspire” violence.
“If from that declaration there will be violence in the Middle East, the blood will be dripping from your hands,” Rabbi Weiss said as he looked at the U.N. while standing in the street in front of the building, blocking traffic before he and five others were arrested for disorderly conduct.
The protest, which was coordinated in advance with the New York Police Department, was delayed 20 minutes to allow the motorcade of President Barack Obama to pass. More than a dozen supporters were on hand as the group walked into the street at First Avenue and 40th Street and ignored two police warnings to clear the road.
“Where there is evil, we must raise a voice for moral conscience,” Rabbi Weiss said as the police placed him in handcuffs. “We live in a world where the wicked are deemed righteous, where the righteous are deemed wicked, and where the president of Iran is given a standing ovation and the State of Israel is condemned.”
As he stepped into the paddy wagon, Rabbi Weiss said: “God said `I have placed before you good and evil, blessing and curses, life and death.’ We are here to tell the delegates, leaders of the world, `Choose goodness, choose righteousness, choose life.’”
Rabbi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder of Amcha: the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, said later that he has been arrested more than two dozen times for acts of civil disobedience, including in front of the U.N. to protest a prior appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the arrest was a first for Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel. She was arrested along with Cheryl Jacobs-Lewin, AFSI’s Chicago chapter chairwoman, and three New Yorker: Sarah Rosenbaum, Miriam Prince and longtime civil rights leader Glenn Richter. They were all released after an hour and ordered to appear in court Dec. 5.
Freedman said later that she only wished her arrest “would mean something.”
“We were there to send a message that the U.N. is a den of vipers that has as its main goal the delegitimization of Israel,” she said.
While all of this was going on, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Israeli Consulate in New York held what was billed as an “open dialogue” in which Israeli citizens of different ethnic backgrounds discussed with a diverse group of New Yorkers Israel’s status and future. It was held at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a block from the U.N.
Among those in attendance were Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, who said he is aware of the anti-Israel campaigns at many campuses in the United States.
“We know we have a problem on campuses with the younger generation,” he told The Jewish Week. “There is a perception that Israel is on the wrong side of the human rights issue, and they speak of the occupation and of the separation barrier and apartheid.
“But I have spoken on many campuses and I see people who are combating these lies, some of which are coming from Jewish students. So we are trying to spread a different word about Israel, not to hide our problems and pretend there are none, but to show our diversity.”
He added that the Birthright Israel programs that provide a free two-week trip to Israel for Jews 18 to 26 are providing young Jews with an accurate glimpse of what Israel is really like.
“They don’t come back as right-wingers or pro-Israel activists but they have an understanding of the true picture – there is not apartheid or oppression.”
At a press conference, he said the open dialogue program offered an insight into Israel “the way it really is with real Israelis — their social problems and politics.”
And then in an allusion to the Palestinians seeking U.N. recognition as a state while refusing to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, Edelstein said:
“You can only reach each other through dialogue and conversation. If you pretend the other does not exist, you get nowhere.”
Dialogue was also the purpose of a meeting at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. last Wednesday when the U.S. State Department brought together young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs to discuss their work. The students – eight Israelis and eight Palestinians – represent an “alliance of young groups of Muslim and Jewish business leaders who cooperate each and every day with their neighbors and seek a comprehensive peace plan,” according to Rabbi Marc Schneier, who helped facilitate the discussion.
Rabbi Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said the young people sat side-by-side talking about their work and at the same time developing growing friendships. He noted that the U.S. State Department has called upon him in the past to meet with visitors and discuss his group’s successful Muslim-Jewish outreach programs.
When the U.N. 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly opened this week, the Simon Wiesenthal Center launched a $50,000 cable television ad campaign urging the Palestinian Authority and the Arab nations to finally recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The ads, seen on CNN and Fox here and in five other cities with large Jewish populations, are a first for the center.
They show Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telling his people in Arabic that he will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
“In the world we live in today with technology and the Internet, the Palestinian Authority’s political game is becoming more exposed,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean. “You can have a speech translated now within minutes. The PA presents themselves a certain way to the U.N., but behind the scenes they are rejecting and demonizing Israel. Coupled with their proposal to the U.N. this week, we felt that this was the time to explain to the world what the Palestinians have set out to do.”
Rabbi Cooper said that despite the political divide in Washington, he found that “support for Israel is still strong … and Democrats and Republicans came together when we showed them the ad.”
“You make peace with someone who is ready to respect you,” Rabbi Cooper added. “Israelis hate being suckers.”
He said the Palestinian leadership does not want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state because that would then close the door on the claims of the 4 million Palestinians who are said to want to return to Israel proper.