NEW YORK – Nearly a thousand people are expected to turn out for a large anti-Israel protest outside a fundraiser for the Israeli Defense Forces on Tuesday in New York City.
Focusing on IDF actions during the Gaza war, protesters plan to march outside the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where the Friends of the IDF will host a $1,000-a-plate dinner. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who is traveling to New York and Washington this week for talks with senior American officials, is scheduled to deliver the dinner’s keynote address.
But Ashkenazi will be traveling with an extra layer of security amid reports of the protest, with one article calling him the “Butcher of Gaza.” The protest is being sponsored by a broad coalition of about 25 left-wing groups, including American Jews for a Just Peace, Codepink, Gaza Freedom March and Jewish Voice for Peace. Organized by Jews Say No!, the protest was endorsed by the Israeli groups Coalition of Women for Peace and Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian Call for BDS From Within.
“We think it’s inappropriate for an American organization to be feting the Israeli army, when the Israeli army is implicated in violations of international law,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, director of Jewish Voice for Peace. She said Operation Cast Lead opened up people’s eyes to the role that the Israeli army plays. The Goldstone Report also made people consider the notion that the IDF is fallible, she added.
“Definitely, it has opened up a big conversation in the Jewish community,” she said, observing that in the past year more Jews have begun “questioning the idea that Israel is always right.”
Ashkenazi arrived in Washington Monday for a round of meetings expected to focus largely on Iran. He first stop, for talks at the Pentagon, had not finished by press time. Later he is due to head to Capitol Hill, where he will meet with Senator John McCain, a Republican who is the ranking member on the Armed Services committee.
He is then scheduled to meet with US National Security Adviser James Jones and will breakfast with his counterpart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen Tuesday morning before heading to New York. He will also be meeting with US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, according to his spokesman.
Ahead of Tuesday’s protest, organizers said they expect a thousand people to turn out. The protest itself will be somber, to reflect the gravity of last year’s Gaza war. Protestors will be dressed in black, and will march through the streets of New York City carrying signs.
Meanwhile, a smaller counter-protest is also being planned by a coalition of groups led by Americans for a Safe Israel. Groups including National Council of Young Israel and the Zionist Organization of America will participate.
“We’ll be as much of a presence as we can be,” AFSI executive director Helen Freedman said, describing IDF protestors as “ultra-liberal leftists who sympathize with Arab aggressors.”
Armed with fliers, posters and leaflets, her group’s message will be an “educational message, an informative message.” During Operation Cast Lead, she said, the IDF warned civilians in Gaza. “Who ever fights a war like that?” she asked.
But left-leaning critics who disagree plan to raise their voices on Tuesday.
“We are out to oppose the Israeli government and the Israeli government’s brutality and war crimes in Gaza, specifically,” said Hannah Schwarzschild, of American Jews for a Just Peace. She said AJJP members plan to travel to Manhattan from upstate New York, Boston and Philadelphia. “There is definitely a gathering momentum to speak out against the crimes of the IDF,” she said.
While the protest seeks to encourage people to boycott and divest from
Israel, Schwarzschild said a main focus will be the Goldstone Report
and Israel’s actions during the war.
“If there were a dinner
celebrating crimes and brutalities committed by any other people in the
world – particularly Palestinians – there would be widespread outrage,”
she said.Hilary Leila Kreiger contributed to this report.