Abuse from left, right isolates Jew at anti-Nazi rally

Truth: In 2002, 60 years after the Holocaust, a Jewish girl cannot go out to an anti-neo-Nazi rally and hold up the Israeli flag.

The past two years have been a perplexing time to be a young "liberal" Jew in America. As an Israeli-American, I have often been required to defend Israel from its liberal detractors. An epidemic is crossing our nation's campuses, as confused college kids are lumping together the American civil rights movement with the anti-apartheid movement with the Palestinian independence movement.

Encouraged by groups like the Nation of Islam, black pride slogans have been appropriated for Palestinian protests and the language of Malcolm X has been subverted to serve the adherents of Yasser Arafat.

This has been particularly disturbing to me, as I have been extensively involved with attempts to heal the breach between the Jewish and African-American communities.

During these troubling times, I remain proud of my Jewish heritage. During a mission trip to Israel with the international Hillel organization, I learned that there are no absolutes in politics just as there are no absolutes in life. My sense of Israeli and Jewish identity was rekindled as I began to realize, together with my Jewish brethren in our homeland, that no matter how I or anyone else feels about the current actions of the Israeli government, the Israeli nation has the right to exist in its current form, as a homeland for Jews. I rediscovered that as an Israeli-American, I could always hold my head up high. And I do.

Recently I sojourned to the U.S. Capitol to join the counter-rally against a neo-Nazi demonstration. As I watched the neo-Nazis approach the south Capitol lawn, my ears were pelted with offensive slogans and vile rhetoric.

How can I describe my feelings as I watched them pass, with their swastikas, Aryan banners, anti-Israel posters and crossed out Stars of David?

To these Nazi sympathizers, who applaud the victimization of minorities, of Jews, who extol the brutal slaughter of 12 million people including whole branches of my family tree, to them I wanted to sing out, "I am a Jew! I am an Israeli-American! Now it is you that are in the minority. We are strong and we are here forever!"

Unfurling a blue-and-white Israeli flag, I walked briskly and purposefully toward the gathering of anti-Nazi protesters. Watching 300 neo-Nazis with their strident rhetoric, I felt small, isolated and helpless.

As I walked toward my compatriots, my fellow protesters, I felt more empowered with each step. These were people who believed as I did, rational tolerant people whose personal morality impelled them to stand together and denunciate hatred and intolerance. They would stand with me, protest with me, and perhaps attempt to educate — with me.

Or so I thought.

As I walked deeper and deeper through the crowd of protesters, waving the Israeli flag high and proud above my head, I began to feel less and less welcome. I marched on, waving the flag even higher so each and every neo-Nazi could see the flag of the Jewish people.

Suddenly I realized that the cries and jeers at the sight of the flag originated not from the neo Nazis but from the anti-Nazi protesters.

I continued through the crowd and tried hard to ignore the glares. Inevitably, I was confronted. Abusive, although not unfamiliar words assaulted me at first: "Israel is fascist!" "Zionism is racism!" An old woman with a sweet face screamed at me, "You are a Nazi!" What had started out as a protest against racism quickly turned into a forum of hatred and fanaticism. I and the flag I held were their targets.

What could I do? Would I turn around? Could I let them disrespect this symbol of my people, and retreat in fear? I held my flag even higher. And I attempted, among the threats, the jostling and chaotic vehemence, to reason.

"I am not the enemy! The enemy is right across the street. Please, let's share this common ground and fight together!"

Despite my intense rage, I stayed true to my nonviolent beliefs and fought her and the crowd that had begun to form around me, with my words.

The crowd of anti-Nazi protesters did not have the same nonviolent ideology. I was spat upon. I was physically and verbally threatened. Grown men accosted me and tried to rip the Israeli flag out of my hands. Several were very close to actually assaulting me. Police intervened and blocked the anti-Nazi protesters from approaching me. These were supposed to be the good guys, and yet the hatred they exuded was just as potent as that of the Nazis themselves.

When a police officer told me that I should leave for my own safety, I staunchly refused. With every shout, hiss, slur and threat, the Israeli flag stood higher in my hands. Blocking out all the defamatory statements about Israel, I stood at the forefront of the protesters and held up that flag as much for them to see as for the neo-Nazis.

I have never felt more proud or more alone in my entire life.

Eventually, I was made to relinquish the flag to its owner, who wanted to leave.

I didn't want to go and give the protesters the satisfaction of my defeat, but I have never been so disgusted with humanity and wanted to be as far away from these "champions of humanitarianism" as possible.

I wanted to show them the hypocrisy of fighting fascism by tearing down a flag and telling someone she does not have the right to be there because of her heritage. I wanted to give them glasses that would correct the myopic vision with which they saw as complex a situation as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one so clear cut and categorically absolute.

But all I could do was ask them, "Why are you doing this?"

I must admit that like many young Jews and Zionists my age, I feel betrayed by American liberals. With regard to the Middle East, there seems to be no appreciation of the moral ambiguity, the political nuances, the multiple layers of media spin.

With their blind hatred of Israel, these anti-Nazi protesters treated me as roughly as the neo-Nazis on the other side of the partition would have, had they but had the opportunity.

I found myself alone in the middle. And for the first time in my life as an American, I truly understood the crushing impact of anti-Semitism.

In a very palpable way, I was an outsider, hated by everyone. With rabid anti-Semites on one side and anti-Israel fomenters on the other, surrounded by bystanders willing to do nothing as I suffered horrid abuse, I wept and as Jews must do in this post-Holocaust world, I stood my ground. Truth.