Jewish peace activists dispute anti-Israel link

WASHINGTON — Judith Seid sees no contradiction between her support for the state of Israel and her attending Saturday's rally here opposing a U.S. war on Iraq.

"Israel is legitimate and required for the Jewish people," said Seid, but its safety shouldn't be used as an excuse for a strike aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "You don't have to be anti-Israel to be anti-war."

The signs carried at the rally by Seid's group, the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, made the group's feeling clear: "This War is Not About Israel. It's About Oil" and "Secular Jews Say No to Bush War."

With a mood characterized by defiance and resignation, a police-estimated 30,000 demonstrators marched in Washington on Saturday, although march organizers put the number far higher. The rally was one of several anti- war protests held over the weekend across the United States, including one in San Francisco, as a possible war with Iraq looms.

Before the rally, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement warning that previous anti-war rallies had embraced Palestinian terrorism, equated Zionism with Nazism and called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

At the Washington rally, there were marked differences regarding Israel among the participants.

The most obvious anti-Zionist voices were limited to a few individuals' homemade signs — one that read "Zionism=Fascism", for example — and a small delegation from Neturei Karta, an anti-Zionist religious Jewish group.

A spokesman for Neturei Karta, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Freimann, said, "Israel is manipulating U.S. foreign policy" and "putting Jewish people throughout the world in danger."

One pro-Palestinian group in attendance at the rally, Stop U.S. Tax Aid to Israel Now, said U.S. policy in Israel is linked to this country's stance on Iraq in that both are part of America's desire to control the region's energy supply.

Matt Bowles, a member of the group who sold T-shirts at the rally bearing the slogan "We are all Palestinians," said the looming war in Iraq "needs to be understood in the context of larger Middle East policy, which is about maintaining control over resources in the region."

But Yael Savage, an Israeli from Safed who lives in Worcester, Mass., said it is unfair to connect the two countries' situations because unlike Israel, the U.S. "is not under constant threat."

A member of Baltimore Jews for Israeli- Palestinian Peace, Dr. Terry Fitzgerald, said there is an "element of the movement against the war in Iraq that opposes the existence of Israel in any form, but that's not the heart of it," he said. "The U.S. government, by promoting disorder in the region, hurts Israel."

The 53-year-old emergency medicine physician, who marched with the banner slogan "Jews for Peace," said dissenters should separate support for Israel from support for the Sharon government, just like opposing the Bush government does not have to mean opposition to the United States as a whole.

Among the groups officially involved in the march, which drew support from more than 200 organizations around the country, were A Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

The two groups are part of the umbrella organization United for Peace, the coalition that co-organized the day's events.

One concern voiced by Jewish participants at the rally is what they call the absence of open debate within the Jewish community about Israel.

"The pro-Israeli lobby in this country has done a disservice by being so shrill that it has turned common people who don't know about the situation" toward anti-Israel sentiment or anti-Semitism, said Mary Dagold, a Reform Jew and a librarian in Baltimore. "There is a lack of subtlety, which has hurt Israel a lot.''