Jews speak up at rallies tinged with anti-Israel rhetoric

NEW YORK — "The World Says No to War" read one Hebrew message on signs held during this weekend's massive peace protest here.

Although posters supporting Palestinians were in evidence during Saturday's rally, the focus was on opposition to an impending U.S. war with Iraq.

"What I was most heartened by was the fact that it was an international day of protest and in New York, the crowd was unbelievably diverse," said Ruth Messinger, the president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service, who spoke at the rally.

The anti-war message that was on display in New York and major cities around the world over the weekend has been tinged with anti-Israel sentiment.

In Germany, the Berlin Association Against Anti-Semitism accused the German peace movement of anti- Semitism following Saturday's rally there, which was attended by 500,000 protesters.

From the start of the Berlin demonstration, it became clear that groups were involved whose worldview includes nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism," said a letter, signed by about 100 scholars, Jewish religious and communal leaders, and activist groups from Germany and abroad.

"Revisionist banners and anti-Israel chants were heard. Israel was depicted as pulling the strings in the Iraq conflict; its politicians were cursed as 'child killers,' and a few flags of the Islamic extremist Hamas and Hezbollah groups were waved," the letter added.

But in New York, Jews stood side by side with an estimated 100,000 to 400,000 protesters, who lined New York's East Side in wintry weather to listen to speakers ranging from Messinger to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Messinger, who said she had been turned off by some of "the anti-Zionist signs in Washington" at a Jan. 18 protest, said she believes her presence as a speaker here on Saturday sent a different message.

At an interfaith prayer service before the rally, she read a Hebrew prayer for peace and at the rally itself, she quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Amit Mashiah, a sergeant in the Israeli army and a co-founder of a conscientious objector group, also spoke at the New York rally.

"If Bush really wants to spread democracy and peace around the world today he can start with Israel," he said. "Everyone can learn from our experience that violence doesn't solve conflict."

Mashiah said although he thinks terror needs to be condemned and terrorists brought to justice, "to really eliminate terror you have to deal with the reason for hatred. You cannot get rid of terror just by force."

Mashiah dismissed the anti-Israel sentiment in the anti-war movement.

"I oppose every movement that is against Israel's right for existence," he said.