Cindy Sheehan, at Marin JCC, dispels rumors of anti-Israel ties

Cindy Sheehan has been attacked in the Jewish community for her alleged ties to anti-Zionist groups and purported statements against Israel.

In front of a packed house at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center on Thursday evening, March 2, Sheehan clarified her views on Israel as well as her staunch opposition of President Bush and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Four days later, Sheehan was arrested in New York outside the U.S. mission to the United Nations, where she and three others sat down in front of the building, refused to leave, were arrested and later released.

In conversation with KQED radio host Michael Krasny in San Rafael, Sheehan was clearly in her element while talking about what she calls the atrocities of the Bush administration. But she appeared to be in a vulnerable place when speaking of her son, Casey, who was killed April 4, 2004 in Iraq after only five days in combat.

Sheehan was mostly in good company with her JCC audience, who sympathized with the grief-stricken mother and cheered at her particularly strong statements against the Bush administration. However, Sheehan was called upon twice to clarify her views on Israel.

Krasny brought up familiar allegations, including Sheehan’s statements that Israel should not be in Palestinian territories and that her son did not go to war to defend Israel.

“I never said that,” Sheehan said of the statement about her son. “I do believe that all occupations are wrong, no matter who’s occupying what country.”

She cautioned the audience not to believe that she is anti-Semitic because she is against some of the policies of the government of Israel. She said she believes both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist peacefully.

When asked whether she thought the Iraq war was about Israel, Sheehan answered that she did not. She did say to take heed when interpreting Middle East borders. “We have to realize that these borders are lines drawn on a piece of paper and they’re drawn by men who often don’t have our best interests at heart. Those borders are lines that we need to cross … [and] to forge.”

Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections probably are directly related to, and a reaction against, President Bush’s war against terror, she said.

Crying occasionally, and twirling her foot as she spoke, Sheehan recalled feeling horrified by a comment made by Barbara Bush on the day that Sheehan and her Gold Star Families for Peace protested outside George Bush Sr.’s home in Texas. “She said she didn’t want to waste her beautiful mind on images of body bags. Did she think that I wanted to waste my beautiful mind seeing my son come home in a flag-draped coffin?

“When we picked him up from the loading dock, he was in a cardboard box … does she think that I wanted to see that?”

Maureen Dixon of the Osher Marin JCC said she heard little public Jewish outcry about having Sheehan speak, receiving a total of two letters and one phone call. She urged people to do a little research before coming to conclusions about Sheehan, saying, “Rumors can take on a life on their own. It’s what propaganda is all about.”

Sheehan asked audience members to step out of their comfort zones if they do not agree with the Iraq war. She said she is unwilling to discontinue her strong rhetoric.

“My son died,” she said. “Someone has to rein this administration in. I am willing to take the slander … the smears, the name calling, the death threats, because I’m propelled to — it just has to be done and it’s the right thing to do.”

The audience lined up at the end of the evening to meet Sheehan, many appearing happy to have attended.

“I was pleasantly surprised.” said James Dubey. “I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’ve read so many conflicting reports about her [positions regarding Israel]. She struck me as sincere, well-spoken and passionate.”

Dubey said that although Sheehan can be a bit loose with her facts and oversimplifications at times, he is glad she is speaking out.

“God bless her for putting her neck on the line,” he said. “Her message is so important.”