Chesler Chronicles

Celebrating and Protesting Israel's Birth: From Jerusalem to the Sidewalks of New York

(Written with the help of Fern Sidman)

As a child, my mother took me to the Radio City Music Hall to see the dazzling, long-limbed Rockettes dance. For decades, the Music Hall symbolized glitzy entertainment, New York style. Radio City was also where I went when I was interviewed on NBC and when I dined at the Big Band-era Rainbow Room, a 65th floor precursor to and survivor of the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World. The Rainbow Room also has windows that look out onto the immediate world.

On Wednesday evening, May 7th, Jews around the world celebrated the miraculous 60th anniversary of the birth of Israel as a modern state. In New York City, an historic extravaganza took place at Radio City Music Hall. An attempt to Palestinianize this Art Deco palace also took place. It failed, it did not interrupt the considerable joy within but still, the Haters are everywhere, there is no event they do not picket.

Wherever one turns, one finds the same monotonous anti-Israeli, anti-American, and pro-Palestinian propaganda. It has invaded our air waves, our campuses, and the entire global internet. Complex realities and wrenching truths have been reduced to lying, paranoid hate speech which wraps itself in the righteous garments of “oppression” and “liberation.” On the march, its face is raging and hateful.

In Israel, its Arab citizens attended a mass rally and march to mark the 60th anniversary of “the Naqba” (Catastrophe). According to Ynet, Violence flared up when the Palestinian organizers failed to control their own demonstrators who repeatedly clashed with Israeli police and civilians. Five Israeli police were injured. A group of peaceful, young Israeli members who belong to the volunteer group,”If You Will,” raised an Israeli flag at a picnic–in their own country, as they celebrated their Independence. The Arab demonstrators demanded that they lower the flag. Arguments broke out. Violence ensued.

My colleague, the journalist Fern Sidman, called me from Radio City Music Hall. She sounded upset, anything but jubilant.

“A well organized bus-load of 75 pro-Palestinians with an excellent sound system and all the usual banners and posters are here. There are only a handful of Jews, maybe ten to fifteen, and mainly from Stand With Us, who are standing up for Israel.”

“Calm down,” I said. “After all, the UJA clearly commands the high ground. They’ve booked the Music Hall. They, their talent, their guests, are the insiders. Everyone else is outside, they’re outsiders, trying to spoil the event, hoping to get some air-time.”

Still, Fern’s distress got to me. That–and something else. In the past, I admit it, I have spoken for and marched with some of the very pro-PLO protestors who were there. I did not do so against Israel or for “Palestine,” but for women’s rights. (The left really knows how to infiltrate indigenous movements). I always thought they were harmless enough, but slightly nutty. They said they were “Maoists.” Since they seemed sane enough, I thought that perhaps one of them might be a CIA or FBI agent. Otherwise, I could not understand their relentless cheerfulness, incessant drive, and dark conspiracy theories.

Fern described them as “a vitriolic cadre of anti-Israel protestors” who “boisterously excoriated” both Israel and the United States for their “oppression” of the Palestinian people. An organization called “Palestinian Action–Union Square East” sponsored the protest along with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, an anachronistic Maoist organization. The 75 demonstrators, organized and led by Mary Lou (McKinley) Greenberg, chanted such slogans as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” and “Not a Nickel, Not a Dime, No more Money for Israel’s Crimes. ” They simultaneously drew parallels between the plight of the Palestinian people and the “racist” verdicts in the Sean Bell case in which three New York City detectives (two African-American and one Caucasian), were exonerated in the tragic, senseless shooting.

“We are calling for the absolute right of return of the Palestinian people to their homeland”, said Myka Abramson, 23, a protestor representing the Palestinian cause. Abramson, who identified herself as a “Jewish feminist,” added that, “a two state solution to the Middle East conflict is not acceptable. We are rallying our forces to demand a one state solution, a secular democracy in which the Palestinians are masters of their own fate.”

She did not address the reality that Hamas would not accept a secular democratic state. Oh, is this little one lost and she is not alone; so many others are lost right along with her.

None of the protestors addressed the issue of incessant rocket attacks launched against southern Israel by Hamas in Gaza, but instead, rather mindlessly castigated the IDF for committing “genocide” against Palestinians living in Gaza.

A male demonstrator who was selling copies of the Revolutionary Communist Party newspaper, formerly titled “The Revolutionary Worker, ” chanted, “from Harlem to Palestine to Haiti we call for a revolutionary struggle for freedom for all oppressed peoples and we call for an end to the Israeli apartheid regime.”

Fern bought a copy of this rag for $1.00. It displayed ancient photos of Iranian activists protesting the Shah in the late 1970s but not of the brave Iranian activists who routinely oppose the mullahs in the twenty-first century. It also presented China as a positive force for good–and did not note their recent brutalities in Tibet and elsewhere.

The Palestinian contingent was also joined by 15 members of the notoriously anti-Zionist Chareidi movement, “Neturei Karta” whose members held signs calling for the “Peaceful Dismantlement of Israel. ” They also claimed that “Jews in Exile are Forbidden to Have Their Own State”. They failed to mention that they are on Amadinejad’s payroll. Are these guys allowed out without a psychiatrist-on-board?

Although greatly outnumbered by the anti-Israel protestors, the members of Stand With Us proudly hoisted an Israeli flag and held signs saying, “Stop the Hamas Terror” and “End the Hamas Bloody Occupation of Gaza”.

An African-American woman named Coretta James joined the members of Stand With Us to express her unwavering support for Israel . “Israel is the only viable democracy in the Middle East and a loyal ally of the United States”, she said, adding that, “As a member of Christians United For Israel, I am here today to tell the world that Israel has every right to exist as a clearly identifiable Jewish state. Every nation of the world that has risen up to attack the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has eventually become extinct and so too, these demonstrators who dare attack God’s chosen people will also eventually disappear. The establishment of Israel as a Jewish nation is extolled in the Bible and those who curse the Jewish people and Israel will be cursed and conversely those who bless the Jewish people and the Land of Israel will be blessed by God. That is why I am here today.”

Sister James does not sound like she attends the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Church.

Another pro-Israel demonstrator said, “In many ways, it is purely illogical that Israel should still be in existence. After five major wars and unceasing terrorism, the continued existence of tiny Israel, outnumbered by adversarial forces much mightier than herself is nothing short of a Divine miracle of mammoth proportions.” He added, “I feel and I fear that the times ahead will not portend well for Israel, as a Jewish State. The entire world is turning against Israel and she is becoming more isolated and reviled. As the global influence of radical Islamists continues to dramatically escalate, our only hope lies with our return to the God that saved our ancestors.”

Another Isaiah in our midst.

But most of all, Radio City Music Hall and the UJA hosted thousands of pro-Israel supporters . The energy was very high. One friend tells me that “people stood on their seats, translated from Hebrew for their partners, laughed, applauded, almost danced in the aisles. Radio City Music Hall may not have seen anything like this before.”

Of course, there were serious speeches by Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, Ambassador Gillerman, who said that “in some ways, Israel faces greater threats today than ever before.” The actress Natalie Portman was the M.C. (I am told that when she left the stage, some members of the audience became distraught). Many Israeli stars appeared including David Broza, Idan Raichel, Rami Kleinstein, Habanot Nechama and Yael Naim. Also appearing on the bill were top American performer and Hasidic reggae phenomenon Matisyahu, and “Late Show With David Letterman” bandleader Paul Shaffer, who performed a comic skit. The event also included a moving tribute to Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror as part of Israel’s Memorial Day.

I wish I could have been there. Next year I will be. But, I remember the block parties in Brooklyn when World War Two ended and I remember the thrilling moments of Israel’s perilous birth: Listening to the radio-vote at the United Nations, reading about the 1948 fighting and victories. I will never forget those moments, or that year. They will last me a lifetime.