Letters to the editor: Week of Aug. 13, 2014

JCRC policy on counter-rallies needs rethinking

I read the letter from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), expressing its position on rallies in the Aug. 6 edition of the Light. Regarding counter-rallies, the JCRC rigidly pronounced that it has a standing policy opposing them because they “validate” the other guys, bring attention to them and provoke physical violence. 

In my opinion, last week we proved that “policy” and its underlying premises to be wrong. Our community can behave responsibly without violence or rude verbal exchanges. It just takes thought. And to think otherwise sells our community short. Further, our rally actually did not call attention to the other side. People driving up Hanley Road saw us. They probably had no idea others were somewhere else. At the same time, the other guys saw us and saw they can’t intimidate or assume that everyone agrees with them. I think it was important that they were shown the Israeli and American flags. The media was also, finally, given a chance to see community support for Israel — sorely lacking up to that point — in the face of so many biased letters and articles.

What is missing from the JCRC’s recitation of other community activities is passion. Its all too cerebral. There is a place for that. But people also felt emotion — love of Israel,  pride in Judaism. Our community had a right to an outlet for that feeling. I’m not alone in feeling a family connection to Israel. Many people were in agony over what was happening to our friends and family there. We needed to publicly show that we cared. Afterward, so many people told me they had never felt so proud to be a Jew. Frankly, I believe our leadership showed a tin ear to this emotional need. They missed an opportunity to unite us emotionally, in support of our Jewish homeland. Worse, this lapse occurred at a dire time, when our brothers and sisters were literally under rocket attack, fighting for their very survival. Ironically, I know that our leaders and staff in the Jewish Federation building care deeply for Israel and no one was more concerned than they. What a shame that they separated themselves from the rest of us at a time when we all should be together.

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David A. Rubin, Creve Coeur

The JCRC’s  letter of Aug. 6, “JCRC position on rallies” by Phyllis Markus and Batya Abramson-Goldstein presented  some carefully crafted reasons why JCRC and the Jewish Federation do not organize counter rallies under any circumstances. That policy must be modified; it is far too rigid. The best example for such a change was the tremendously successful grassroots counter-rally organized at the last minute by several community activists, led by Lynnsie Kantor and David Rubin, who refused to allow our Jewish community to cede the streets of Clayton to a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Had the JCRC/Federation lent their early support to this effort, the turnout of 300 or more counter-protesters mobilized in less than 24 hours easily could have been tripled.

 Why are counter-rallies sometimes required? Because their absence leaves the streets and all the publicity to the original protesters; they present a visible counterweight and an alternative reality to the public. If well-planned, organized and disciplined, they will not provoke physical violence or ugly verbal exchanges, especially if the police are informed and involved. Obviously, if a tiny number of Klansmen or neo-Nazis are protesting, the JCRC logic of not counter-protesting might be valid. But dozens or hundreds of pro-Pales tinian protesters (including members of the so-called “Jewish Voice for Peace”) looking for publicity, damning Israel and Zionism and slandering the Jewish People,  requires a strong community response at that time and place.

Such rallies as occurred with the counter-protest in Clayton, with represention from all streams of Judaism and participation by Christians, can be tremendously empowering and heartening and produce feelings of pride and accomplishment in the Jewish community. This is also true, of course, for proactive public rallies and demonstrations and marches (not “gatherings”) that are planned in support of Israel and not limited to countering anything. I sincerely hope that the JCRC/Federation leadership will heed the voices for change on this question.

Irl Solomon, St. Louis County 

Article on rallies angers reader

As a participant in the Aug. 3 counter-rally in Clayton, I am angered and appalled by the front-page article on the rallies (“Demonstrators reflect deep, divisive Gaza positions”) in the Aug. 6 issue of the Light. The article strives to present “even-handed” coverage of the rally organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Palestine Solidarity Community, calling on the U.S. to stop providing aid to Israel, and our counter-rally organized by a grassroots group of pro-Israel Jews. 

The article refers to Hamas as “militants,” despite the fact that since 1997, the U.S. Department of State has designated Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Almost half of the article (I counted 15 paragraphs) gives voice to claims by the anti-Israel protesters, alleging that “Israel started the conflict,” and blaming Israel for the fact that there are no bomb shelters in Gaza, etc. Also, the article quotes a member of “Jewish Voice for Peace,” who advocates for a “one-state solution,” meaning that the combined territory of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank should be one government and one state. Jews understand that such a situation would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish State, and shortly thereafter the end of Israel.

Given that the Jewish Light is the newspaper of the St. Louis Jewish community, I would expect it to reflect a pro-Israel orientation, and to explain some of the untruths that are frequently presented in the mainstream media. We don’t need another mouthpiece for anti-Israel rhetoric.

Rachel Katzman, Richmond Heights

Pride in supporting Israel

I’m proud to say that I took part in the pro- Israel counter-demonstration on Aug. 3 in Clayton.

As a strong pro-Israel advocate, it was important to me to not only to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk (in this instance, literally).

Although at times over the years, I have criticized Israeli policies, I feel that I, and other Jews throughout the world, have a moral obligation to support Israel  unequivocally and undeniably when Israel is under attack from its enemies, as it is now in its war against Hamas, arguably the most anti-Israel Palestinian terrorist organization, whose stated mission is  destroying the Jewish State.

It blows my mind and makes my blood boil to know that there were Jews in the pro-Palestinian contingent, whose protests for the human rights and suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza  (it’s obvious they didn’t give a damn about the loss of Jewish lives caused by the fighting and the endless rocket attacks upon Israel) were, de facto (though they might not readily admit it) proponents of Hamas.

To me, this is unconscionable, despicable, and reprehensible, that they would support a terrorist organization bent upon destroying their own people.

Perhaps God can forgive them. I know I can’t.

Gene Carton, Olivette

Time for action on humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq

The recent U.S. airdrops of food and medicine brought global attention to a humanitarian crisis among as many as 40,000 members of religious minorities in Iraq who have been dying of heat and thirst on a mountaintop after death threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. (ISIS, or the “Islamic State”).

Operation Protective Edge was simply a precursor to the more significant cauldron of bloodshed and unrest brewing between Islamist militants and moderates in the Middle East. Minorities in Syria and Iraq are being ordered to convert to Islam or face death.

Certainly our Jewish community must be at the forefront of the effort to stop these horrific acts.

Let’s stand together with our Christian and other brothers and sisters facing these barbarians, with voices loud and resolute. Not now, not ever…Never again.

Jay B. Umansky, President, Midwest Jewish Congress

Column resonates with U.City High alum 

I truly appreciate Editor-in-Chief Robert A. Cohn’s July 16 “Cohnipedia” column about Glenora Jones Hunt, the first African-American to graduate from U. City High School (UCHS), in 1957.  

As a UCHS grad of 1949, I recall going with classmate Joy Orenstein (Lieberman) to ask our principal if the NAACP/NCCJ youth group we were involved with could speak at UCHS.  He told us that UCHS wasn’t “ready for that.”

I don’t believe enough credit has been given to the actions of Archbishop Joseph Ritter of the St. Louis Archdiocese, who had desegregated all Catholic schools in 1951, a few years before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.  Ritter’s executive action and subsequent threat to excommunicate those who openly opposed him did much to help the wider St. Louis community meet desegregation without the open opposition and riots that occurred in many other cities.

Times have changed, but I hope that UCHS and its community still offer quality education and liberal leadership.

Merle Fischlowitz, San Diego, Calif. 

Greetings from Jerusalem

As a former St. Louisian who has lived in Israel for more than 30 years, I am taking this opportunity to send greetings from Jerusalem and to express our deep thanks and appreciation for your concern about what is happening here.

If there is one small bright spot, it is to mention how united the country is as never before. The government has received a 95 percent approval rating. 

The discovery of the massive tunnel system into Israel — and Hamas’ plans for a Rosh Hashana attack —  was an eye-opener for many that the issue is not “settlers, religious fanatics, occupiers, etc.” It is simply that Israel’s enemy seeks to drive Jews out from this part of the world.

There has been a relatively large increase in the number of new olim from France. When asked if they weren’t afraid of the bombs, many replied that they were even more afraid to walk down a street in France, as they could easily be beaten up and no one would come to their aid!

Yes, Israel does have warts, which must be addressed. However, it is an oasis of love and beauty, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Bryna Franklin, Jerusalem