NEW YORK (New York Jewish Week) — As the rain came down and a crowd estimated at about 1,000 listened to speeches, the organizers of a rally opposed to President Obama’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fielded a request from U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Weiner (D-N.Y.), who represents a heavily Orthodox Jewish district spanning parts of Queens and Brooklyn, wanted to speak.
After some deliberation, according to Beth Galinsky, founder of the Jewish Action Alliance, the main group behind Sunday’s Manhattan rally, the congressman was told he could speak only if his comments would represent a firm break with the White House over its relationship with Israel.
In the end Weiner, who has been critical of the Obama administration’s public rebukes of Israeli settlement policies, wound up not speaking at the rally, held across Second Avenue from the Israeli Consulate here.
A Weiner spokesman declined to comment.
Galinsky did not consider Weiner’s past criticisms sufficient enough to have earned an invitation to speak, nor did she think that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) or members of the city’s House delegation — all Democrats — had done enough to oppose the administration.
Rally-goers instead heard from speakers representing an array of conservative groups, including the Hudson Institute, Americans for a Safe Israel, Z Street, the World Committee for the Land of Israel, the Zionist Organization of America and the Jerusalem Reclamation Project. The Republican Jewish Coalition was represented, as was Manhigut Yehudit, an Israeli organization that favors a theocracy for the Jewish state.
If such a list suggested healthy servings of red meat, that’s precisely what many of the speakers gave rally-goers.
Michael Ledeen, a fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told listeners that the White House policy of pressing Israel, one of the country’s key allies, while engaging enemies was “self-defeating and suicidal.”
“The American people understand this better than American leaders,” he said. “Republicans understand this better than Democrats. And American Christians understand this better than American Jews,” the majority of whom voted for Obama.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a prominent activist in the Jewish community and Republican circles, called Obama “a product of his many influences.” Some critics have struck similarly ominous tones, citing his childhood in Indonesia, a Muslim country, and associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and 1960s radical William Ayers.
Like several other speakers, Wiesenfeld also blasted Democratic members of Congress who have not criticized the president’s behavior toward Israel.
New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), a supporter of Israel’s settlement movement, took aim not only at Jewish Democrats in Congress but at mainstream Jewish groups, another target of the rally’s speakers.
Hikind said the event’s organizers had reached out to them, but they did not endorse the rally or participate.
“Where are they?” he asked.
“We reject Jewish leadership,” said Pamela Geller, known for her right-wing blog Atlas Shrugs and for her new group, Stop Islamization of America.
Geller, who has argued that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery, also likened today’s Jewish leaders to those who failed to do more during the Holocaust to save Jews.
“Are we going to replicate our failure during World War II?” she asked.
Several rally participants wore buttons likening Obama’s treatment of Iran to then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
Galinsky, speaking by phone before and after the rally, said mainstream groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and UJA-Federation of New York “were all informed” about the rally, although she personally did not contact them.
She also objected to any description of the rally as “right wing.”
Some speakers, Galinsky said, considered themselves Democrats and even may have voted for Obama.
“It may not be so easy to label everyone,” Galinski added.
Indeed, one speaker, Joy Brighton of the group Stop Shariah Now, told the rally that she cast her ballot for Obama in 2008 — a comment that drew jeers — but she now considers that move a mistake.
The roster of speakers also included Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, who cautioned his listeners against those politicians who say they are working “behind the scenes” to reverse White House policy.
The expression, he said, is one that was used during World War II as Jews died in the Holocaust, and during the movement to free Soviet Jewry.
In an interview following the rally, Potasnik said he came as an individual, not as a representative of his agency, and that he did so because of his belief that “we haven’t heard enough from our elected officials” about the dangers of Obama’s Mideast policy.
Meanwhile, phone messages left with several Jewish organizations asking for comment about the rally went unreturned. But Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL and a survivor of the Holocaust, called the criticism of mainstream Jewish leaders “nonsense.”
If the speakers “bothered to look,” he said, “they would have read the ADL’s response” to tensions between the White House and Israel, “the Conference of Presidents’ response, AIPAC’s response — groups that are a little more serious than the ones that sponsored the rally.”
The rally also drew criticism from David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who called Obama’s commitment to Israel “rock solid.”