The Coalition to End the Israeli Occupation expects "thousands" to show up at its Capitol Hill rally Sunday, but a college student from Fair Lawn decided a pro-Israel voice also needs to be heard.
Adi Elbaz, a 19-year-old student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and three of her friends began last week to organize a counter protest, quickly drawing the attention of Stand With Us, which took hold of the reins of organization.
"We just want our detractors to know that we’re watching," Elbaz told The Jewish Standard Monday. "We’re listening to their criticisms and we’re ready to respond."
Elbaz and her friends have been spreading news of the counter rally through word of mouth, a group on the social network Website Facebook, and community e-mail listserves like Teaneckshuls and Fairlawnshuls. She has been in touch with Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood, as well as Fair Lawn’s Cong. Shomrei Torah and Chabad house.
"We’re hoping for people to mobilize and to understand this is a very important issue," she said.
The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice are co-sponsoring Sunday’s rally and Monday’s lobbying day to "change those U.S. policies that both sustain Israel’s 40-year occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and deny equal rights for all."
Stand With Us, an international education organization founded in ‘001, advocates for Israel through campuses, libraries, media, churches, and other community organizations. The group had known about Sunday’s rally but had not organized a response until it learned that none of the other Israel advocacy groups were taking the lead, said Michelle Rojas, SWU’s outreach coordinator in New York.
"We thought initially the anti-Israel rally would just come and go," said Roz Rothstein, SWU’s international executive director. "The main point is to make sure Israel gets a fair shake and gets an opportunity to express the mainstream point of view and that is that Israel is being attacked, Israel needs to defend herself, and Israel seeks a real partner for peace."
Josh Ruebner, grassroots advocacy coordinator for the US Campaign to End the Occupation, said the group has spent six months planning the rally, which he said should draw thousands, bused in from across the country. He had no comment about the Stand With Us counter-protest, except that it seemed like it was put together at the last minute.
While Stand With Us hopes that ’00 to 300 people attend the counter rally, organizers recognize that it is a last-minute event but also take pride that they are able to pull it off so quickly.
"We want the world to see that American Jewry cares about Israel and we’re willing to go out and organize a counter rally in a week," Elbaz said.
Last month the US Campaign began placing posters in Washington Metro tunnels of a Palestinian child carrying a backpack on his way to school with an Israeli tank looming behind him.
In response, Stand With Us began its own campaign, distributing posters of Palestinian youths holding weapons with the caption, "Teaching children to hate will never lead to peace. Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad Change your charters and your future."
"We will use this for an opportunity to make sure people understand there is great danger in teaching children genocide," Rothstein said.
Rothstein said that Israel’s peace overtures have been met with violence from the Palestinians.
The bulk of the Washington-area community will simply stay away, said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. Those opposing the anti-occupation rally are allowing themselves to be defined by it, he suggested.
"Who are they protesting against the other protesters?" Halber wondered. "We appreciate Stand With Us, and we agree with them 99 percent of the time, but when the media discusses the event we don’t want it to be about dueling protests.
"People in the middle are not suddenly going to support Israel because they see a rally. You don’t promote Israel by attacking your attacker all the time."
JTA contributed to this report.