When life hands your breakfast for Israel a competing protest for Palestine, what do you do? Why, you make a lemonade stand for Israel.
At least, that’s how it went down on Teaneck’s Maitland Avenue on Sunday.
Inside Congregation Beth Sholom, 200 people gathered to support the American Friends of Magen David Adom, the Israeli version of the Red Cross. The guests included Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, and Teaneck Councilman Mark Schwartz. The breakfast was organized by Teaneck Deputy Mayor Elie Katz and his wife, Esther.
“We raised thousands of dollars for Magen David Adom,” Mr. Katz said.
That was on the south side of Maitland.
On the north side of Maitland, 17 protesters held Palestinian flags and signs with such slogans as “When do we Jews notice that Israel is a terrorist state?!” and “Stop killing Gaza’s children!”
And then someone snapped a picture of the protest, and forwarded it to a friend: Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former member of the Israeli Knesset. He posted the picture to Facebook, where it was shared 126 times and generated 222 comments.
“It was sent to me by a Teaneck resident who asked me to post it with the goal of generating a counterprotest,” Rabbi Lipman said.
The post had its desired effect, as a small group of counterprotesters gathered. When the breakfast finished, attendees joined the counterprotest as they left the synagogue.
And one family that lives on Maitland saw the post on Facebook and came home to set up a lemonade stand catering to the counterprotesters. The stand raised $1,100 for Magen David Adom.
Richard Siegel of Teaneck, who organized the original pro-Palestine anti-Israel protest, said the scene on Maitland Avenue “was pretty intense.
“I felt like it could get violent,” he said. “So I pulled the plug on it and got everybody out of there. I asked the police to escort us to our cars. I didn’t want anybody to get hurt on my watch.
“I think it was effective,” Mr. Siegel said of his demonstration. “The Jews of Teaneck now know they are opposed in their Zionism. Maybe the day before yesterday they didn’t know that. People were visibly shocked, and I was glad to see it.”
Mr. Siegel said he regularly travels to demonstrate against Israel. “Every year I go to Washington to demonstrate against the AIPAC convention,” he said. “I try to show up to demonstrate against the Celebrate Israel parade in New York.”
He organizes demonstrations of his own less often. “I organized some demonstrations in Closter in 2014. I’ll probably do more coming up,” he said.
Mr. Siegel grew up in Rockland County. “When I was a kid, I was a Zionist youth group president,” he said. “I was a member of three different youth groups. One at Spring Valley High School where I went to school. One at Temple Beth Am. And one at Nanuet Hebrew Center, where they elected me president.”
When he was in his 20s, Mr. Siegel lived and worked in Israel for a time. “I was the house pianist at the Plaza Hotel in Tiberias,” he said. This was in the early 1980s.
His views on Israel didn’t shift until around 2004.
“I basically found out much later in life I had been lied to about Israel,” he said. “I had been told all my life we went there to be nice neighbors to the Arabs. That we never caused them any harm. That they just hate Jews for no reason, like everyone hates Jews for no reason.
“The older I got, the less believable my programming became. I started seeking out information. The first thing I did was I read the Israeli revisionist historians, starting with Benny Morris and continuing through Ilan Pappe. I found out what really happened. We imposed a major ethnic cleansing on the native population of Palestinians.
“Once I found that out, I had to be active in supporting the people I once considered to be my enemies,” Mr. Siegel said.
As part of that support, Mr. Siegel recently took over operation of Deir Yassin Remembered; he shares those responsibilities with his friend Nedal Hassan, a Palestinian who lives in Union City. Deir Yassin Remembered was founded in 2006 to memorialize the Arabs killed on April 9, 1948, in the village of Deir Yassin outside Jerusalem. How many were killed and whether it was a cold-blooded massacre is a matter of dispute, particularly since both Jews and Arabs at the time had motives for exaggerating the death toll and the number of civilians among the casualties, which totaled at least 101. The founder of Deir Yassin Remembered, Daniel McGowan, dedicated a memorial to Deir Yassin in his hometown of Geneva, New York. In 2009, apparently the last year in which it filed IRS 990 forms required to be filed by charitable organizations, the group received just under $11,000 in contributions, which it spent primarily on scholarships and on its website.
Mr. Siegel disputed Southern Poverty Law Center’s charge that his group supports Holocaust denial.
“They’re wrong about that,” he said. “We had one member of our board, Paul Eisen, who I removed, a Jewish gentleman from London. He was so incensed with the way the Holocaust is being misused to justify Zionist atrocities in Palestine. He was also incensed in the way that there’s not free speech on the Holocaust. There are at least a dozen countries where you can get jail time for saying things about the Holocaust. Even if they’re saying things that are not true, we believe in free speech.
“In reaction to all that, Paul Eisen started calling himself a Holocaust denier. In my opinion that was terribly irresponsible. Hitler murdered members of Paul Eisen’s family and murdered members of my family. Paul Eisen took this strategy to try and shock people. I think it was a bad strategy. Deir Yassin Remembered has no Holocaust deniers and does not associate with Holocaust deniers.”
Mr. Siegel said he was happy that four ultra-Orthodox Jews from Neturei Karta joined his demonstration. (Neturei Karta is the Satmar breakaway group that defines itself with its hatred of Israel.)
“That really incensed our opposition, because they didn’t want to see Orthodox Jews opposing Israel,” he said. “I thought it was important to have them with us to make the statement that the protest was not Jews versus non-Jew, but rather it’s Zionists vs non-Zionists.”
Other protesters included Mr. Hassan, some other Palestinians, “and a few friends of various backgrounds who just came out to support the Palestinian cause.”
He said the goal was not to protest Magen David Adom.
“We have nothing against ambulances,” he said. “This was an event billed as a breakfast for Israel. It happened on the weekend of the anniversary of Israel’s independence day. It was a pro-Israel event and an Israeli independence day celebration.”
Ruthie Levi, who lives four short blocks away from Congregation Beth Sholom, was upset by Rabbi Lipman’s post about the demonstration — and by the response it generated.
Among the comments that sparked her ire: “Time for rest of Jews in Teaneck to come home.” “So upsetting — it’s not the same America it used to be.” “May 19, 1938. ‘Who ever thought it could happen in….’now, Teaneck.”
She posted a different picture of the demonstration on her Facebook page and wrote: “America is a land of free speech & assembly. Our local Teaneck PD did a great job of keeping all groups separate (a counter pro Israel group sprung up, approx 30 people).
“Reading the comments (which Dov has continued to let run wild, without curating or correcting them), you would have thought that Teaneck was embroiled in a battle for its very existence. The ignorance of the facts was unbelievable, the tales that were spun & the racism exhibited was abhorrent, the virtual muscle that was flexed was dangerous & inflammatory. & the comments from those living in Israel about the end of Teaneck being nigh, etc. were absolutely absurd & self serving, quite honestly. Protests happen, ahem, even in the holy city of Jerusalem. Democracy, it just works.”
But Rabbi Lipman said his post was important and responsible.
“I believe that people trying to sweep away the significance of such a blatant, public display of anti-Semitism in Teaneck and suggesting that the protest was insignificant is misreading the situation and a mistake,” he said.
“In my opinion, public displays of anti-Semitism — no matter how small — should never be ignored or swept away with any explanation or justification — and cannot be accepted as legitimate examples of free speech and the right to demonstrate or protest.”