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Shalom I leave you
Saying no, maybe, to old friends
I do have a day job, try as I might to forget it, and it prevented me from devoting my full resources to the Israel rally in DC Tuesday. But I figured I ought to make an appearance, if only in the interest of equal time, so I snuck out for a quick afternoon visit. (If the boss sees this, well, like Angel in The Wild Bunch I played my string right out to the end.)
I couldn’t get there until 2 pm, halfway through the official time of the event, and though it had been advertised as a “march” I didn’t see any movement toward such a procession — just a genuinely huge number of people gathered on the Mall in front of large screens to hear addresses and roar for them. (I saw people leaving as I arrived and as I departed, which just made the crowd on the Mall even more impressive. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands.)
I couldn’t make out where the actual stage was but suspect it was somewhere behind the “blue entrance” the security guards wouldn’t let me past, which led to a huge penned- and fenced-off section of the Mall where people seemed to have a lot more room than the more westerly part and perhaps access to the stage. It was weird peering through hurricane fencing at their distant forms. I understand the security concerns but I have to say this was the first DC protest I ever attended that had a VIP section.
I only heard some speeches and did not focus very hard on these, but they were mostly on the order of President Israel Herzog’s — the hostages must be freed, Hamas must be defeated, America and Israel stand together, Never Again, etc., along with some tantalizing bits suggesting that the many Palestinian marches around the world are actually pro-Hamas (“massive hatred and pressure in the community or on campus”), which everyone knows is bullshit and which is why I expect they were left as vague hints rather than full-froth ravings — this was as official an event as it gets; even Mike Johnson stood with Chuck Schumer to mouth some platitudes, and no one wanted it to get really testy. Netanyahu was absent, probably because whatever cheers he might get would be worse publicity for the cause than boos for anyone else.
I will say the crowd did not seem to be there for loony business. I heard about some psycho kill kill kill signage that was allegedly there, but I didn’t see any. I did see some filmed evidence that audience members chanted NO CEASE-FIRE and yes, that’s bad. The Christian millenarian madman John Hagee did indeed speak on behalf of his beloved apocalyptic launch pad Israel, which, WTF.
But I heard some weird shit at the Palestine march, too. People say things. For the most part, from all I could tell, the people I saw at the Mall were repping the return of the hostages, which, of course, and other anodyne pro-Israel messaging. I’m sure there were people there who loved that Gaza was being bombed to shit, who hate the Palestinians and love the settlers who steal their land and who have cheered, somewhere where we can’t see, when hospitals and refugee camps are bombed and Israel’s government said yeah and so what. But they weren’t saying it here and I would like to think, because I’m a sap that way, that many if not most of them would not do so even if they thought the coast was clear.
I saw a lot of lovely things. I saw some blackhats davening, one of them doing it against a crude wooden frame around a sickly tree. I saw school groups with Hebrew lettering on their sweatshirts. Lots of people wearing Israel flags like capes — I guess they have no flag code — and some melded Israel-U.S. flags, about which I feel pretty much like I feel about Blue Line flags: Try it somewhere else, buddy, this is America. Also, some signs claiming to want to “save Palestinians from Hamas” — yeah, I remember from the Iraq war: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. We’ve been there before.
Also, gotta say: Very very middle-class crowd. Not seeing a lot of kitchen help here.
I also got the Mitzvah Tank guys approaching me, trying to get me to wrap the straps around my arm and pray with them — at least a dozen times as I crossed the Mall, all very polite, all gently rejoining when I said, no, sorry, I’m not Jewish, that I should have a good day. Sorry, I’m not Jewish. All those years growing up with simple philosemitism in slightly-advanced Catholic school, singing “Shalom,” never thinking it was a conflict except with the lunkhead Henry Ford antisemitism of our parents. In the old days in New York whenever they approached me from their silly RVs I had always been flattered to be approached, to be asked if I was Jewish, as if I could ever be part of the grand thing they were. How much we lose and keep losing.
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