Two Los Angeles rallies held criticizing Israeli response in Gaza

By Ryan Torok | Jewish Journal

Yossi Khen, an Israeli based in West Hills, served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decades ago during the Israel-Egypt War of Attrition, but he doesn’t believe the current conflict in Gaza can be solved with military action.

"A viable Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only option for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. As long as it won’t happen, as long as Israel doesn’t accept this, [we will see] this cycle of violence again and again and again,” he said.

 Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace addresses a crowd in front of the Israeli consulate. Photo by Ryan Torok.

 Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace addresses a crowd in front of the Israeli consulate. Photo by Ryan Torok.

One of more than 80 people who attended an L.A. Jews for Peace rally on July 25, Khen ran down a list of all of Israel’s wars, from the 1948 War of Independence to the Six-Day War in 1967 to the 1982 Lebanon War. He expressed exasperation at the redundancy of it all.

“Look at how many wars — people are tired, I’m telling you,” he said.

The rally, which took place outside the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, called for the end of Israel’s current military offensive in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, and for Israel to terminate its blockade of the Hamas-run region.

“I can’t divorce myself from what is happening over there,” said L.A. Jews for Peace member Jordan Elgrably in a phone interview prior to the rally.

Jordan Elgrably protesting in front of the Israeli consulate. Photo by Elana Golden.

Jordan Elgrably protesting in front of the Israeli consulate. Photo by Elana Golden.

Elgrably, a co-founder of the Levantine Cultural Center and an Arab Jew, said he does not believe Israel is interested in peace and that the current entanglement in Gaza — which has taken the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians and more than 50 Israeli soldiers — is evidence of that.

“I feel gypped by the so-called peace process,” he said.

A second, larger rally took place July 25 outside the Wilshire Federal Building, attracting about 300 people. Many participants were Muslim, but Jews like Estee Chandler were in the crowd as well.

Chandler, the organizer of Jewish Voice for Peace Los Angeles — a group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel — said approximately 40,000 people had “signed onto” Jewish Voice for Peace in the “last few weeks.” She said this shows that the “Jewish community isn’t monolithic, they don’t all support AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and the FIDF [Friends of Israel Defense Forces].”

Dorien Grunbaum, a retired professor at L.A. Trade Technical College who attended the L.A. Jews for Peace rally, expressed dismay with the manner in which the Netanyahu administration handled the kidnapping-murder of the three Israeli teenagers that, in part, led to the current Israel operation in Gaza.

“From what I’ve read in various sources, now I understand that Netanyahu knew that the three teens had died and kept it a secret, did not the let that out, so he could enrage the Israeli public [updated on Aug. 2] and justify what he is doing against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Grunbaum’s son, Michael Omer-Man, is the managing director of progressive Israeli-Palestinian publication, +972 Magazine.

Her partner, Tony Litwinko, is a member of Friends of Sabeel’s Los Angeles chapter, which describes itself as a “movement for Palestinian Christians working for justice and reconciliation.” Chwinko said a recent trip to Tel Aviv reinforced his impression that many in Israel feel indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians who are under occupation.

“The separation wall that incorporates the Israeli settlements, that wall keeps Israelis from looking in[wards] as well as keeping Palestinians out,” he said.

He held up a sign reading, “End U.S. Support for Israel’s War and Blockade of Gaza.”

Others carried more provocative signs. At the rally outside the Federal Building, one demonstrator brought a flag depicting a Star of David and a Nazi swastika separated by an equal sign. Language like “war crimes” and “genocide” was used by attendees as well.

The scene at the Federal Building was markedly different than one at the same venue several weeks ago, on July 13. That day, more than 2,000 community members, many of them Jewish, turned out for a pro-Israel rally where blue and white and the rhythms of upbeat Israeli music dominated the scene. The scene was upset by a fight between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

This time around, the black, red, green and white colors of the Palestinian flag were everywhere; in a grassy area on the east side of the Federal Building, several groups of praying Muslims knelt down on rugs, while a Council of American-Islamic Relations representative distributed informational fliers to nearby demonstrators. No disturbances were reported.

Khen, at least, criticized analogies drawn between Israel and the Nazis, an increasingly common sentiment expressed at anti-Israel gatherings.

“I don’t [subscribe] to this,” he said. “I hate bringing the Nazis into anything describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. …[It leads to] very destructive conversations.”

The Holocaust references have come up in other ways, too. On July 26, one day after the rally, Elgrably received a voicemail from an anonymous caller who, apparently pro-Israel, said the members of L.A. Jews for Peace were “Jew traitors, filthy Jew traitors, bastard Jew traitors” who deserved to die by the hand of Hitler.

In a phone interview on July 28, Elgrably responded by saying: “The whole thing is so distasteful, because I don’t appreciate the references to the Holocaust and Hitler. My aunt was killed in the Holocaust. To me, it’s not a joke.”

Anti-Defamation League regional director Amanda Susskind said the voicemail left for L.A. Jews for Peace, which she was made aware of by the Journal, is inexcusable.

“We can agree we are all entitled to different opinions, but we draw the line when people cross into hate speech and extremism,” Susskind said during a phone interview. “There really is no place for that kind of behavior in a civil society.”

Some Jewish dissidents take a more moderate position than the others.

Jeff Warner, the action coordinator for L.A. Jews for Peace who attended both rallies, said he felt most of the people in the latter crowd were, in his own words, “nuts” in their extremism against Israel.

So why attend?

“Because they are against the occupation,” Warner said, who held a sign that day saying, “This Jew Opposes U.S. Support for Israel’s War on Gaza.”

“You’ve got to stand on one side or the other,” Warner said. “I choose to stand on this side, even though a lot of people here are extremists who are hurting the [possibility of a] two-state solution.