Outside the conference hall, and inside as well, Jews protested against the expulsion/retreat plan. Wearing orange shirts, hundreds of Jews held a rally outside, chanting slogans such as, "Jews don't expel Jews." Their signs read, "Sharon's Policies are National Suicide," "Land, People, Torah are One," "Withdrawal is a Prize for Terror," and the like.
Inside the auditorium, the speech went over quietly - until Sharon mentioned his planned unilateral retreat from Gush Katif and northern Shomron. "The future of the Jewish people depends also on Israel's character as a Jewish and democratic State," he explained. "In this spirit we initiated the disengagement plan. This plan will improve our security and offer a chance to start a political process with the Palestinians. It will guarantee a Jewish majority in the State of Israel. It is thanks to this plan that we can make certain that important parts of the cradle of the Jewish heritage will remain part of Israel forever."
As Sharon began that paragraph in his speech, several members of the audience took off their outer shirts, revealing orange shirts underneath, and called out, "Jews don't expel other Jews!" Security personnel escorted them out, and Sharon smiled and said, "Thank you so much for your help; usually I handle these things myself." He did not specify the methods he and his government use to "handle" those who oppose him.
The protestors outside, estimated at between several hundred and 3,000, included many Chabad Hassidim and Kach members, as well as Knesset Member Benny Elon (pictured above) and NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Helen Freedman, Coordinator of the American Coalition to Save Gush Katif/Gaza and N. Shomron, and Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI, MCed the event. She wrote, "As the crowd gathered, wearing their orange T-shirts declaring 'Let My People Stay' and 'Gush Katif Forever,' carrying orange balloons and brandishing orange signs protesting the expulsion, it became clear that the small area the police had cordoned off would be insufficient. The thousands spilled onto 23rd Street, almost bringing traffic to a halt... Everywhere, there was a sea of orange."
Other speakers included Rabbi David Algaze of Forest Hills, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck, Rabbi Heshy Reichman and Rabbi Moshe Tendler of YU, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum of the Rabbinical Alliance, Rabbi Neil Winkler of Fort Lee, and Rabbis Raskin and Jacobson of Crown Heights.
More protests await Mr. Sharon in the course of his U.S. visit, which continues until Tuesday. Demonstrations will be held this afternoon at Capitol Hill, and on Tuesday morning outside the Washington Convention Center, where Sharon will be speaking.
Other planned anti-expulsion events include:
* the AFSI/ZOA Chizuk 3-day mission to Gush Katif, Hevron, and eastern Jerusalem, beginning on May 29;
* Dov Hikind's mission to Gush Katif on June 5;
* and the Israeli Day Parade and the huge Solidarity With Gush Katif Concert in Central Park.
For up-to-date information about Gush Katif/Shomron events on AFSI's Action Program, consult "www.katifund.org" or "www.afsi.org," or write to "firstname.lastname@example.org."