US Jews demonstrate Givat Aryeh demolition
US Jews demonstrate Givat Aryeh demolitionIsrael news photo: Fern Sidman

Although it has always been the policy of right leaning American Jewish Zionist groups to avoid criticizing Israeli government policy in public, it seems that recent actions by the Netanyahu government are beginning to erode that policy, already severely shaken by the Gush Katif disengagement during PM Ariel Sharon’s term of office.

On Sunday morning, December 11, a large gathering of American Zionists gathered at the Israeli Consulate in New York to vocally express their protest at the recent decision by the Israeli government to demolish the community of Givat Aryeh.

Organized by Americans For A Safe Israel (AFSI), its executive director Helen Freedman who just returned from Israel on the organization’s bi-annual Chizuk mission, told those gathered, “Just two weeks ago, we celebrated the dedication of a new Torah scroll that was presented to the residents of Itamar and Givat Aryeh in the Shomron by its sponsor, AFSI member Jack Ross. Now we are totally disheartened to learn that the destruction of this community was orchestrated by a decision of the Netanyahu/Barak government.”

Calling the decision to bulldoze the synagogue and the homes of those residents in the Givat Aryeh community a “craven, cowardly and sacrilegious act”, Ms. Freedman declared, “It is shameful and abhorrent that an ostensibly Jewish government in Israel would even consider destroying a holy Jewish synagogue, along with the homes and possessions belonging to its most loyal citizens.”

Ms. Freedman added, “I had invited many rabbis and mainstream Jewish leaders to attend this demonstration. Many refused; saying that they didn't believe in criticizing Israel in public. I responded by saying, ‘If your beloved is about to walk off a cliff, wouldn’t you reach out to restrain him?’”

In a private interview with Arutz Sheva, Ms. Freedman said, “I believe it is because of our great love for Israel that we venture out together on a bitterly cold Sunday morning in December to denounce actions that are suicidal for our Jewish homeland. It is dishonest and un-Jewish to shake off that responsibility while pretending that it is in the best interest of Israel when we know it is self-destructive. As we approach the Chanukah season, we would do well to remember the immortal words of the brave Matityahu who said, ‘All who are faithful to G-d, follow me!’”

Demonstrators held aloft Israeli flags along with signs and banners saying, “Build Jewish Homes and Schools: Don't Bulldoze Them”, “A Two-State Solution is Indefensible”, and “Save Judea and Samaria from Destruction”.

Among the speakers at the protest were Pastor James David Manning of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem who was joined by a contingent of his congregants. As an outspoken supporter of Israel and a fervent Zionist, Pastor Manning said, “The Bible states quite clearly that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people for eternity and no one has a right to take that away. My congregants and I unequivocally support the Zionist cause and as a Christian member of the clergy I remind everyone that whoever blesses the people of Israel shall be blessed but those who curse Israel shall be cursed forever.”

Echoing these sentiments was Raanan Isseroff, a representative of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who reminded the protestors of the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who said that, “The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel and is non-negotiable. It is G-d’s gift to the Jewish people and there is no human being who can alter that fact.”

With great emotion, AFSI member Jack Ross recalled that the Torah he had presented to the people of Givat Aryeh had been purchased and restored by him in memory of his parents who had survived the Holocaust. “I dedicated this special Torah to the memory of the murdered members of the Fogel family in Itamar and tragically, it was confiscated by the IDF on December 1 when both the community and synagogue of Givat Aryeh were destroyed.”

In a powerful display of symbolism designed to graphically depict the devastating destruction that was wrought in Givat Aryeh, both Mr. Ross and long-time Jewish activist Charlie Bernhaut, held up a Torah scroll  (allowed as it was one which was deemed halakhically pasul), to represent the assault on Torah-true communities in Judea and Samaria by the Israeli government. Mr. Bernhaut enumerated the names of the communities that appeared in the Torah which was on display and told the protestors that “these are the very same communities that the Arabs claim belong to them. It is clear that we get nowhere when we attempt to appease our enemies.”

David Jacobs, formerly of Staten Island and now a citizen of Israel who resides there with his family, spoke of his own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah which took place in the Elei Sinai synagogue in the former Gush Katif region. Recalling the pain he felt when that synagogue was destroyed as well by the Israeli government when the residents of the 21 communities of Gush Katif were expelled in 2005, Mr. Jacobs outlined many of the flaws existing in the Israeli government today, and the difficulty Jews have in publicly speaking out about them.

Other activists such as Brooklyn resident Robin Ticker, Manhigut Yehudit spokesman Rob Muchnick, veteran AFSI volunteer Charlotte Wahle and Bob Unger, all delivered moving remarks about the crucial need to “recognize the fraudulence of the Arab claim to the land of Israel” and added that any discussions of “legal” and “illegal settlements” in the land of Israel are a misnomer considering that “we recognize that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.” Concluding the protest was professional singer and activist Bob Unger who led the protestors in an emotional rendition of “God Bless America” and “Hatikvah”.