Editor’s note: The print version of JTNews notes that a rally being held on Sun., Aug. 10 would be taking place at Westlake Center. The rally will be held at Seattle Center. We apologize for any inconvenience.
One week after approximately 600 people turned out for a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Israel in Pioneer Square on July 20, a second event, termed a community gathering, brought around 300 people to the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Shalom to hear from an array of community leaders on the situation in Israel.
The two events, a week apart and with almost no sponsoring organization overlap, prompted some community members to ask if Seattle is divided on Israel.
The July 20 rally was put together by Israel advocacy organization StandWith-Us Northwest and co-sponsored by several local Orthodox congregations, as well as Hadassah and the American Jewish Committee. The July 27 gathering at Beth Shalom was sponsored by nearly two dozen organizations, including AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel at the University of Washington, J Street, New Israel Fund, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and a number of Conservative and Reform synagogues. It emphasized solidarity with Israel, plus a mourning of the loss of all human life and prayers for a lasting and sustainable end to the conflict.
Speakers included Dr. Andy David, Consul General of Israel, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D–6th), Federation CEO and president Keith Dvorchik, and several rabbis and community leaders.
According to Dvorchik, the Federation was invited to co-sponsor the July 20 rally on Thursday the 17th, at which time Rob Jacobs, director of StandWithUs Northwest, had not yet secured the permits for the rally. Jacobs obtained the permits Friday morning.
“From a timing perspective, it just didn’t work, not just for the Federation but for many communities,” Dvorchik said.
“We had three days before the rally date, and many of them felt that was not enough time to adequately plan a rally,” he said. They “didn’t feel comfortable signing on unless they knew it would be planned thoroughly.”
Others, like Ben Murane, New Israel Fund’s director of outreach for the western United States, were concerned about the message of the rally and preferred the later gathering for ideological reasons.
“New Israel Fund will always be part of Israel gatherings that include multiple views,” said Murane. “NIF — and many others in the community — felt that the type of rally organized the previous weekend did not convey the sadness we [felt] with increasing civilian deaths and vigilante murders of Jewish and Palestinian teenagers.”
Jacobs acknowledged that different groups have different ideas of supporting Israel. StandWithUs joined the list of sponsors at Beth Shalom only after Jacobs was sure the message would align with his organization’s mission.
“They wanted more conversation, more of a traditional Jewish community event,” Jacobs said.
According to one rabbi, who spoke with JTNews anonymously, a vibrant discussion has been taking place among Seattle’s liberal-leaning rabbis about which rallies and events to take part in.
“The fears that go along with some of the rallies include oversimplification of a complex issue, the tendency of rallies to attract fringe people/positions that we wouldn’t want to be associated with on the 6 O’clock News, the dehumanization of Palestinians, [and] any appearance that we’re cheering/happy about the fact that Israel is at war,” she said.
The Orthodox synagogues that cosponsored the rally and encouraged members at short notice to attend were absent from the list of sponsors of the gathering a week later. According to Sephardic Bikur Holim’s Rabbi Ben Hassan, who spoke at the rally, this was purely due to a scheduling conflict, at least on his congregation’s part. He added that some SBH members did attend the Beth Shalom event.
Hassan downplayed critiques about community division and encourages the Jewish community to find common ground.
“We all show support for Israel, and that support can be manifested in different ways,” he said. “Some people want to do a rally and some people want to do a gathering. They’re both fair ways to show solidarity and support.”
Meanwhile, activists for the Palestinian cause have held regular, weekly demonstrations in Westlake Plaza. A handful of pro-Palestinian activists demonstrated quietly at both the rally and outside Beth Shalom.
Since the gathering on July 27, two more pro-Israel demonstrations have sprung up, including a flash mob rally in Bellevue Square at rush hour on July 31. And this Sunday, Aug. 10 at 1 p.m., multiple organizations will sponsor a rally at Seattle Center to express their solidarity with Israel.
Dikla Tuchman contributed to this story.