I had heard of it. I knew it was happening somewhere out there. But I thought false campaigns spreading outright lies about Israel only happen in Arabic newspapers in distant countries. But it happens here too, in an English-language magazine that is published in our nationís capital.
This past March, I attended one of many seminars organized by the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, called Panim el Panim: High School in Washington. During Panim el Panim, we took part in many activities intended to increase our awareness of the political process and of the concept of Tikkun Olam, or bettering the world. Our session happened to coincide with the AIPAC Policy Conference, which was taking place at the Washington Hilton. The organizers took advantage of this great opportunity, and they took us to hear lectures by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and former U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.
The following night, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was on a state visit to Washington, came to speak before the conference. Outside the Hilton, three separate demonstrations were taking place, two of which were against Sharon and the State of Israel, while a third was a pro-Sharon, pro-Israel group. We were invited by the Panim el Panim organizers to join whichever of the three groups we wished to join, and we all joined the Israeli pro-Sharon group.
As we stood there, singing Israeli songs and dancing a hora, I couldnít help but notice how different our demonstration was from the one taking place just across the street. There, people were waving their fists in the air, roaring "Jihad! Jihad! Falestin!" We were sitting together singing "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem." They held signs proclaiming "Zionism=Racism," "Stop the Apartheid regime of Israel" and "Indict Ariel Sharon, the War Criminal." We held signs that read "Israel Wants Peace" and "Stop Using Kids for War" and which were emblazoned with huge peace symbols. I thought, "What a totally different mentality. Why do we even bother?"
But I wasnít prepared for what was about to happen.
After the Prime Minister had entered the hotel, and the protests seemed to die down, we started back down Connecticut Avenue toward a planned meeting point at the corner of Connecticut and Florida. As we stood there, waiting for a roll call before we proceeded back to our hotel, a group of teenagers from the Palestinian group ran by. They jumped up and down, screamed anti-Semitic expletives at us and made lewd gestures before running past us and down the street. We were somewhat shaken by the incident, and the tension escalated when they came back and screamed, "Go back to Germany!" and made threatening gestures. Then, they started kicking and punching those of us who were closest to the curb. Finally, rocks sailed through the sky and into our group. We were very upset, a few of us were bruised or scratched, and many others were in shock.
The teachers who were accompanying us held us back from doing anything retaliatory. Eventually, a couple of DC Police cars drove up and our attackers ran back toward the Palestinian demonstration.
When we got back to our hotel, the organizers had a very difficult time getting us to settle down. A few people were still somewhat dazed, a few were crying. After a couple minutes of "cooling off," we were able to continue with the program.
The entire event went completely unnoticed by the media until
Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Founder of the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, wrote a May 17 article in the Washington Jewish Week in which he noted that the incident is a small-scale representation of what kids in Israel face daily.
A week after the article was published, a letter written by a Delinda Hanley appeared in the Jewish Week, claiming that the violent event never happened.
Two weeks ago, I was roaming through my local library here in Silver Spring, when the cover of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs caught my eye.
Well, imagine my surprise upon reading "Rabbi Schwarz began to describe an incident that just didnít happen," screaming in bold letters.
The article, also by Hanley (the News Editor of the Washington Report), labeled the rabbiís account "a complete fabrication." But not only did she claim that we were never attacked, she further stated that WE had both mocked and provoked the entire anti-Israeli protest. According to Hanley, "a parade of Jewish students. . . taunted our protesters and ridiculed the signs we held." She recalled feeling appalled by our teacher chaperones who seemed to be "risking [our] lives walking through the streets of DC, and, at worst, trying (and failing) to instigate a confrontation." She refers to us as a "group of troublemakers."
I, along with the majority of the Panim el Panim kids who had been there, was enraged. The unfounded accusations against us, however, made more sense once we learned that the Washington Report is published by a pro-Palestinian propaganda organization called the American Educational Trust, and the publication frequently calls American supporters of Israel a "cancer," a "perversion" and an "alien intrusion." Its publishers have in the past associated themselves with the Liberty Lobby, one of most notorious Holocaust deniers in the country, and editorial comparisons between the State of Israel and Nazi Germany are commonplace in the magazine.
Now we know.
But who would have imagined that this could ever happen here?
Guest contributor Avi Mayer is a senior at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md.