Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem
Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Zion Square in Jerusalem stood empty on Saturday night. The plaza, normally symbolic of the protest of the extreme right, was to be the site of planned protest by a group of left-wing organizations including Peace Now, the Geneva Initiative and the National Left. But two weeks ago, Channel 24's new glass-walled studio opened in the concourse, and the demonstration was moved to a nearby site adjoining the Russian Compound.

The protest took place under the umbrella of the National Left, founded by lawyer Eldad Yaniv and playwright Shmuel Hasfari. Israeli flags flew, the speakers proclaimed their Zionism and the event wound up with the singing of the national anthem, 'Hatikva." The protesters – 1,000 of them according to police and 2,000 according to the organizers – called for the immediate dismantlement of West Bank settlements, including in East Jerusalem.

"We want to get out of the West Bank because we are Zionists," said Gadi Taub, one of the speakers. The Right isn't the nationalist camp, it’s a bi-nationalist camp. The center of our Zionism isn't land but human liberty."

Nino Abashidze, a journalist, said: "The time has come to choose: A state without settlements, or settlement without a state."

Mousi Raz, a former Knesset member, described the gathering as "the biggest left-wing protest in West Jerusalem in the last decade". Later, from the podium, Raz offered praise for demonstrators arrested on Friday in Sheikh Jarrah, a disputed neighborhood beyond the Green Line in the eastern half of the city, being held only meters away in the Russian Compound police station.

Yariv Oppenheimer, general secretary of Peace Now, said: "Any rational Israeli leader understands that evacuating the settlements is not Obama's problem, or Hillary Clinton's, but a matter of the Israeli national interest. It is the only way for Israel to pull itself out of international isolation."

Tzvia Greenfield, our Haredi Knesset member (Meretz), swept the crowd when she said, "Zionism cannot be subordination and land theft. Zionsim cannot be control over the weak. Judaism is not theft and conquering the weak. That is not Zionism. That is not Jewish."

Attorney Yaniv concluded the rally by saying, "We do not hate, we are crying over our beloved Israel." He added, "We must end the occupation with an agreement or without one, with a partner or without one, and establish a society here that sets an example."

Members of Israel's right wing rushed to call the protest a resounding failure. A spokesman for the Yesha settlement council said, "The failure of the 'National Left' protest, with the angry handful of protesters who arrived at the square - despite a performance by singer Achinoam Nini and free beer – proves once again that most of the nation understands that settlers are Zionists overall. The failure reverberates even more after more than 10,000 people participated in celebrations on Wednesday marking the reunification of Jerusalem."

MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) also derided the left, especially Peace Now's Oppenheimer.

"The anti-Zionist left cloaks itself in the Israeli flag in order to cover its nakedness," said Ben-Ari, "but the public won't forget that Oppenheimer and his friends in recent months attended protests in which they denigrated the Israeli flag and waved flags of the PLO."