Any major gathering of Jewish organizations in the U.S. can be expected to flush out one or two demonstrations, predictably vehemently for or against Israel, but this year's Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans brought forth the cream of protesters, in the form of the Westboro Baptist Church.
These good people, with their strong homophobic message, are known in the U.S. for their fondness for picketing funerals of fallen American soldiers and gay murder victims.
But the Jews are also in their crosshairs, and so they turned out in force on the Christian day of rest, sandwiching their protest between the Sheraton and Marriott hotels, where most of the GA events are taking place, a short time before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was due to speak.
The church is the brainchild of one Fred Phelps, and primarily comprises his kith and kin. Widely reviled, they have been featured in the mainstream U.S. media and even targeted by leftist crusader Michael Moore.
And lo, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, brandishing banners accusing Jews of killing Christ, citing New Testament verses and proclaiming that God hates Israel, they donned blood-spattered American and Israeli flags, using more of the same as impromptu carpets reminiscent of some of the more extreme demonstrations in the Arab world.
The group even kindly injected a kosher flavor to their rallying cries, inventing their own creative lyrics to traditional Jewish melody Hava Nagila and the Israeli national anthem to reflect favorite anti-Semitic canards. Even Bernie Madoff got a mention.
Jewish activists, never ones to turn down a challenge or a loud debate, flocked out of the hotel to join the fun; some tried in vain to engage in jovial banter with the protesters, whose ability to stick to the party line puts Israeli and American politicians to shame.
The Westboros also brought out a small counter-demonstration from Spectrum, the Louisiana State University's official lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer/questioning organization, with hastily made banners calling for tolerance and love, as well as a crowd of passers-by who whipped out cell phones to snap the melee. A gay couple who proudly displayed the (divine) scarlet tutu they had just purchased was more than happy to embrace and pose for a photo op next to the church folk.
Instead of anger and dissent, all these people elicited in downtown New Orleans was pity and more than a little mockery. The Big Easy, it seems, certainly does not go easy on prejudice and intolerance.