New York Rally Against Paris Peace Summit Draws Tiny Turnout

A fraction of the expected thousands gathered outside the French Mission to the UN and slammed Obama over U.S. abstention from anti-settlements Security Council vote.

People gather outside the French Mission to the UN protesting against the Paris peace conference, January 12, 2017.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

NEW YORK — Only a fraction of the 5,000 people organizers had expected to draw to a rally on Thursday outside the French Mission to the UN in New York actually showed up. The some 500 people who did turn up gathered to show their opposition to the international Middle East peace conference being convened in Paris on Sunday.

While the demonstration was ostensibly focused on the Paris conference and the UN, speakers also wove through angry references to U.S. President Barack Obama, whose middle name, Hussein, got plenty of emphasis.

“It is Obama and Kerry who are behind the whole spectacle on Sunday,” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Orthodox areas of Brooklyn, said in his remarks. The Paris conference is happening “only because of Kerry’s outrageous stabs in the back to the people of Israel,” he said, referring to the U.S. abstention from December’s UN Security Council vote that condemned Israeli settlement building as an obstacle to peace.

“The UN is a place of darkness and America is there to protect Israel’s back, but the president didn’t” when he decided to have the U.S. abstain from the resolution vote, allowing it to pass, said Eli Dworetsky, an accountant and former president of the National Council of Young Israel, one of the larger rally sponsors.

Other rally participants included two women trying to get the long-defunct Jewish Defense League back up and running in New York. “The JDL gives us a voice,” said one of them, Karen Lichtbraun, wearing a JDL t-shirt. “We need leadership.”

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a rally organizer, blamed the small turnout on the midday timing. He has had far larger crowds show up at rallies against the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” and against the Iran nuclear deal. They were successful, he said, because they took place after work hours.

Wiesenfeld, who works as a wealth manager, is a lay leader at a striking range of Jewish organizations. Treasurer of the World Jewish Congress, he is also a board member of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, president of the Israel Independence Fund, which aids Jewish communities in the West Bank, as well as underwrites projects elsewhere in Israel, and is chairman of the board at the National Yiddish Theater.

From the dais on Thursday, Wiesenfeld yelled at the French government, “Who the hell are you, the government of France, to make plans, outlines, agreements on our behalf?!... The State of Israel will not accept your edicts!"

"Your ancestors only two generations ago deported ours to Auschwitz and Drancy, willingly on your own trains,” he continued. “Who the hell are you to tell the Jewish people?... thank God January 20th is coming, because all you will be of zero value, of zero legitimacy.”

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld's speech at the rally. Facebook

Diagonally across the avenue, about 20 members of the anti-Zionist Hasidic group Neturei Karta held a counter protest under the watchful eyes of police officers.

Their spokesman, Rabbi Dovid Feldman, told Haaretz, “Jewish blood is spilled because the settlements antagonize the world, at the UN and in the U.S.”

Organizations sponsoring the event, numbering 45 in total, included Hadassah and the Jewish National Fund, however most of them were small, like the One Israel Fund, which financially supports projects in West Bank Jewish communities, and the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which, tax records show, gets much of its budget from the Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson Family Foundation.

“I wish there were more people here,” said Dworetsky.

But despite the low turnout, Wiesenfeld said after the rally that he considered it a success. “We want to do anything we can to damage the French brand and get at least some people riled up.”