Searching for Falafel Outside the 'New York Stands With Israel' Rally

The rally had drawn a clear line: Hamas equals war and terrorism. Hummus equals whirled peas.

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"There were no snacks at the rally," Reuven lamented.

I asked for his last name, but he demurred. "Just Reuven," he replied. 

Reuven and I had come from the "New York Stands With Israel" rally — a collection of ten thousand pro-Israel supporters, some heavy-hitting New York legislators, and a few Neturai Karta protestors (rabidly anti-Zionist religious Jews) —at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, just a stone's throw from the United Nations.

If hunger had been a result of the rally, it was in part because of the late July heat, but also the subliminal by-product of some of the rally's most popular messaging.

Reuven and I were in Chopita on East 45th Street, just due south of the plaza. A line had stretched outside the door of the Kosher falafel and shawarma joint, beleaguering an unsuspecting staff an hour past Manhattan's normal lunch rush.

I asked a Chopita clerk behind the counter how business was doing today and he dismissed my question with the wave of a falafel tongs. The leg of shawarma spinning behind him was starting to look a little thin. 

"Did you order?" someone else asked, nudging me in line.

Meanwhile, catty-corner from Chopita on prime Second Avenue real estate sat Sido Falafel, which was neither kosher, nor Israeli, nor full of people.

As the drama played out in falafel, politicians were eager to bring the conflict home.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who represents Westchester and the Bronx and seemed to have a number of constituents in tow, asked the crowd to imagine if rockets were being fired into the United States from Mexico or if terror tunnels were being dug from Canada. A corresponding sign rhetorically asked what Manhattan would do if Brooklyn were lobbing rockets into it. The answer, of course, is respond with overwhelming force, which Israel, according to officials and its supporters, isn't even doing.

The three-week war between Israel and Hamas, along with other terrorist groups in Gaza, has brought with it the de rigueur surge of anti-Israel (and sometimes anti-Jewish) demonstrations across European capitals, American cities, and the Middle East. On Monday, in New York, Washington, D.C., and a handful of other cities, the coordinated pro-Israel response came, along with a rejoinder to anyone who doesn't believe that all politics is still local.   

Just hours before, President Obama had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone, emphasizing the need for an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire." The president added that the disarming Hamas and the other terrorist groups was a long-term goal.

On Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and one of the highest-ranking Democrats in the Senate, broke with his president:

We cannot have any ceasefire until Israel destroys Hamas’ weapons, tunnels and weapons. No cease-fire as long as Hamas’ weaponry is gone! It’s plain and simple.” 

The crowd roared with delight. While the contours of a mainstream could be divined from the signs of the crowd and the statements of the politicians and community leaders involved, there were outsiders too. In addition to the Satmar protestors who were kept at bay across the street by New York's Finest, there were also counterprotesters from Jewish Voices for Peace, which had a banner calling on Israel to stop the killing in Gaza.

"L'lechet l'aza, ben zonah," an Israeli passerby shouted at them. (Go to Gaza, son of a bitch.)

There were also emissaries from the evangelical Christian community. Carrying a "Christians for Israel" sign was Dr. Martha Smith, who said she was visiting from Oslo and had heard about the rally on Christian radio.

She started by calling the widely acclaimed 1993 Oslo Accords, which brought a fleeting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, "an anti-Semitic pact to destroy Israel." Taken aback, I asked if she opposed the peace process and she said yes, adding that "I believe that Mr. Kerry is on faulty ground and I know many of my fellow Christians who are fighting for Israelis survival feel the same."

Needless to say her support for Israel was quite vigorous. As was her belief that President Obama is Muslim and that Hillary Clinton is pro-Palestinian.

The dissonance between America and Europe in public opinion and the positions of their government appear to be on steroids anytime war flares up between Israel and any of its neighbors. There have been tomes written about myriad reasons why Europe doesn't look favorably upon what Israel does. Some of it, however, can be attributed to the politics-is-local adage, moth-eaten though it seems, and the surging Muslim population in Europe.

Meanwhile, there are millions in America who believe what the majority of the demonstrators in New York believe about the morality of Israel and its right to defense. (For a spirited argument, see this Pro-Israel screed by prominent atheist thinker Sam Harris.) But we also forget that there are also many, many millions like Dr. Smith, who believe that Israel as a Jewish state represents the fulfillment of a divine plan that will bring about the messiah.

There may be disagreements about the long-term prospects for Israel, but for now, the short term is the only thing that matters. Solidarity carries the day and caters the afterparty.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.