Wednesday, May 08, 2002
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By Hasan Suroor
But what was billed as a "pro-peace" rally quickly descended into a war cry with the former Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, launching a vituperative personal attack on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
Peace activists were outnumbered and "outshouted" by the hawks who cheered Mr. Netanyahu as he compared Mr. Arafat to Hitler and Osama bin Laden and called for his elimination from the political scene. Organisers of the rally a coalition of various Jewish groups were reported to have been embarrassed by his rhetoric and a group of Palestinians who had organised a counter-rally, just a few metres away, seized on it to claim that it confirmed their worst fears about Israeli aims.
Jewish peace activists, elbowed out by the more militant rallyists, shouted "shame" when Mr. Netanyahu justified Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and its military action. A spokesman for the Just Peace (UK) denounced the rally as a "PR exercise for Sharon's extreme right-wing government" while a woman peace activist alleged attempts to "browbeat" all Jews into presenting a united front against Palestinians.
The spiritual head of British Jewry, Jonathan Sacks, was also reported to be unhappy with Mr. Netanyahu's remarks and called them "inappropriate". Without directly referring to Britain, Mr. Netanyahu said this amounted to saying: "The British people would have to come to terms with Hitler because Hitler is the German leader of the German people. Arafat is bin Laden with good PR...Israel must and will throw out Yasser Arafat," he said.
In sharp contrast to the banners which said "All Israel Wants is Peace" and "An Eye for an Eye Leaves us all Blind", Mr. Netanyahu declared that Israel had "chosen to fight and...win". "The question is not whether Israel will fight...The question is whether Israel will fight alone," he said even as the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, an advocate of a peaceful solution, insisted that military action was not the answer.
The view was echoed by a former Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, who said time had come to return to the "discourse and mechanisms of peace-making".
The rally was held against the backdrop of complaints of "growing anti-Semitism" in Britain and the ransacking of a synagogue in London last week. Organisers emphasised that it was meant to be a call for peace, not an endorsement of Israeli Government's policies, but the Islamic Human Rights Commission which had organised a counter-rally called it a "provocation".
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