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Jew vs. Jew? Protests, Threats Reach Fever Pitch over Israel

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This week, New York City's Jewish community is riven by protests, counterprotests, and now, Jew-on-Jew threats over the question of Israel and the Palestinians.

On Tuesday night, over 500 people gathered and marched in silent protest outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was appearing at a $1,000-a-plate dinner hosted by the New York-based Friends of the IDF.

The protest was initially called by Jews Say No!, a local peace group founded last year amid Israel's Gaza offensive, and was cosponsored by about 30 other organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Palestinian-American and other local groups.

"Everyone feels that Operation Cast Lead was an outrage," said Dorothy Zellner, a protester with Jews Say No, of the Gaza offensive. "As a Jew, I can't tolerate that the country that did this claims it is doing it for me."

The Jewish peace movement, while united against the ongoing blockade of Gaza and expansion of settlements, remains divided on questions of the Goldstone Report, the international boycott movement, and the proper course of action regarding the Iranian regime.

Other Jewish groups, like the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby J Street, kept their distance from the demonstrations (which coincided with the contentious Israeli Apartheid Week), while rallying their members to press for a two-state solution.

Counterprotesters, for their part, affiliated with groups like Stand With Us and the pro-settler Americans for a Safe Israel, showed up Tuesday night, waving Israeli flags and taunting the protesters from across the street. At points, the night saw heated exchanges that included both anti-Arab and anti-Semitic slurs on the part of individual protesters.

Meanwhile, intimidating statements were finding their way into the inboxes of Jewish peace activists:

"STOP TREASON BY ANTI-ISRAEL GROUP," read one from the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO), a New York-based splinter group affiliated with the far right Kahane Movement. The message, now circulating on Facebook, calls on supporters to target another local Jewish group, Jews Against the Occupation (JATO), which it brands "Jews for Destroying Israel," and to "take them on in the streets." The call to action is followed by an article addressed "TO THE ENEMIES OF ZION."

The JDO describes itself as "a militant Jewish group dedicated to the eradication of Jew haters," and runs a paramilitary training camp, Camp Jabotinsky, in upstate New York. The JDO's Facebook page advertises its program thus:

WANTED:
JEWS WITH GUTS!
TO TRAIN IN SELF-DEFENSE & GUN TRAINING

Members are followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist figure assassinated in 1990, whose movement was linked by Israeli authorities to the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron and to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. At the time, the Kahane movement was also tied to an attempted bombing of the offices of Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund.

Now tensions are rising anew in the Jewish Diaspora, as the government of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu faces growing dissent at home and worldwide condemnation - including harsh words from Vice-President Joe Biden - over its plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.

Today, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the Palestinian Authority would boycott any further negotiations unless the Israeli government reverses its decision.