- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Tens of thousands of pro-Israel demonstrators from across the country converged at the U.S. Capitol yesterday, expressing solidarity with the Jewish state and support for America's global war on terror.
Many carrying signs that equated Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden called on the United States to fully support the Israeli military's efforts to crush the wave of suicide bombings by Palestinians.
Amid tight security, more than 30 speakers addressed the demonstrators from a stage on the west steps of the Capitol, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Few were there to preach a message of peace. Loud booing rumbled over the sea of signs and Israeli flags when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, speaking on behalf of President Bush, referred to the suffering of Palestinians in the raging Mideast violence.
"We had to be here today to show our support for a free Israel and to show we stand behind the Israeli government," said Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky, 42, who traveled to the rally with five bus loads of demonstrators from New City, New York. "The American people can relate with that."
Mr. Netanyahu, whose address was perhaps the day's most intense, called the gathering the biggest pro-Israel rally in his country's 54-year history.
U.S. Park Police did not provide a crowd estimate, but organizers estimated the crowd was between 20,000 and 40,000 strong. Youth groups, college students, families and people of all faiths came from as far away as California, Maine and Wisconsin, with the massive audience bottlenecked around the Reflecting Pool.
Like many speakers, Mr. Netanyahu had scathing words for Mr. Arafat, describing him as "Osama bin Laden with good [public relations]."
"[Arafat] is a terrorist if there ever was one," Mr. Netanyahu said. "You do the same thing to him you did to the Taliban you defeat him."
Other speakers included Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
"We come here today to voice our fervent support of President Bush's war on terrorism," Mr. Wiesel said. "Terrorism knows no borders, and therefore the opposition to terrorism should know no borders."
Mr. Wolfowitz told the crowd he had been personally sent by the president to express "solidarity" with Israel and its U.S. supporters, but Mr. Wolfowitz was interrupted by boos and heckling when he added that "Israelis are not the only victims of violence in the Middle East.
"Innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well, and it is critical we recognize and acknowledge this fact," he said. "I believe in my heart that a majority of Palestinians believe in peace."
But the crowd resisted any pro-Palestinian sentiment. One of the booing demonstrators carried over his head a photograph of a young boy strapped with explosives. Beneath the photograph were printed the words: "Not Even Hitler Did This."
Pro-Israel lawmakers on Capitol Hill and many of Mr. Bush's conservative supporters have expressed unease with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's diplomacy and with what they see as pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the face of Palestinian terrorist assaults.
"Let's be clear there is no moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, drawing a huge ovation from the sun-drenched crowd.
Israeli Ambassador David Ivry, waiting in the shade behind the speaker's platform for his turn to address the crowd, said in an interview that the rally was a "major achievement," especially given the brief time organizers had.
"It increases our feeling of solidarity with the United States, and I know this show of support is having a major impact back home," he said.
U.S. Capitol Police and U.S. Park Police headed up control of yesterday's crowd. The Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. fire department also provided support.
In addition to the size of the crowd, authorities had to contend with temperatures in the high 80s.
Police Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer said one big problem was "the warm weather and the shortage of drinkable water."
D.C. fire officials said more than 150 persons were examined for heat-related injuries and 22 were transported to area hospitals. Firefighters distributed free bottled water to the crowd as it drifted from the Capitol back to RFK Stadium, where bus parking was made available for out-of-town demonstrators.
Chief Gainer said officers were deployed on city streets during the evening rush hour, but most of the effects on area traffic were clearing up by 6 p.m.
"If crowds and traffic are the only problems you've got, you're not doing too bad," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who called the demonstration "peaceful."
But there was a smattering of counterdemonstration activity on the edges of yesterday's rally. About 20 persons waving Palestinian flags exchanged angry words with pro-Israel demonstrators from behind police tape at the corner of Third Street and Independence Avenue SW.
A pro-Israel demonstrator who hurled a frozen drink at a small group of counterdemonstrators on the corner of Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW was quickly handcuffed and detained by police. Capitol police did not release figures on arrests.
Though Chief Gainer said it was most likely not related to the demonstrations, a bomb threat on the city's banks closed down at least a dozen downtown branches yesterday.
Reuters news agency later reported that a 13-year-old Dutch boy admitted he made the bomb threat, the public prosecutor's office in Amsterdam said.
"We have the idea that the boy acted on [his] own and that it was intended as a joke," spokesman Wim de Bruin said.
Mr. de Bruin said the prosecutor's office had informed authorities in the United States that it had tracked down the boy and would continue to investigate.
David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide