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Jewish 'Raging Grannies ' protest
peace movement 's anti-Semitism

By Lauren Krugel     OpEdNews.com

Raging Grannies (from left to right) Deborah Gorham, Alma Norman and Kareen Jackson in their garish granny-esque garb. (Photo: Lauren Krugel)

On the fifth day of Passover, three women sit in Nate 's Delicatessen on Rideau Street sipping from bottomless cups of coffee and noshing from a colourful spread of matzah and gefilte fish.

They wear buttons with peace signs and, like many people are doing these days, discuss the political situation in the Middle East in excited tones accentuated by grandiose hand gestures.

Until recently, Alma Norman, Deborah Gorham and Kareen Jackson were actively involved with the Raging Grannies, a group of women over the age of 55 who demonstrate for peace and social justice issues. They show up to demonstrations in garish, granny-esque garb and sing political ditties.

Now, two have left the group and the other refuses to walk with the Grannies at anti-war demonstrations because of the growing anti-Semitism in the protest movement.

It all began with a protest on March 22 just as America was poised to invade Iraq. Norman says she and her cohorts were glad to see both a rabbi and a mullah give speeches at the protest. After that the mood shifted.

"After the rabbi this woman came on and delivered the most inflammatory anti-Israel, anti-Zionist speech," says Norman. "It was disgusting."

The woman gave a speech on behalf of the Palestinian people. While the protest was to have centred on the situation in Iraq, according to Norman, this woman used this platform to portray Israel as a state guilty of the worst human rights abuses.

When Norman tried to approach this woman she says, "she wouldn 't talk to us, she just sneered and walked away."

The three women agree that there has been a lot of similar anti-Israel views expressed at peace rallies, marches and on university campuses.

Gorham remembers one protester who held up a sign reading "Zionism stinks." She approached the protester and "told her that the sign stunk." In France, she says, there have even been signs with stars of David superimposed onto swastikas.

"I 've been getting a shorter and shorter fuse lately," says Gorham.

Norman, Gorham and Jackson rushed over to comfort the rabbi after the woman gave her speech, as he looked visibly distraught. Jackson asked him what the group should do. He suggested the Grannies hold a meeting to discuss the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist speech.

Norman and Gorham decided to leave the march after the offending speech. Norman wrote a letter to the Grannies outlining her concerns and brought it up at an emergency meeting. The meeting was not a success.

Norman says another Granny "scolded us like we were school children for walking away from this thing. When I consider that for 60 years I 've been involved in social protest, I don 't need someone telling me how to act.

We were criticized for our political act but our personal hurt as a member of this group was never acknowledged."

Except for one other Granny, no one expressed any support. Norman says Grannies fall under two groups: those who are vehemently anti-Israel, and those who feel as though the issue of the Middle East is completely out of their hands and don 't want anything to do with it.

While all three of the Jewish Grannies consider themselves Zionists, it does not mean they have not been critical of Israel 's occupation.

Gorham wrote a letter to the group, Nowar/Paix, the group in charge of the March 22 protest in which she expressed her position. In it she wrote, "I support the position that Israel should get out of the occupied territories immediately; I oppose Sharon 's policy of seeking revenge after every suicide bombing against Israelis.

"But the suicide bombers are terrorists. Israel does have a right to exist. I support moderates on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict who seek a peaceful solution."

The problem, it seems, is that the very definition of Zionism has been skewed within the anti-war movement.

"Zionism has nothing to do with war, has nothing to do with being anti-Palestinian," says Norman. "It 's a Jewish homeland."

Norman says her position on the conflict does not come without flack from the Jewish community too.

"There 's someone in my shul who won 't talk to me because I have expressed positive views about the Palestinians," she says. "He 's convinced that all Palestinians want to destroy Israel and kill all Jews."

The problem, according to Norman is the fact that there is no Jewish peace movement that adequately expresses hers and the other Jewish Grannies ' sentiments.

"The problem is that people who consider themselves Jews against the occupation tend to be solidly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel and that is the thing that makes it difficult for me to relate to them," she says.

While Gorham says she believes the Jewish group, Peace Now is a possible outlet for those with similar positions, Norman says she has a vision for a group with a focus wider than just the Middle East.

"If such a group existed, that 's where we 'd belong," she says.

For the time being, Jackson and Gorham have withdrawn their consent from their group. However, after more than 10 years of being a Raging Granny, Norman has decided to stay a member because of the group 's commitment to social justice issues, but not march alongside the Grannies at protests.

"I stayed because I see myself as a bridge. To me, it 's terribly important that there be somebody who is identified as a Jew, who is identified as a Zionist, who keeps saying to the unlistening hoards, ' ... this is where peace-loving Jews stand. This is where peace-loving Zionists stand, Open your minds. Open your ears. Open your hearts and listen to us ... ' "

Lauren Krugel, laurenkrugel@rogers.com is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa, I grew up in Toronto and also writea songs, poetry and short stories

Originally Published in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin

 

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