April 25, 2005

Int'l protests highlight Iran's abuses

By URIEL HEILMAN
NEW YORK

A few hundred New Yorkers, most of them Jewish day school students, turned out Wednesday afternoon for a rally opposite the United Nations to call attention to the plight of Israel's missing-in-action soldiers, including airman Ron Arad.

Facing a crowd on the Sharansky steps at the Isaiah Peace Wall opposite the UN building in New York, speakers from an array of Jewish groups demanded information about Israel's MIAs, including Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Guy Hever.

The rally was timed to coincide with protests outside Iranian embassies in several cities around the world. The demonstrations were organized with the help of Jewish groups and were aimed at highlighting Iran's wanting human-rights record as the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva wrapped up its session. Many believe Iran has information about Arad's whereabouts.

"The issue has kind of dropped off the community agenda in the last number of years, and we need a re-education to get it back on the agenda," Karen Rubinstein, executive director of the American Zionist Movement, said of the Israeli MIAs.

The American Zionist Movement organized the rally in Manhattan, which was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a wide assortment of Jewish youth groups. Students from yeshiva day schools in Manhattan, Long Island and Westchester came in organized delegations to the demonstration, which was comprised mostly of young people. A sizeable contingent from Russian American Jews for Israel also was on hand.

Wearing black T-shirts that read "We know Iran knows," many of the demonstrators held signs aloft calling for the release of the missing soldiers by their supposed captors.

While Israel officially classifies the five as MIAs, many high-level Israeli officials have suggested there is reason to believe that the four who went missing in Lebanon-Arad, Baumel, Feldman, and Katz-are dead. Hever disappeared from an IDF base in the Golan Heights in 1997 and has not been heard from since.

Arad went missing when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, and Baumel, Feldman, and Katz disappeared during the Battle of Sultan Ya'akoub in 1982. A few years ago, Baumel's father received half of his son's identification tag from then-Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Last year, Israel tried to negotiate with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah for new information about Arad, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded a prisoner-swap deal with Hezbollah for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers and one captive Israeli businessman without gleaning any new information about the missing airman.

"This is one of the forefront issues we need to be looking into," said Yael Schiller, a student at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women who came to Wednesday's demonstration.

Rubinstein said the days before Passover are an auspicious time to hold a rally supporting Israel's captive soldiers.

"It's Passover, the festival of freedom," she said. "It's a good time to be remembering them."