Sometimes one person in the scheme of things doesn’t seem influential enough to make a difference. Yet, what if that one person is passionate, courageous and ready to take a stand? Consider being one of thousands of Houston commuters on U.S. 59 N. when dozens canvas the Mandell Bridge with signs that say, â€œIsrael Out of the Middle Eastâ€ or â€œJudaism Isn’t a Real Religionâ€ or â€œStop Funding Israel Apartheid.â€ While some rolled their eyes and sighed as they as they inched past this weekly nuisance, others stared in disbelief hoping someone would chase them away. Someone did. Meet a Jewish Houstonian and son of Holocaust survivors who felt his hometown of over 2.25 million had no place for haters.
Part 3: Ira Bleiweiss, Bridge Houston
Initially, Ira Bleiweiss was like many other evening commuters. He drove by fuming silently watching Progressive Action Alliance (PAA) demonstrators hold signs that demonized Israel. But one day in March 2007 all that changed. Fed up with the growing antisemitic tone of the group’s signage, Bleiweiss asked the protestors the 64 thousand dollar question: Why? They replied that they were just trying to stop injustice in the world, but Bleiweiss didn’t buy it. So he talked to them about other areas of the world facing unrest and got little response.Â
â€œThere are about 70 major conflicts in the world and none fazed them. Their sole focus was on Israel and Jews. They had no interest Darfur or the Congo.â€
They also didn’t care about the genocide in Rwanda where nearly 1 million people were hacked to death.Â And they didn’t care about the pile of bodies stacking up in lawless Somalia.Â Sri Lanka wasn’t even on their radar. Nor were the Tamil Tigers. Their sole focus?Â Israel and Jews. And this targeted agenda told Bleiweiss all he needed to know.
The PAA did unspeakable acts like tried to misrepresent Judaism as a satanic cult and used a Talmud (Rabbinical writings constituting Jewish laws) like it was black magic. But the group made an already fed up Bleiweiss even angrier when they held a poster of Anne Frank in a kaffiyah (traditional Arab headdress). Talk about evil. Drawing a kaffiyah on a young Jewish girl that hid from Nazis before meeting an early death in a concentration camp was not a just a lie it was sick. And suggesting that she’s a Palestinian sympathizer or that Israel is a Nazi is even sicker.
Both are unfathomable and unthinkable. The length of moral inversion that this group stoops to is unbelievable. Israel is a country founded in the exact location of its forebearsâ€”the Israelitesâ€”after the Nazis murdered over six million Jews and two million others. So misleading people with doctored images, smear campaigns and false accusations were not only baseless but hateful. Bleiweiss knows the horrors of the Holocaust all too well from his parents’ personal accounts and from his service as a docent at Holocaust Museum Houston.
But Bleiweiss had a plan. He realized while organizing volunteers that he needed to fill the gapÂ that was occuring between false allegations on theÂ bridge and the thousands of commuters that might begin to believe it. Bleiweiss knew there was a need to bridge peace across all groups regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. So he started Bridge Houston, a grassroots organization dedicated to combating haters and countering their anti-Israel propaganda and lies about Zionism and Judaism.
First, Bridge Houston disrupted the PAA bridge protests numerous times by organizing groups of pro-Israel activists to arrive earlier. Bridge Houston’s volunteers held signs that read, â€œCo-Existâ€, â€œTeach Peace, Not Hate.â€ The response was encouraging. It didn’t take long for commuters to show signs of support by honking, giving thumbs up and shouting exuberantly. Houston commuters welcomed a peaceful alternative to the hate they had witnessed on the Mandell Bridge.
One of Bridge Houston’s slogan’s is â€œPeace = Prosperityâ€. Bleiweiss is a firm believer that if Gazans wanted peace, they would stop launching rockets at Israel and start focusing on prosperity the way Jordanians did after they signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. He has seen how â€œPalestiniansâ€ have resorted to viral campaigns to smear Israel’s name and demonize the country that no Arab armies have ever defeated. He, like Israel, is fighting back with the truth to protect its borders and citizens. He and Bridge Houston encourage those who love Israel to do the same.
Bridge Houston then took their pro-Israel message every place anti-Israel protests occurred. Two weeks after fighting began between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, hundreds of anti-Israel supporters held a rally near the Galleria on January 10, 2009. At the time, Hamas had fired more 6,500 rockets and mortars at southern Israeli civilian targets over the past three years, and refused to renew an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, prompting an Israeli military response against Hamas.
Similar to previous demonstrations, this one included comparisons of Jews and Israelis as Nazis, antisemitic slurs and calls for the destruction of Israel. Teenage protestors carried a large Israeli flag with the words, â€œIsraeli terrorism,â€ spray-painted across it in what looked like bloody letters. While the Bridge Houston pro-Israel rally held signs that said â€œCo-Existâ€ and â€œTeach Peace not Hate,â€ the anti-Israel group had signs with bloody handprints on Israeli flags anti-Jewish propaganda and Nazi swastikas.
Then came an onslaught of anti-Israel billboards across Greater Houston. The Houston Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (HCJPP) quickly blanketed the city with 10 billboards that read, â€œPray for Gaza.â€ The billboards featured a crying child, and pointed viewers to a website containing revisionist history, misleading statistics and bogus allegations. The purpose? To demonize Israel and delegitimize its right to exist. And how did the HCJPP afford to launch this latest propaganda campaign with so many billboards? The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) among others funds them. And who funds CAIR? The Muslim Brotherhood. Concerned? You’d have to be misinformed, dead or a jihadist not to be.
So what did Bridge Houston do? They partnered with StandWithUs to tell the greater Houston Israel’s side of the story and designed billboards that read SAVE GAZA FROM HAMAS, Teach PEACE, not HATE. The pro-Israel billboards feature an Arab boy and an Israeli boy, arm-in-arm, showing that coexistence is possible to achieve with peace. The signs direct viewers to Bridge Houston and StandWithUs for more information about Israel, Gaza and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The only issue now is that there are ONLY two pro-Israel billboards against 10 anti-Israel billboards.
The propaganda machine of the Palestinians has gotten so out of hand that groups that are ultra liberal (i.e., we support terrorists) are cropping up solely to demonize Israel. The HCJPP announced in January 2009 that they were staging a â€œsilent protestâ€ in an attempt to equate the Israeli operation against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip with the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. The location of the protest was none other than Holocaust Museum Houston.
To support Israel and those that endured the Holocaust (both alive and deceased), Bleiweiss organized over 300 Houstonians both Jews and non-Jews along with six rabbis, Christian Zionists, several Holocaust survivors and U.S. Congressman John Culberson, R-TX to counter the anti-Israel group. The haters showed up with 200 protesters, some wearing mock-Auschwitz uniforms holding signs equating Israel to Nazi Germany. Unbelievable. The result? Only 200 anti-Israel protestors showed and most who reported on the incident saw the attempts to discredit Israel and the Holocaust a failure.
But Bleiweiss has cause for concern as there is resurgence in antisemitic attacks occurring against Jews, synagogues and students worldwide. He recounts 2009 defacing of menorahs and synagogues in Europe not to mention the Auschwitz sign that neo-Nazis stole last year. He is seeing more anti-Israel groups and speakers descend on universities globally, and recalls a recent incident in Ft. Lauderdale where protestors screamed â€œThe Ovens Weren’t Big Enoughâ€ and another in Los Angeles where protestors held signs that read, â€œHitler was Right.â€ For Bleiweiss, this tide of religious intolerance, antisemitism and violence worldwide is not a question of will it ever happen again but will it ever happen here.
Recently, Bridge Houston marched in the 32nd annual â€œOriginalâ€ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade held January 18 to commemorate MLK’s staunch support of the State of Israel and to honor the legacy of black-Jewish partnerships. Supporters for Bridge Houston wore blue and white and carried a large banner that read MLK LOVED ISRAEL. The group’s involvement was critical as the previous year the HCJPP injected an anti-Israel message into the Black Heritage Society’s MLK Day parade. By chanting, â€œPalestine will be free â€“ from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea,â€ the anti-Israel group paid a great insult to Dr. King’s memory and life’s work. Bridge Houston was determined not to let that happen.
Bleiweiss most recently debunked the notion that kids are starving in Gaza on the January 25th edition ofÂ the What’s Up Radio ProgramÂ with conservative host, Terry Lowry. How so? He got stats from UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) that proved Gazan children fare much better when it comes to nutrition than most of the Arab oil-producing nations around it. He described the stats as eye-opening:
Malnutrition in the Middle East
|Countries||% Stunting from Malnutrition||What This Indicates|
|Yemen||58||Over 1/2 of all kids are malnourished|
|Egypt||29||1/3 of kids are malnourished|
|Syria||28||1in 4 kids suffer from malnutrition|
|Iraq||26||Plenty of oil wealth but lots of malnourished kids|
|Kuwait||24||Very wealthy but Â¼ all kids are malnourished|
|Saudi Arabia||20||Extreme wealth with many malnourished kids|
|UAE||17||Lots of oil but still some malnourished kids|
|Oman||13||Lots of oil but still degree of malnourished kids|
|Jordan||12||War torn with low amount of malnourished kids|
|Lebanon||11||War torn with low amount of malnourished kids|
|Palestinians (Gaza)||10||Lowest amount of malnourished kids per capita|
Source: UNICEF, 2009
Anyone following Israel closely knows the UN has not been much of a friend to Israel since the inception of the Jewish state in 1948. The fact Bleiweiss pulled the UN’s stats shows he’s going out of his way to disprove false allegations.
Bleiweiss is also concerned about colleges becoming more liberal and finding it fashionable to denigrate Israel. He called attention to the fact that Rice University Baker Institute invited the controversial speaker and former Minister of Education and Research for the Palestinian Authority, Hanan Ashrawi, to speak without inviting an equivalent Israeli speaker. Ashawari played a prominent role in the 1st Intifada and worked hand-in-hand with former PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. Not quite the role model most law-abiding parents want their college student to hear.
Ashrawi is quoted as saying, â€œI see it (the intifada with its suicide bombing that began September 20) as an expression of the will of the spirit of the people that will not succumb to coercion or subjugation. Popular protests and acts of resistance, political human resistance, are necessary to demonstrate the people’s will.â€
Bleiweiss takes issue with the fact that most parents would be outraged if they knew they were bankrolling speakers that sympathized with terrorists and suicide bombers at their kid’s university. He also shines the light on the fact that Ashrawi is a Christian Lebanese woman and she is defending a religionâ€”Islamâ€”that denigrates women and is either killing or forcing a mass exodus on Christians. For instance, Bethlehem used to be over 80 percent Christian 40 â€“ 50 years ago. Today, Bethlehem is less than 20 percent Christian. Assault is on the rise among Christians in Bethlehem, and so are reports of Palestinian mafia extorting Christian business owners for protection money.
Another alarming fact is what is about to occur next month. The Muslim Student Association is sponsoring its sixth annual Israel Apartheid month in cities and colleges worldwide in March. Bleiweiss is getting the word out that much of what they are doing is a moral inversion by comparing Gaza to South African apartheid, calling Israel a Nazi, comparing Gaza to the Holocaust and asking the world to divest, sanction or boycott Israel. He is asking for those who care about justice to come together as a group and not allow this kind of atrocity to occur at universities and cities around the world.
In his effort to bridge the community, Bleiweiss has found an ally in former Black Panther Quanell X. The activists recently joined forces October of 2009 to challenge a speech in Houston by Holocaust denier, David Irving.
OtherÂ recentÂ developments along this lineÂ include protests at the Israeli Consulate that involved students from the Al-Hadi School of Accelerative Learning, an Islamic school in Houston, Texas. While Houston is not experiencing the same degree of anti-Semitism as reported in some cities like Dearborn, Michigan, the FBI claims it has a strong Hamas base. Proof: The U.S. federal government seized the school along with a Manhattan skyscraper and four U.S. mosques citing alleged links to the Iranian government. All are owned by Iranian backed Alavi Foundation and the Assa Corporation.
Organizations like Act! for America urge citizens to step up and find out who owns businesses like the ones seized by theÂ federal governmentÂ if you feel they might be misusing taxpayer funding. In fact, Act! for America was one of the first to claim the Ft. Hood shooter would have links to aÂ local mosque, and authorities identified it shortly after the massacre to one just outside of D.C.
Bridge Houston is proof that one person’s involvement matters. But with all the antisemitism, anti-Zionism and leftists who coddle terrorists, criminals and those who fund them, we need everyone’s help. Ready to counter the propaganda, stem hatred and stop revisionism? Visit the Bridge Houston site to learn more, sign up for email alerts and discover other ways you get involved. Stay abreast of the latest developments by following Bridge Houston on Facebook.