Over 100 protest Rice’s visit to Beth El Synagogue

Rachel Kaplan

Holding candles, singing songs, and clutching signs, over one hundred protesters filled the parking lot behind a roped off area designated by police. Among their chief complaints were Condoleezza Rice’s involvement with the Iraq war and supposed role in allowing torture as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the Bush administration.

Among the protesters was Charlie Bloss, a senior member of Veteran’s for Peace, who believed that Condoleezza Rice went against international law established after World War II at Nuremburg. “Condi is representative of what they did getting us into Iraq and breaking international law. We can’t support that. The U.S. of all people should know better,” Bloss said.

The protesters also included members of the Beth El congregation itself. One member, Mike Zis, donning in a shirt reading “Minnesota” in Hebrew, voiced his concerns, “I’m angry that [Beth El] brought [Rice] in to raise money,” he said. Zis believed that Rice’s actions concerning torture and Iraq were against the Jewish teachings of the Synogague.

Handing out a variety of protest material to passersby, the group even submitted a letter to the FBI the previous Friday urging Condoleezza Rice to be tried for war crimes, and in particular, conspiracy to commit torture.

As people walked into the event, the protestors shouted chants such as, “Shame on you,” “You’re supporting the lies, you’re supporting torture,” and “Who is a terrorist? Condi is a terrorist.” Some of the protestors shouted monologues of tortured prisoners at Guantanamo and one man strummed on his guitar singing, “We shall not torture, we shall not be moved.”

However, upon entering Beth El, one would never know of the dozens of protestors outside. In fact, when asked about them, one event volunteer, Jeanette Einsburg, said with a smile, “I think it’s great that they should express themselves.”

The event continued to go underway exactly as planned. Condoleezza Rice was not the only famous face present at Beth El synogauge that night; past senator Norm Coleman was in the audience and Don Shelby from WCCO News, just returning to Minnesota from 12 days among the Red Bull Minnesota National Guard division, gave an introduction urging the congregation to consider the ongoing humanitarian efforts in Iraq.

Dr. Rice’s speech included a similar theme, focusing on the current situation in the Middle East–including Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan–and discussing foreign policy undergone by the Bush Administration. “The U.S. must defend itself from people who want to harm us…Every man, woman, and child should live in freedom,” Dr. Rice said.

Speaking to the congregation specifically, Dr. Rice also urged diplomatic actions regarding the Isreal and Palestine dilemma. “Isreal has the right to exist and belongs in the Middle East,” she said.

After her initial speech, the audience submitted notecards with questions to be answered by Dr. Rice. Reading the first question, Don Shelby, who moderated the question and answer segment, commented, “These are not easy questions, Dr. Rice.”

Indeed, most of the questions, dealing with her views on foreign policy and actions as Secretary of State tested Dr. Rice’s composure. However, she remained incredibly poised and collected, even during tough questions on whether she would have invaded Iraq knowing what she did now about its lack of weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the obvious emphasis on foreign policy, one of Dr. Rice’s major points was to inspire students, and especially young women to get involved with politics, “Read, watch, do what you can. Get exposure to this great, big world,” she said, “Education allows young people to believe in America’s dream.” In an exclusive interview with the Knight Errant, Dr. Rice answered about her views on feminism, “I don’t like labels, but I certainly believe that empowering young women is important.”

Undeterred by the protesters outside, Dr. Rice seemed to maintain an easygoing demeanor, saying she was happy to be in Minnesota and speaking to the synagogue, including students from Minneapolis schools. “It’s easy to get caught up in who [students] will be in ten years, but what’s important is finding what you’re passionate about,” she said.

Many students were inspired by this part of Dr. Rice’s message, though not necessarily agreeing with her other viewpoints. “I don’t agree with her political views, but I thought of her as a strong woman and I really liked her comment about opening your eyes to the world,” said senior Seoyoung Choi, a BSM student attending the event as part of a Peers Respecting Others group led by Ms. Lidibette Guzman.

Ultimately, though Dr. Rice’s speech recognized “it is indeed a challenging time,” she stayed composed and optimistic, “we must keep perspective; not to look at the headlines, but history’s judgement…We need to regain the optimism of America,” she said.