A fundraiser at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, featuring former President George W. Bush, drew a series of protests and expressions of outrage by a diverse group of activists. Some were traditional peace activists, others were concerned with U.S. torture policies initiated by Bush. Many Jewish people, including members of Beth El that were outraged that the synagogue would give refuge to a “War Criminal.”
Charges of war crimes are dogging Bush as he travels around the world. Last week an appearance at Tyndale College, Toronto, was cancelled after student, faculty and alumni protested. He also canceled a trip to Switzerland in February 2011 after international human rights groups threatened large scale demonstrations at a United Israel Appeal fundraiser. The September 15, 2011 issue of The American Jewish World stated that, “George W. Bush event tarnishes Beth El’s image.”
The outrage was intensified by the fact that Beth El in the past has invited former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and, most recently, Michael Broyde, the Emory University law professor and rabbi (who advocates torture “under certain circumstances”). The Rice appearance two years ago attracted an action similar to the one greeting Bush this week.
When the St. Louis Park appearance became known, members of the peace activist committee asked for a meeting with Beth El officials to seek a cancellation of the event. The group intended to propose: a) rescind the invitation; b) donate the profits or an amount equivalent to Bush’s fee to an appropriate organization; and c) invite 250 torture victims and refugees to attend the program for free. This meeting was delayed until after the event.
Citizen complaints were delivered to the FBI, US Attorney and the St. Louis Park Police requesting arrest of George W. Bush for war crimes. A 32-page indictment was drafted by The Center for Constitutional Rights. A copy was presented to the US Attorney in Minneapolis. It is available on-line and will be used to follow Bush and associates on their travels. The website warcriminalswatch lists upcoming speaking engagements of a number of top Bush administration officials and some of the OLC memo-writing lawyers.
Many people were outraged by the appearance but there was also intense sadness among many including members of Beth El that a synagogue would provide a venue for these highly controversial public figures. The coincidence with the International Day of Peace was particularly troubling. Attendance was limited to 250 people with reported ticket prices beginning at $1,200 and increasing to $3,600. Bush’s reported fee was $150,000.
Students from St. Louis Park and Edina high schools participated, some putting on the orange jump suits representing the garb worn by Guantanamo inmates. The orange jump suits appear in many of the peace and anti-torture demonstrations.
Kites were flown over Beth El this last weekend calling attention to the Bush torture history. Master kite wrangler Roger Cuthbertson described it as, “The Discharge of the Kite Brigade.”