January 7, 2009
Rallies and Villagairosa appearance highlight local support for Israel
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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city officials joined with leaders of the Jewish community and pro-Israel demonstrators this week in a show of solidarity with Israel during its Gaza operation.
"[Israel] must act against the Hamas leaders targeting the innocent. And it must be allowed to exercise its right and responsibility to defend itself," Villaraigosa said Monday.
The press conference, held at The Jewish Federation's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, came amid ongoing protests of Israel by pro-Palestinian groups and counterdemonstrations by Israeli supporters in front of the Federal Building and the Israeli Consulate.
Villaraigosa, who visited the border city of Sderot last summer, affirmed Israel's right to ensure the safety and security of its residents. More than 10,000 rockets have been launched against Sderot and the western Negev since 2001.
"I've been to Sderot and seen the wreckage caused by a constant barrage of rocket attacks," he said. "I've met parents afraid to let their kids play in the streets and students unable to go to school each day. I've walked along empty roads, visited vacant buildings and witnessed the sheer destruction of a town decimated by eight years of missile strikes."
See Eliran Rafael's rally photos on Facebook
The mayor was joined at The Federation by City Councilmembers Wendy Greuel, Janice Hahn, Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine, as well as Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan, Federation President John Fishel and Simon Wiesenthal Center dean Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Said Zine, who is a Lebanese Christian and visited Israel with the mayor: "The images you are going to see on television are sad. But how many times does a rocket have to be fired into your land before you respond? Israel has finally said enough is enough."
"The mayor should bring both sides together to talk about how we can prevent the conflict and violence emanating from the Middle East from spilling over onto our streets in America," he said at the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
Working in concert with Jewish organizations and synagogues, Western States American Israel Public Affairs Committee mobilized people to call congressional representatives to voice support for Israel and to discuss the notion that Hamas was responsible for the violence, and that only a diplomatic solution would lead to a durable peace.
AIPAC was also behind an effort to have Angelenos contact Villaraigosa's office to express gratitude for his support of Israel -- a stance that brought criticism from those opposed to Israel's actions. By Tuesday morning, the mayor's voicemail designated for such calls was full, and the calls had to be rerouted.
From its base in Los Angeles, StandWithUs has been organizing protests against Israel's critics and pro-Israel rallies almost nonstop.
The latest rallies this week in Los Angeles were scheduled past press time for outside the Israeli Consulate Tuesday evening and at the Federal Building in Westwood on Wednesday afternoon. On its Web site and in its e-mails, StandWithUs has been circulating signs and posters that state, "Israel We Stand With You" and "Israel Left Gaza for Peace and Has Received 5,000 Rockets Launched From Gaza," as well as an outline of "Hamas' War Crimes."
"The anti-Israel side, which is really trying to put an end to what is going on right now, they don't really care about the far-reaching impact that a cease-fire would have on Hamas' ability to launch rockets," said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs' international director. "It needs to be clear that stopping the rocket fire is Israel's reason. Otherwise, Israel looks like a bully. Israel needs to stop the thousands of rockets that are being fired on its citizens. That message has to get out."
During a rally outside the Federal Building on Jan. 2, spirits were high among some 400 cheering, flag-waving supporters of Israel. Most of the chants and cheers were drowned out by a cacophony of car horns, signifying support for the cause.
The anticipated contingent of pro-Hamas backers didn't show up, postponing its appearance to later that afternoon in front of the Israeli Consulate.
Allyson Rowen Taylor, a key organizer of the rally at the Federal Building, carried a large sign reading, "Proud Mom of a Soldier in Israel."
Other signs and banners read, "Stop Using Gaza as a Launching Pad" and "Stop Using Children as Shields."
Haim Linder of the Council of Israeli Communities brought along a giant Israeli flag, measuring 10 by 13 feet, a present from Dayan that had previously flown over the Knesset.
At the counterdemonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate on Friday afternoon, an estimated 500 Israelis turned up, making up nearly half of the pro-Israel crowd, according to Eli Tene, co-chair of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) board of directors.
Israeli Leadership Council credits the unprecedented turnout to development of its new Web site, Tzav8.org, which is named for Israel's emergency call for military service. Israelis and others can sign up to receive e-mail and/or text messages alerting them about pro-Israel rallies and events.
"The least we can do for our country, as Israelis living in America, is allot minimal time to stand up against the harmful spread of deception ... this is our miluim [reserve duty]. This is our duty," the Web site reads.
More than 2,000 people have signed up to receive Tzav 8 alerts.
"Nobody ever reached out to Israelis," said Tene, an Israeli who has lived in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. "We [the ILC] are demonstrating that reaching out to them works."
B'nei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth group, has rallied local day school students in support of Israel, and students at Milken Jewish Community High School passed word of last Sunday's rally via Facebook.
Children at many Orthodox day schools have gotten sponsors for studying chapters of Mishnah. They will use the money to help pay for a megabar/bat mitzvah for about 30 teens from Sderot who have been unable to celebrate their own milestones as rockets fall. Some of the local day schools are raising extra money to buy bar and bat mitzvah gifts for the kids, and some of the younger children are making gift cards.
B'nei Akiva also planned to hold its own rally on Wednesday at the Federal Building, gathering students to proactively demonstrate on Israel's behalf, rather than in response to an anti-Israel rally.
The Temple of the Arts will host a special citywide Support Israel Shabbat service on Jan. 16 at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills. Rabbi David Baron of the temple said he plans to "provide everyone with a four-point action agenda of how to support Israel." The evening will include music, prayer, a presentation on Israel's recent Gaza action and a question-and-answer session with the Israeli consul general. The event will run from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are not required.
The United Jewish Communities, the federation system's umbrella organization, announced a series of solidarity rallies this week and a fundraising effort to augment humanitarian and social needs programs in southern Israel. The Federation had not planned its own, but a spokeswoman said it was supporting the rally StandWithUs organized for later today (Wednesday. Jan. 7.)
Likewise, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces announced a campaign to aid troops involved in the Gaza battle.
Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Dikla Kadosh, Tom Tugend and Jay Firestone contributed to this report.
Rally photo above by Peter Halmagyi