The Los Angeles community mobilized to show support of Israel in the wake of the flotilla crisis. A pro-Israel rally took place beginning at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 1, outside the Turkish consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.
The overwhelming sentiment of the crowd, which at its height numbered about 500, blamed the Turkish government for permitting the Turk-funded, Gaza-bound flotilla to set sail Monday, May 31, in an attempt to break the blockade Israel set up in Gaza to prevent illegal weaponry from being smuggled into Gaza. Currently, 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, and the pro-Palestinian activists onboard the ships said they wanted to bring humanitarian goods to the Gaza population.
The import of humanitarian aid to Gaza was not what the pro-Israel demonstrators on Tuesday took issue with. Many of them waved signs calling for the dismantling of Hamas, which rules Gaza. Eli Baron, a neurosurgeon at Cedars Sinai hospital and a participant in Tuesday’s demonstration, called Hamas “committed to Israel’s destruction.”
Haim Linder, the first vice president of the Council of Israeli Community, an Israeli business network, said that the Israeli cause is an urgent one. “This is it. If the Jewish community won’t get together, then we are pretty much lost,” Linder said. “This is the moment of truth. The world does not understand that we are not basically protecting not only Israel, but doing the work of the whole world.”
Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUS, an Israel advocacy group and one of the organizers of the event, also participated in the demonstration on Tuesday. She said she believes the goal of the Gaza-bound flotilla was to provoke a violent response from Israel. She also noted the relationship with Hamas of the groups that participated in the flotilla operation – particularly IHH, a Turkish organization believed to have provided financial support for Hamas in the past.
“This is about Hamas, [and] Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization,” Rothstein said. “And here’s a boat saying, ‘We’re delivering goods to Hamas,’ Israel’s enemy.”
This week, the U.N., in an emergency session, along with the Turkish government, criticized Israel for the raid on the flotilla and the death of nine onboard one of the ships. In response, Rothstein said, “Israel is in a state of war, so it’s Israel’s obligation, it’s Israel’s duty, to protect its citizens. Every sovereign country has the right to protect its shores from groups like this.”
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Police officers were present to monitor the scene, which began around 5 p.m. and started dwindling at 7 p.m. Early in the demonstration, officers warned the crowds to remain on the sidewalks and off the streets. The demonstration appeared to occur without any arrests. In fact, Ian Paige, an L.A-based attorney and participant in the day’s event, did not want to call the crowd’s actions a “protest” but instead preferred the softer term: “rally.” Paigo said his son is currently in the Israel Defense Forces and added that the “survival of Israel” was his reason for coming to the demonstration.
Pro-Israel community groups, such as StandWithUs, JConnectLA, the Council of Israeli Community and the Israeli Leadership Council, sent out mass emails to their members and used social networking tools like Facebook to organize the rally in a matter of hours before the demonstration began.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, the executive director of JConnectLA, said he was thrilled with the amount of people who showed up. “This is an amazing turnout. With about five hours of notice, the Jewish community mobilized to support Israel and to demand an investigation of Turkey’s role in the flotilla,” Bookstein said.
Participants included Gary Dalin of the Israel Christian Nexus, an alliance devoted to the preservation of the Jewish state. Dalin insisted that demonstrations like these are necessary. “If there were only anti-Israel demonstrations, people would wonder where the supporters of Israel are,” he said. On Monday evening, just down the street, an anti-Israel demonstration had taken place outside of the Israel consulate headquarters, drawing a crowd of comparable size.
On Tuesday, a group of pro-Israel demonstrators circled Bookstein, and he energized the crowd singing “Kol HaOlam Kulo” into a megaphone and playing along on his acoustic guitar. Many in the crowd sang along.
Nearby, a protestor wearing a kippah blew two shofars at once. Minutes later, he put the shofars away and played the Hatikvah, the Jewish national anthem, on a trumpet. And all throughout the two-hour demonstration, passing cars sounded their horns in support of the crowd’s message, while demonstrators stood on the north and south side of the streets waving Israeli and American flags. Some wore flags around their bodies.
At one point, a group of four young adults in an SUV yelled out in support while driving by a man waving two large flags: one Israeli and one American.
Bookstein summed up the aim of Tuesday’s pro-Israel demonstration. “The people are here to support Israel, to stand with the people of Israel,” he said. “We are all saddened by the tragic deaths, which could have easily been avoided, and we want Turkey to held up intentional scrutiny. That’s why people are out here today.”