A large, staunchly pro-Israel crowd demonstrated support for the Jewish state and listen to speeches by more than 20 city, state and Jewish leaders on Wilshire Boulevard in front of the Israeli Consulate on Sunday, June 6. Rally organizers reported a turnout of approximately 2,200 people, based on police estimates.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan, numerous rabbis as well as political and other Jewish leaders addressed the crowd. The gathering followed a week of local rallies for and against Israel after the May 31 boarding by Israeli navy commandos of a ship in a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza. Nine activists were killed in the incident.
The June 6 rally was organized by the consulate, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and multiple other groups to send a message of solidarity with Israel to the international community. Israel has been widely criticized for the deaths onboard the Mavi Marmara during the flotilla’s attempt to break Israel’s long-established Gaza blockade.
Throughout the afternoon, the crowd waved Israeli and American flags and carried signs with slogans like “Shame on Turkey,” referring to the flotilla’s unofficial sponsorship by Turkey, an ally of Israel. Other signs featured the slogan, “Stop Launching Rockets From Gaza,” a message to the terrorist-led Hamas government in Gaza, which has repeatedly sent rockets to nearby Israeli towns, injuring and killing civilians.
Standing behind a banner that read “L.A. Supports Israel,” Schwarzenegger spoke of his longtime support for Israel, “going way back into my bodybuilding and show-biz days,” he said.
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With Dayan at his side, Schwarzenegger used the opportunity to remind people of the plight of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 who is still being held captive in Gaza. In front of the crowd, Schwarzenegger made a phone call to Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father.
Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, introduced each of the day’s speakers. Calling Dayan to the microphone, he referred to the consul general as “the heart and soul of our community.”
Dayan wrapped himself in an Israeli flag on and off during the event. He described the international outcry against Israel as an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state through provocation and misinformation. “Enough of the campaign of lies spread by the defenders of terror,” Dayan said. “Those on the flotilla were not peace activists.”
“They were terrorists!” a voice from the crowd responded.
“Wake up,” Dayan said repeatedly, addressing the international community and receiving enormous applause from the crowd. “Israel is on the frontline of the free world.” The United States, he said, is Israel’s greatest ally.
Dayan also denounced the IHH, a Turkish humanitarian organization that sponsored the flotilla, pointing to the organization’s alleged connections to Hamas.
The crowd react negatively to a speech by David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now, the U.S. counterpart of the Israel-based group seeking a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pine was drowned out by boos as he told the crowd, “Believers in Israel and believers in peace know that despite the obstacles and the challenges, and despite the way one individual military operation was handled, ultimately it will take a negotiated resolution that provides for a two-state solution, with security assurances for Israel, which will end the occupation so that Israel can establish secure borders with a Jewish majority and a strengthened democracy.”
Federation chair Richard Sandler tried to calm the demonstrators. “The difference between us and our enemies is we respect all points of view,” he said.
The crowd continued to drown out Pine, with someone yelling, “Traitor!”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned longtime White House press correspondent Helen Thomas, who resigned Monday, for her recent remarks that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go back home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.” Hier said Thomas’ statement “shows off her bigotry,” adding, “the Jews are not in Palestine. They’re in the State of Israel, where they belong, where their ancestors lived for 2,000 years.”
City Controller Wendy Greuel asked the crowd why the international community is condemning Israel and not Hamas, saying, “Where is the outrage from the international community that Israel must impose a blockade in the first place?”
Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, complained that Israel is being held to a double standard: “Israel is being condemned guilty before being proven guilty,” Rothstein said.
Among the congregational rabbis who spoke were Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple; Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, who is also president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; and Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR. Wolpe took a somewhat lighter approach: “We are here because of love,” he told the crowd in a brief address, while Eger focused on why Israel’s blockade of Gaza is necessary: Hamas. “The city of Gaza is oppressed by a violent regime,” she said.
Brous acknowledged that the deaths of the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara were tragic and unfortunate, but raised the hope that the events should be used as means to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians, to “transform tragedy into possibility” and “create a Palestinian country by [Israel’s] side.”
Cantor Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple led the crowd in singing both the Israeli and American national anthems. At the end of the rally, Daniel Pereg, a local teenager who received a great deal of attention this week as the sole pro-Israel demonstrator to wave Israel’s flag at an anti-Israel demonstration, came on stage to sing “Hatikvah” again with Dayan. At the same time, numerous men circulated through the crowd, inviting other men to put on tefillin.
There were no security checks at the rally, but Marina Rozhansky, speaking on behalf of the consulate’s office, said precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the crowd.
“We were working with the LAPD and the State Department, and they had security procedures down,” Rozhansky said. “It was very heavily secured.”
Problems with the sound system also brought complaints that the speakers could not be heard. Rozhansky said sound checks earlier in the day had not indicated problems, but they had not anticipated the size of the crowd, which may have caused the problems.
SLIDESHOW by Karmel Melamed: