United Front

Imagine tens of thousands of Angelenos filling the block of Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente and La Jolla to show their support for the State of Israel.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel, along with more than 40 Jewish participating organizations, hope to see this vision come to life at 10 a.m. Sun., July 22, when they stage what may turn out to be the most ambitious solidarity rally ever mounted by Los Angeles’ organized Jewish community.

From Americans for Peace Now to the Zionist Organization of America, dozens of Jewish organizations have set aside their political, ideological and religious differences to put their names behind the rally, billed as the “Solidarity Rally for the People of Israel.”

The organizers want to emphasize the solidarity aspect. “It is important that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel. In a time like this, it is imperative that the people of Israel do not feel alone,” Federation President John Fishel said.

This weekend’s rally will be the latest in a wave of nationwide public demonstrations of support for Israel organized by American Jews. A June 4 rally, sponsored by an interdenominational coalition of rabbis and community leaders in New York, drew about 10,000 participants. Smaller demonstrations have also been orchestrated nationwide in Boston, Chicago, Denver and other cities. (Los Angeles’ Jewish organizations co-sponsored a solidarity gathering at Sinai Temple following the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada last October.)

Overall, more than 100 rallies have taken place since October, according to Gail Hyman, vice president for marketing and public affairs at United Jewish Communities (UJC), which is planning a massive solidarity rally Sept. 23 in New York, during its annual General Assembly.

This Sunday’s L.A. rally, which has been two months in the making, will be attended by members of organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, American Red Magen David for Israel, Hadassah Southern California, Iranian American Jewish Federation, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Leaders from various groups will appear, as will U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-Dist. 26), Henry Waxman (D-Dist. 29) Brad Sherman, (D-Dist. 24) State Assemblymen Tony Cardenas (D-Dist. 39) and Paul Koretz, (D-Dist. 42); L.A. City Council President Alex Padilla, Councilmembers Eric Garcetti, Cindy Miscikowski and Janice Hahn; L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Dist. 23); and L.A. City Controller Laura Chick.

Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will make opening remarks via telephone from Israel. Gov. Gray Davis and Mayor James Hahn have also been invited.

Among the most compelling guests will be two students and the principal of Tel Aviv’s Shevach Mofet High School, where many victims of the June 1 Dolphinarium bombing were students.

Fishel met them on a recent trip to Israel this month as part of a larger delegation of community leaders. He was impresssed with their attitude.

“In a time of tremendous anxiety, they were very, very positive,” Fishel said. “They believed that it’s important that those of us in the Diaspora visit, and show how strongly they feel about the Jewish State — it’s our home; we have no place else to go.”

Such gatherings are effective on several levels, he said — they attract media, bring together disparate elements of the Jewish community, and send a powerful message to both Jews and non-Jews.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the strong statement of support we are making, whether it be through visits there or through rallies,” Fishel said.

Rallies send a strong message to the people in Israel, said Meirav Eilon-Shahar, the Israeli consul for communications and public affairs. “It communicates that the Jewish community here is standing in solidarity with the people of Israel. And it sends a message to the politicians and decision-makers.”

The city cannot afford not to have a rally, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, who will be at the rally on behalf of the Simon Wiestenthal Center. “If we show that we don’t care, we send the wrong signal, not only to the world but to America; we prove that American support is softening,” he said.

Now is not the time for such support to erode, Hier said. “We know the U.S. will play a key role in whatever proposals and dialogues will take place. It’s important to show that we’re standing with Israel,” he said.

Like Fishel, Hier has traveled to Israel in recent months and has gauged the social temperature. “I think that Israelis are disappointed,” he said. “It’s the appearance and perception that counts, and the perception in many quarters is that American Jews are fair-weather friends.”

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, was working full-time with a staff of 15 to coordinate the logistics among organizations and individuals. Prizant hopes to attract between 10,000 and 15,000 people to Sunday’s rally. Its site, on Wilshire between San Vicente Blvd. and La Jolla Ave., is where The Federation’s headquarters and the Israeli Consulate are located.

“We’re reaching out like never before to every facet of the Jewish community here, including the Russian community, the Iranian community and the Israeli community,” Prizant said.

Despite organizers’ call for a “unified apolitical front,” The Federation has reserved an area in anticipation of counter-demonstrations. At least two groups, Open Tent and Women in Black, are planning to protest. “The fact that we’re counter-demonstrating does not mean we’re anti Israeli,” said Jordan Elgrably, the founder of Open Tent, a group which opposes Israeli occupation and settlements over the Green Line.

The organizations at the forefront of Sunday’s solidarity rally are undeterred, and their mission will not end with Sunday’s rally. The Wiesenthal Center has already launched an aggressive international PR campaign, placing ads in The New York Times and the Miami Herald that urge an increase in Jewish solidarity and Israeli tourism. Ads in major papers in Toronto, Buenos Aires, London and other cities will follow.

The Federation, which has already deployed a singles mission, an educators mission and several other voyages to Israel, will continue to mobilize such missions, including a major fall trip currently in the early planning stages.

With tourism in the Jewish State virtually nonexistent, Eilon-Shahar said she hopes that American Jews make the ultimate statement by booking flights there. “We understand the fear and personal circumstances,” she said. “We would like to see more efforts of individuals. It means a lot to people.”

Fishel added: “We can’t be so complacent to assume that this is just a momentary chapter in the Jewish State. This can go on for an indefinite amount of time.”

WHAT? Solidarity Rally for the People of Israel

WHEN? Sunday, July 22

WHAT TIME? 10 a.m.- 11:30 a.m.

WHERE? On the 6500 block of Wilshire Boulevard (home to the Jewish Federation and the Consulate General of Israel), between San Vicente and La Jolla Ave. (the entire block will be blocked off).

PARKING? Street parking available.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Dan Witzling at (323) 761-8077.