Tens of thousands gather in Tel Aviv for anti-Netanyahu rally

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square calling for a change in the government.

“Israel Wants Change,” as the anti-Netanyahu rally held Saturday night was titled, attracted up to 40,000 people. The event was organized by the One Million Hands movement, a grassroots campaign against right-wing political parties in Israel that calls for a focus on socioeconomic issues.

“Israel is surrounded by enemies. Enemies do not scare me; I worry about our leadership,” former Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the crowd. “I am afraid of our leadership. I am afraid of a loss of determination, of a loss of personal example. I am afraid of hesitancy and stalemate, and I am afraid above all of the crisis of leadership, a leadership crisis that is the most severe ever here.”

Dagan accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “dragging us down to a binational state and to the end of the Zionist dream.”

Two nights earlier, Dagan in an interview on Israeli television slammed Netanyahu and Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett for policies stirring  problems with the Palestinians and the Unites States.

Other rally speakers included Michal Kastan Keidar, the widow of an officer killed in last summer’s Gaza military operation, and Amiram Levin, a former commander of the IDF’s Northern Command and ex-deputy Mossad chief. Keidar accused Netanyahu of being more concerned with Iran than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A pro-Netanyahu rally is scheduled for the same venue on Saturday night, three days before Israel’s national elections.

Thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Paris

Thousands of people attended France’s largest pro-Israel rally since the launch of the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive in Gaza.

The crowd, estimated by police at 8,000, gathered near Israel’s embassy in Paris’ 8th Arrondissement under heavy police guard Thursday, shouting “long live Israel” and singing the French and Israeli anthems while waving both countries’ flags.

The gathering Thursday was the first time that CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jewish groups and communities, convened a large event in support of the Jewish state since the launch on July 8 of the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas.

Paris has seen dozens of anti-Semitic incidents since then, both during and after unauthorized protests against Israel. Nine synagogues have been targeted.

Organizers warned protesters in fliers handed out at the rally not to respond to “provocations by counter demonstrators.”

Titled “Rally of Friends of Israel,” the gathering’s main message was that Israel has a right to defend itself, according to the organizers.

The gathering was held “because we affirm that Israel has a right to defend itself against blind attacks against its population,” organizers wrote, and “because Hamas is a terrorist group that has taken the Palestinian population hostage.”

Serge Salfati, a leader of the far-right Jewish Defense League of France criticized CRIF’s decision to hold the rally, at the police’s recommendation and for safety reasons, inside a confined space instead of outside at a march.

“When pro-Palestinians march against the law and against Israel, I am supposed to be confined away from the public eye three weeks too late, and am being deprived my right to march,” he said in explaining his decision not to attend.

The French Jewish Defense League was nonetheless represented at the rally, Salfati said.

Community Solidarity Rally for Israel on July 13

Join Los Angeles Jewish groups on Sunday to show the world: 

We stand united with Israel and support its right to protect its citizens.

Please invite your friends and family.


Date: Sunday, July 13

Time: 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Where: Federal Building (Wilshire Blvd. & Veteran Blvd. in Los Angeles)


Please Note:

No restrooms at the site.

Bring water for yourself.

Do not engage opposing protesters if they come.

Stay on sidewalks.

In the last 72 hours, over 300 rockets have been fired into Israel`s largest cities, 

including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

Three and a half million Israeli civilians are living under fire or in bomb shelters. 

No country would remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets targeting its cities —

Israel is no exception.

Hamas to hold rally in West Bank

The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority reportedly has allowed Hamas to hold a rally in the West Bank.

Israel’s Army Radio reported Monday that the apparent conciliatory gesture is the first of its kind since Hamas’ 2007 coup d’etat in Gaza that ended the Palestinian Authority’s control on that region.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that the festival, scheduled to take place on Thursday, will celebrate Hamas’ 25th anniversary and include speeches from Hamas leaders. Hamas had earlier approved plans for Fatah to celebrate its own anniversary in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he planned to head to Cairo soon to resume reconciliation talks with Hamas.

The most recent sign of reconciliation between the factions follows Fatah's participation in the Gaza version of Hamas' 25th anniversary celebration on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces officers warned that Hamas was attempting to reactivate its sleeper cells in the West Bank, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post.

In Gaza, Hamas is continuing to convert its terrorist cells into an organized military entity, Maj. Guy Aviad, an expert on Hamas and head of the instruction department at the IDF General Staff’s History Department, is quoted as telling the Post.

Rallies across U.S. supporting Israel’s right to defend itself

Israel solidarity rallies are scheduled for New York and venues across the United States.

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Los Angeles, some 1,400 demonstrators voiced their support for Israel's right to defend itself and its ramped-up operation against escalated rocket attacks on its South from the Gaza Strip.

In New York, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators are expected to rally across from the Israeli Consulate in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon in an event sponsored by Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum.

Also in New York, in suburban Westchester County, a rally was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey, Nan Hayworth and Eliot Engel are scheduled to attend.

Other rallies were scheduled Tuesday in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and West Hartford, Conn.

At the Los Angeles rally, the demonstrators gathered outside the Westwood Federal Building in West Los Angeles to voice their support for Israel at a rally organized by pro-Israel organizations StandWithUs, the Israeli-Leadership Council and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple told the crowd.

Some 100 pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators carried signs that read “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine,” “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel,” and “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

In Boston, some 1,000 pro-Israel demonstrators rallied Monday night in an event organized by synagogues, schools and Jewish nonprofit organizations, including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, J Street, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC.

The Boston rally “is a statement to our sisters and brothers and cousins in Israel that we’re supportive and we feel your pain,” Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass., told The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, lay and professional leaders from The Jewish Federations of North America arrived in Israel on Nov. 18 for a two-day emergency solidarity mission.

The leaders from New York, Chicago, Boston, New Jersey, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis and Birmingham, Ala., visited southern Israeli cities under fire, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheva, offering solidarity with the residents and examining areas of need.

“The ongoing crisis being faced by the people of Israel, particularly those in the South, will not be fought by the Jewish state alone,” Michael Siegal, JFNA's incoming chair, said upon arriving in Jerusalem. “We are here to express our firm solidarity and to say that as always, when Israel is in need, we are here.”

The JNFA already has committed $5 million in assistance to the Jewish Agency's Israel Terror Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people living under fire.

Organizations representing Orthodox Judaism — the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel — on Monday called on “all Jews to increase their Torah study as spiritual support and merit for those Israeli soldiers and civilians on the front line of battle.”

The RCA instructed its members to hold special classes and lectures in their communities on Wednesday and Thursday “dedicated to the support of the IDF and the State of Israel.”

“In the merit of our increased study of Torah, may we merit the promise recorded in the Talmud, Sotah 21a, that the study of Torah protects and rescues those who engage in it,” said a statement from the three organizations.

Drawing 1,400, peaceful L.A. pro-Israel rally turns ugly near its end [VIDEO]

With an Israeli flag wrapped around him, Rabbi Dov Elkins stood with a crowd outside the Federal building in West Los Angeles on Sunday to participate in a pro-Israel rally.

“We’re here to support Israel,” Elkins, 75, said, joined by his wife, Maxine. Residents of Princeton, N.J., the couple were in L.A. visiting their children and grandchildren; they had attended Shabbat services at the Pico-Robertson shul the Happy Minyan on Saturday, and when the rabbi announced that a pro-Israel event would be taking place the next day, they decided to attend. 

“We wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Maxine Elkins, 65, said, adding, “I’m a Jew, and this is the least American Jews can do — to come here and support Israel.”

As many as 1,400 demonstrators turned up on the afternoon of Nov. 18 to support Israel, according to police on the scene.  They came in the wake of the recent violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For approximately one week, Israel has responded to ongoing, indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire with targeted air strikes aimed at killing Hamas military leaders and destroying weapons caches.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jay Firestone

The demonstration was organized by the pro-Israel organizations Stand With Us, the Israeli-Leadership Council (ILC) and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region (ZOA). Jews of all denominations came out for the rally, staged outside the Westwood Federal Building at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, including Americans, Israelis and Jews of Iranian heritage.

About 100 pro-Palestinian supporters held a counter-demonstration across the street, on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard.

For the most part, the three-hour event was peaceful, but during the final hour, the situation became heated when a fight reportedly broke out between a pro-Palestinian protestor and pro-Israel protestor. Police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol officials were on scene.

In response, pro-Israel supporters charged over to the Palestinian side of the street. Police officers stepped in to bring the Israel protestors back to their side.

Demonstrators waved Israeli and American flags along with signs with slogans such as: “Israel Deserves Security;” “Hamas is the Enemy of Peace;” “Gaza Children Deserve Education Not Military Training” and more.

Community leaders supporting Israel included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a 2013 mayoral candidate. Also present were Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, Rabbi Avi Taff of Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Jason Weiner, a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Wolpe said.

Am Yisrael Chai,” he added.

Other speakers included Israeli actress Noa Tishby, ILC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, Roz Rothstein, CEO of Stand With Us and Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA-West.

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a nonprofit that organizes Iranian-American Jews in political, civic and Jewish life, was among a group of Iranian-American Jews in attendance. In addition, the Israeli Scouts of Los Angeles, a youth group from the San Fernando Valley, brought 47 teens.

All ages attended to show support for Israel. Chloe Bismuth, a 20-year-old UCLA student who said she travels to Israel every year, showed up with her knuckles painted to spell out “Israel” and tiny Israeli flags painted onto her cheeks. Israel is a “country all of us as Jews should rely on,” she said, “all of us who believe in democracy.”

Pinhas Avgani, 63, Israeli and a Woodland Hills resident, was among the dozens who gathered on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Wilshire-and-Veteran to chant and wave flags, standing as close to the street as police officers would allow.

“When [Palestinians] put weapons down, there will be peace. If Israelis are going to put their weapon down, Israel will disappear,” Avgani said.

Naz Farahdel, a 24-year-old Iranian American Jew and a law clerk at the city attorney’s office, turned out with two friends, also Iranian American Jews.

The pro-Israel side aimed for a broad celebration of Israel. Upbeat Israeli music played loudly; people came together for Israeli dancing, and the crowd sang the Hatikva.

Until the pro-Israel charge across the street, the pro-Israel side stayed on the southwest and southeast corners of Wilshire-and-Veteran.  A line of hundreds of demonstrators began at the southwest corner of the intersection, extending eastward, halfway down the block toward Sepulveda Boulevard. People led Israel chants, speaking into bullhorns. Passing cars honked horns and waved Israeli flags out of the windows. Meanwhile, LAPD helicopters circled overhead.

On the Palestinian side demonstrators carried signs expressing support for Palestinians and also denouncing Israel and the United States: “Resist Zionism and Imperialism;” “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine” and “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel.”  One banner read: “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

When the pro-Israeli group crossed the street after the disruption began, Rothstein called the Israel protestors back to their side. Soon, nine California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicles parked in a line in the center of Wilshire. Police officers stationed themselves on foot at all four corners of the intersection, keeping the crowds to the sidewalk. Officers stood by the parked vehicles.

Chants turned ugly. When the Palestinian side chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” a man on the Israel side yelled back, “Bomb, bomb Palestine.”

Angering many on the Israel side, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator tied an Israel flag to his leg and let it drag in the street. A group of male teenagers, a middle-aged man and two elderly women on the Israel side responded by yelling out insults and curses.

Around 3:45 p.m., Rothstein, in cooperation with law enforcement, told demonstrators on the Israel side to go home. Rothstein had initially told law enforcement that the event, which began at 1 p.m., would end no later than 3:30 p.m. By this time, attendance of both sides had dwindled, but a sizable Israel group and a small Palestinian group remained.

LAPD officers accompanied the Palestinian protestors as they crossed to the pro-Israel side to walk toward their cars in the Federal building parking lot, where most of the demonstrators from both sides had parked. “We want to get those folks safety out of here,” a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official told Rothstein.

Rothstein joined a police officer in a police car and using the car’s loudspeaker asked everyone on the Israel side to leave, as the car inched slowly in front of the pro-Israel crowd. “Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for being here,” she said.

By 4 p.m., most demonstrators on both sides departed.

Rothstein acknowledged that the pro-Israel side had engaged in some bad behavior. “It is kind of why I sometimes worry about putting these things on. You never know who is going to show up,” she said. “But it’s a community and we have a tapestry.”

While the Palestinian side was small compared to the Israel side on Sunday, on Nov. 15, hundreds of pro-Palestinians had rallied outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, near Wilshire and Barrington avenue. There, one attendee blamed Israel for the recent violence. “It’s saddening but it’s not shocking, and if you’ve been following the news today [Nov. 15] it had been reported that Israel had broken the cease-fire first. Unfortunately Western media has not been quick to follow up on that regard,” she said.

“But regardless I support neither Hamas or Israel. What I support is the liberation of the Palestinian people,” she added.

In addition to Sunday’s rally, local initiatives are showing solidarity with Israel, including a project organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles that enables people to post messages onto the Federation website in support of the children of Israel.

1,800 rally in South Africa for Israel

Nearly 2,000 people rallied in support of Israel in two South African cities.

Demonstrators in Pretoria on June 28 and Cape Town the next day protested against the government’s announcement that products originating from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank will be labeled as such, and not as Israeli products.The gatherings included large numbers of South African Jews and Christians.

A thousand people, including Zulu leaders, marched in Pretoria, while 800 gathered in front of the South African Parliament in Cape Town.

Thousands in Istanbul rally against Israel

Thousands of Turks in Istanbul rallied against Israel Thursday, marking the second anniversary of an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a flotilla that claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel had determined that the flotilla was violating its blockade of the coastal area, and found weapons aboard.

The Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as IHH and one of the main groups behind the flotilla, organized Thursday’s rally. Israel, the United States and other nations consider the IHH to be a terrorist group.

Protesters in Turkey called for those responsible for the raid to be held accountable, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, a Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid.

Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations since the raid.

Palestinians hail lopsided swap, call for more

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank gave jubilant welcomes on Tuesday to hundreds of prisoners freed by Israel in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, the soldier held for five years by the Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas.

Delirious crowds in the blockaded Gaza enclave hailed the thousand-to-one swap as a victory for Hamas over Israel.

“We want a new Gilad,” they chanted, backing Hamas vows to capture more Israeli hostages to trade.

Newly released prisoners, laughing and smiling, reached out of bus windows to shake hundreds of hands as their convoy—headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sitting on the roof of a saloon car—crawled north to Gaza city along the 40 km (25 mile) route from Egypt, where they were set free.

Masked and heavily-armed men of the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam militia provided an escort through thousands of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians lining both sides of the road.

In the West Bank, split from the Gaza enclave by Israeli territory, thousands including supporters of Hamas and its rival Fatah packed the compound of President Mahmoud Abbas for an official welcome ceremony.

“You will see the results of your struggle in the independent state with its capital Jerusalem,” said Abbas, leader of Fatah whose militants were driven out of Gaza by Hamas in a brief civil war in 2007.

In a rare display of national unity, he and Hassan Youssef, a senior member of arch-rival Hamas, spoke at the same podium.

Of 477 prisoners set free, 27 were women. More than twice as many went to Gaza as to the West Bank, while 41 were flown from Cairo to exile in Turkey, Syria or Qatar. Under the deal, a further 550 will be liberated in the coming months.

Some 5,000 Palestinians still remain behind bars in Israel, most convicted of violent acts over years of armed resistance to Israel. But Hamas said the swap should give them hope of freedom as well.


“I think the deal represents something great for the Palestinian people. Those who are still in jail are happy for those who have been released.” said Hamas deputy leader in exile Moussa Abu Marzouk.

A spokesman for Hamas armed wing made the threat to capture more hostages explicit: “We say to the people of the enemy: Your leadership has brought upon you a new battle by refusing to grant freedom to the other prisoners.”

Patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers as prisoners arrived to a heroes’ welcome at the Egyptian border crossing. Some kissed the soil of Gaza, some were lifted onto the shoulders of happy relatives.

In Gaza city, a densely-packed sprawl of low-rise concrete on the Mediterranean coast in sight of Israel, tens of thousands rallied before a stage decorated by a mural bearing portraits of top militants who were not released.

“We will not forget you,” said the slogan.

Yehya Al-Sinwar, a top Hamas security strategist who spent 23 years in jail and is now tipped for a top post in the Hamas leadership, was cheered by the rally and mobbed on stage.

“I call on all the leaders of the Palestinian resistance factions and foremost the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam to shoulder the responsibility for liberating the remaining prisoners in the shortest time possible,” he said.

“This must be turned immediately into a practical plan.”

The web of electricity cables over Gaza’s main streets was festooned with the green flags of Hamas.

A wall painting lampooned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, depicting him with his face ground into the dirt by the boot of a gunman, signing a paper with words “Swap deal.”

Hamas gunmen seized Shalit in a border raid in 2006. It has declared the prisoner exchange a vindication of its policy of armed resistance over the peace-seeking policy of Abbas.

Israel is setting free 1,027 Palestinians in return for the liberty of Shalit. Some have spent 30 years and more in jail.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Shaimaa Fayed; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Opponents slam Durban III at rallies, counter-conference

At rallies, a counter-conference and “dialogue tents,” opponents of the Durban III conference portrayed the U.N. proceedings as hypocritical and deeply flawed.

The Hudson Institute and Touro College hosted a counter-conference titled “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III” at a hotel near the United Nations building in New York. The Zionist organization StandWithUs held a circus-themed rally that drew about 200 protesters to stress that the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations makes a mockery of democracy.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Israeli Consulate in New York held several “open dialogue tents” for New Yorkers to talk about the issues riveting the United Nations. Israel’s minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, Yuli Edelstein, spoke in one of the tents.

Anne Bayefsky and Elie Wiesel answering reporters’ questions during a break at The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III Conference in New York, Sept. 22.

Also near the United Nations, thousands of Iranian-American pro-democracy campaigners protested the Iranian government. Along with prominent speakers, the Jewish-backed group Iran180 held a mock wedding between effigies of Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad; they were married under a chuppah.

Speakers at the counter-conference included Ron Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress; former U.N. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton; Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; former New York City Mayor Ed Koch; and the current and former Israeli ambassadors.

Many of the speakers offered an insider’s look at what transpired at the original Durban conference, in South Africa in 2001. Wiesel recalled his resignation from the Durban committee and described the United Nations as a “great idea that has been perverted.”

“It has become a forum far from the aspirations of its founders,” he said.

The speakers seemed divided on the continued significance of the Durban process. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, described it as a continued danger, but Koch and others argued that its time has passed.

A demonstrator at the Durban 3-Ring Circus, a protest hosted by the nonprofit organization StandWithUs, distributes clown masks of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sept. 22

“Durban III has been a flop,” Koch said. “There is no media. People on the street aren’t interested. They have failed in their efforts and their PR strategy.”

Koch called President Obama’s speech Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly extraordinary.

“I think he got the message,” the former Democratic mayor said, referring to his attempt to “send a message” to the White House by supporting the Republican candidate in the recent special congressional election in New York to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. 

Representatives of Iran, Cuba and Lebanon blasted Israel at the Durban Review Conference on Thursday.

While some speakers in the morning session made reference to what Iran’s representative called “the stonewalling behavior” of a few nations—the more than a dozen countries that are boycotting Durban III out of concern for anti-Israel bias—most speakers used the session as an opportunity to herald the progress of their own countries in combating racism. That included, for example, the representative from Zimbabwe, who called his nation “a tolerant and peace-loving country.”

In his own remarks at the session, Amnesty International’s representative, Jose Luis Diaz, accused many participating countries of being in a “state of denial” about human rights abuses and racism in their countries, saying nations were using the conference to “score political points.”

Palestinians rally for Abbas’s U.N. statehood bid

Flag-waving Palestinians filled the squares of major West Bank cities on Wednesday to rally behind President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations despite U.S. and Israeli objections.

“We are asking for the most simple of rights, a state like other nations,” said Sabrina Hussein, 50, carrying the green, red, black and white Palestinian national flag at a demonstration in Ramallah.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under 1990s interim peace deals, gave school children and civil servants the day off to attend events in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron.

A large mockup of a blue chair, symbolizing a seat at the U.N., and giant Palestinian flags hanging from buildings provided a backdrop for the Ramallah rally, where attendance peaked at several thousand.

The main venues were far removed from Israeli military checkpoints on the perimeter of the cities and the rallies were peaceful.

But in incidents away from the gatherings, Palestinian youngsters threw rocks at Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on the edge of Ramallah and in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. The soldiers responded with tear gas, and in Ramallah also used a so-called “screamer”—a device that emits an ear-splitting high-pitched sound—to disperse stone-throwers.

Palestinian leaders have pledged that demonstrations for statehood would be peaceful.

Later in the day in New York, U.S. President Barack Obama was due to meet Abbas to urge him to drop plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. Washington says statehood should be achieved through peace talks.

Abbas has said he will present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday. The move requires Security Council approval and the United States, one of five veto-wielding permanent members, says it will block it.

At the Ramallah rally, Amina Abdel Jabbar al-Kiswany, a head teacher, said the U.N. bid was a step on the road to statehood, not a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which direct negotiations have failed to resolve.

“It’s a cry of desperation,” Kiswany said.

Reflecting anger with U.S. policy, a Palestinian, his face covered by a scarf, climbed the stage scaffolding and set ablaze an American flag. Earlier, some of the demonstrators had tried to stop the flag burning.

Washington’s pledge to veto the bid for U.N. membership has added to deep Palestinian disappointment in Obama. The Palestinians have long complained of what they see as Washington’s complete support for Israel at their expense.

“America talks about human rights. They support South Sudan. Why don’t they support us?” said Tamer Milham, a 26-year old computer engineer, referring to the new state of South Sudan which was admitted to the United Nations in July.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a state.

Netanyahu has called the Palestinian demand of a halt to settlement building an unacceptable precondition and urged Abbas to return to negotiations.

The Israeli leader was due to meet Obama, with whom he has had a strained relationship, later in the day on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Authority has held sway only in the West Bank since Hamas Islamists opposed to his peace efforts with Israel seized Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.

Hamas has dismissed the U.N. bid as a waste of time and there were no rallies in the Mediterranean enclave, where Palestinians argue that Abbas should be devoting his energies to bridging the internal political divide.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and to Jerusalem. It claims all of the city as its capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Glenn Beck praises Israeli courage at Jerusalem rally [VIDEO]

Hundreds gathered in Jerusalem’s Old City for broadcaster Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” rally.

More than 1,000 people gathered at Wednesday’s rally in a Jewish Quarter archeological park near the southern side of the Temple Mount, The Jerusalem Post reported. Others attended more than 1,400 viewing parties around the world, Beck said.

“In Israel there is more courage in one small square mile than in all of Europe,” Beck said at the rally. “In Israel there is more courage in one soldier than in the combined cold hearts of all the bureaucrats in the United Nations. In Israel you can find people standing against incredible odds against the entire tide of world opinion just because it’s right, just because it’s just and just because it’s good.”

Media reports described the crowd at the event as in large part made up of American Christians. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Likud lawmaker Danny Danon were among the event’s speakers.

The highly promoted Old City event was the climax of a series of three rallies Beck has held in Israel over the past four days. The start time for the event was changed to 5 p.m. so that it would end before Muslims arrived at the Temple Mount for their Ramadan evening prayers, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The left-wing Israeli group Peace Now mounted a small demonstration nearby urging Beck to go home.

Glenn Beck kicks off rallies in Israel

Some 3,000 people turned out for the kickoff event in Israel of conservative American talk-show host Glenn Beck’s four-day rally.

Beck professed his support for Israel and the Jewish people at the event at the ancient Roman amphitheater in Caesarea on Sunday night. He was joined on stage by historian David Barton, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat in the West Bank, author Mike Evans, and Pastor John Hagee, the evangelical pastor at the helm of Christians United for Israel.

“We are not alone,” Riskin said in Caesarea. “We are Jews and not Christians; you Christians, nevertheless, have the courage to love us in our otherness. We are profoundly grateful for your courage to love us and stand with us.”

Beck said, “There’s an important distinction of saying I love Israel, I defend Israel, and not separating that from the Jewish people. Make sure to say not that we only love Israel, but we love the Jewish people as they are.”

Some 2,000 Christians, mostly American, accompanied Beck to Israel for the event.

The main program of the four-day rally, called Restoring Courage, is to come Wednesday night at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem. The event, with space for 2,000 people, is sold out. Beck originally had wanted to hold the event on the Temple Mount.

Glenn Beck’s Jerusalem rally program to feature Sarah Palin, other GOP presidential candidates

Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally in Israel to feature Sarah Palin and other republican presidential candidates, ynetnews.com reports.

Tens of thousands of excited Israelis and Americans, music performances, appearances by local and international celebrities, senior politicians and a live broadcast that will reach millions of viewers – this is just some of what is in store for Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally “to restore courage,” which is set to take place on August 24 in Jerusalem.

Beck has been leading a publicity campaign for the event over the past few weeks, urging his viewers and listeners to fly out to the Holy Land.

The staunch Christian Fox News personality aims to show support for Israel by recreating last August’s rally “to restore honor,” which he held in Washington, DC.

This year, the Wailing Wall will replace Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop for the event, which will take place at Jerusalem’s Old City and the Teddy Stadium simultaneously.

Read more at ynetnews.com.

Israeli intellectuals declare for Palestinian state at rally

A group of Israel Prize laureates and other notable artists and academics endorsed Palestinian plans to declare independence along 1967 lines at a Tel Aviv ceremony.

Thursday’s rally was held next to the building where Israel’s founders declared statehood in 1948.

At an event that became heated when right-wing protesters heckled the group along with some 200 supporters with calls of “traitors” and “the left supports terror,” the declaration was read aloud.

“The Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel, where its character was forged. The Palestinian people is rising in Palestine, where its character was forged,” the declaration said.

“We call on everyone who seeks peace and freedom for all peoples to support the declaration of Palestinian statehood, and to act in a way that encourages the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the basis of the 1967 borders,” it said.

“The total end to the occupation,” declaration said, “is a fundamental precondition for the liberation of the two peoples.”

Police were forced to physically separate the left-wing and right-wing groups.

With peace talks at a standstill, the Palestinians have decided to seek recognition of statehood from the U.N. General Assembly in September—a move Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned could launch a “diplomatic tsunami.”

Analysts are predicting increased political isolation and possible economic sanctions for Israel should a Palestinian state be internationally recognized.

Israel and the United States have rejected the idea of the Palestinians going to the United Nations for recognition before a peace deal is forged.

Among those watching Thursday’s event was Hanna Keller, 82, who also attended the 1948 Israeli declaration of independence as a teenaged soldier in the Haganah, the prestate militia.

“We were full of hope then that there would be two states but that never came to be,” she said. “Only if we both have states can we both survive.”

Left and right clash at Tel Aviv rally to support Palestinian state

Leading left-wing cultural leaders, including several Israel Prize laureates, were verbally accosted on Thursday during a rally in support of an independent Palestinian state.

The rally, taking place outside Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, was reportedly disrupted by right-wing activists equipped with bullhorns, who called out: “leftist professors, it will all blow up in your face,” “Kahane was right,” and “traitors.”

Rally organizers and participants, who included 21Israel Prize laureates, said present police forces did not separate rally goers from objectors, as they usually do during right-wing events.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

UCI upholds sanction on Muslim Student Union

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has upheld its decision to sanction its Muslim Student Union (MSU), though it cut short the group’s yearlong suspension to four months. The group may not officially use university facilities during the fall 2010 quarter, recruit new members or raise funds, all part of the fallout for what school officials deemed the MSU’s violation of university codes of conduct related to the repeated disruption of a speech on campus in February by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Campus officials disclosed last week the outcome of an appeal, which the MSU launched in the spring after administrators recommended the group lose its registered status for a full calendar year.

The MSU will be on probation for two years—from Jan. 3, 2011 to Dec. 9, 2012—following the suspension. During that time, its president and three members will be required to attend at least 10 meetings with the director of student conduct. Members must also collectively complete 100 hours of community service before the group can request reinstatement. In its original decision, the UCI disciplinary committee had ordered a one-year probationary period and 50 hours of community service.

“This has been a difficult decision,” UCI Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Manuel N. Gomez, who adjudicated the appeal, said in a prepared statement. “But in the end, this process demonstrates the University of California, Irvine’s commitment to values, principles and tolerance. Although this has been a challenging experience for all involved, I am confident that we will continue to move forward as a stronger, more respectful university community.”

Incoming MSU Vice President Hadeer Soliman called the suspension a form of collective punishment in a Sep. 3 news conference. The suspension applies to the MSU as a group but not to individual students.

UCI officials launched an investigation into the actions by the MSU in February after students heckled Oren at least 12 times and booed him repeatedly before leaving the student center in protest. Oren, whose speech was sponsored by the university, walked off the stage after the first few interruptions, leading UCI officials, including Chancellor Michael Drake, to urge the protestors to stop disrupting the speaker or risk disciplinary action. Oren returned to the auditorium after nearly 30 minutes only to be interrupted again by students shouting anti-Israel vitriol.

Campus police arrested 11 students, eight from UCI, including the MSU president, and three from the University of California, Riverside, all of who were later released. Although their case was forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, no charges were filed against them.

On May 27, Lisa Cornish, senior executive director of student housing, notified the MSU that campus officials had found that the group and its authorized signers had planned and coordinated the disruption of Oren’s speech at the UCI Student Center. The investigation revealed evidence obtained through social networking sites and personal observations of what officials called a “detailed game plan” for disrupting the speech that identified “disruptors,” and created “scripted statements” that some hecklers read from index cards.

MSU members publicly insisted that the students had acted independently and that their actions constituted free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment.

In his Aug. 31 letter to the MSU, Gomez disagreed, stating that the protests deprived Oren of his right to free speech and exceeded the students’ free speech protections afforded by both the First Amendment and campus policies. Public actions taken by group members in this matter gave the appearance of MSU sponsorship of “serious violations of campus policies and First Amendment protections,” he added. 

Orange County Jewish groups expressed disappointment with the university’s decision to shorten the suspension. Calling the sanction “merely a slap on the wrist,” the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, whose 2008 report documented longstanding physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students at UCI, expressed concern that the university’s actions would not deter future incidents of anti-Semitism on campus.

“While the Task Force appreciates that UCI seems to be recognizing that anti-Semitism is a major problem at UCI by maintaining the suspension of the MSU, there clearly exists a lack of courage and moral conviction to fight hatred on campus by the UCI administration,” said a task force statement issued to The Jewish Journal.

“The only way we will know that this decision has been effective is if there is a systemic change in the action and conduct by the MSU and a turn to more thoughtful dialogue that befits a university campus,” said Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County in a statement.

N.Y. rally decries Obama on Israel

At least 1,000 demonstrators protesting President Obama’s treatment of Israel gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan.

Sunday’s rally was organized by the Jewish Action Alliance and sponsored by 20 groups, Jewish and non-Jewish.

“We are outraged that President Obama is scapegoating Israel and wants to expel Jews from their homes in Jerusalem,” said Beth Gilinsky of the Jewish Action Alliance, according to WPIX TV in New York. “President Obama and Secretary [of State] Hillary Clinton show more anger about a Jewish family building a home in Jerusalem than Iran building a nuclear bomb. Vast segments of the Jewish community will not tolerate the president’s continuing attacks on Israel. Grass-roots Jewry will not be silent.”

In a taped message played for the protesters, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch slammed Obama for his treatment of Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Protesters Block Entrances to Israeli Consulate [VIDEO]

UCLA students rally for captured Israeli soldiers

Some 300 UCLA students rallied Tuesday (Oct. 30) on campus to demand the safe return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit.

The noontime rally at Bruin Plaza, the traditional site for student protests, was part of about 1,000 similar events in 45 countries, organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization as World Solidarity Day.

Students, many wearing “Bruins for Israel” T-shirts, held placards with photos of the three abducted soldiers, wore plastic dogtags with their names, and waved small Israeli flags.

Others hoisted signs inscribed “We Want Peace, They Want War” and “One Year Is Too Long,” referring to the length of the soldiers’ imprisonment since they were kidnapped in the summer of 2006 by Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists.

Although previous pro-Israel demonstrations on campus have been interrupted by Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups, no threats were received this time, said Lian Kimia, a Bruins for Israel leader.

Joining the event were 60 eighth graders from Hebrew Hillel Academy, and older community members, among them Hy Avnesty, commander of the Jewish War Veterans’ Hollywood Post.

Speakers included Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan, who denounced Iran as the leading sponsor of international terrorism, and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who exhorted listeners not to forget the abducted soldiers and six other Israeli servicemen missing in action.

On the Irvine campus of the University of California, scene of repeated clashes between pro-Israel and Muslim factions, some 15 students conducted a video question-and-answer conference with Ehud Goldwasser’s wife Karnit, speaking from Israel.

Hillel spokesman Zvi Rabinovitch said a larger rally was being planned.

— By Tom Tugend. Contributing Editor

Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers

Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers
The U.S. Congress rescinded language in Pentagon orders that allowed military chaplains to mention Jesus in official prayers. Controversy over including similar language in the Defense Authorization Act, a critical spending bill, dogged attempts to pull the bill out of a Senate-House conference committee before Congress recessed for midterm elections.
The conferees ultimately decided to strike the language and order the Pentagon to rescind its earlier instructions. Mikey Weinstein, a former U.S. Air Force officer who led the battle to remove the language, applauded the decision.”We welcome the opportunity Congress has afforded to discuss the appropriate role of religion and chaplains in the military,” Weinstein, who is Jewish, said last week in a statement issued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which he founded. “The passage of this bill will be a victory for those of us who have been fighting so assiduously to protect both the rights of the men and women in our armed forces and the United States Constitution.”

Austrian extremists gain in elections
Two far-right parties with a history of anti-Jewish rhetoric made gains in Austrian elections. National elections held over the weekend saw a 50 percent rise since 2002 elections in the percentage of votes for the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Members of both parties have expressed antipathy toward Israel and are known for their campaigns against Muslims living in Austria.
The left-leaning Social Democrats won the election with nearly 36 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right People’s Party with 34 percent. The Freedom Party came in third with 11 percent, and the Alliance for Austria’s Future, run by right-wing extremist Jorg Haider, received 4 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats and People’s Party are expected to form a governing coalition.
Federal legislation Includes grant for Federation model elderly care program
A Jewish federation model to facilitate care for the elderly in their home communities will be included in federal grant legislation. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body for North American federations, launched the “Aging in Place” initiative in 2002, helping 40 communities in 25 states obtain federal dollars for naturally occurring retirement communities.The model was featured in a U.S. Senate hearing this year to consider re-authorization of the Older Americans Act. As a result, a federal grant program for the retirement communities is included in language agreed to by House-Senate conferees.
Swiss stage pro-Israel rally
Approximately 3,000 demonstrators held a pro-Israel rally in the Swiss capital. Saturday’s rally in Bern called for the Swiss government to support Israel’s right to exist and show solidarity with the Jewish state’s fight against terrorism. Twenty organizations signed a resolution urging the government to refuse negotiations with terrorist groups that reject the existence of the Israeli state.

British House of Lords member faces probe by party over Israel lobby remarks
A member of Britain’s House of Lords will be investigated by her party for comments about the “pro-Israel lobby.” Liberal Democrat Party members have announced that Baroness Jenny Tonge’s position in the party will be reviewed in response to her public remarks.
In a speech that recently aired on BBC Radio, Tonge said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its [financial] grips on the Western world. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party.”
More than 20 of her peers in the House of Lords wrote a letter to the Times condemning Tonge’s comments, stating, “Baroness Tonge evoked a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory,” and that her language “as a member of the House of Lords, was irresponsible and inappropriate.”
In early 2004, she was fired from her position as Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development for saying she could understand why a Palestinian would become a suicide bomber and also that she would consider becoming one were she a Palestinian.
Remains of Czech Jewish graveyard found
Evidence of a medieval Jewish cemetery was discovered in the Czech Republic.Researchers from a preservationist organization in the city of Pilsen say they found documents in the city archive revealing details of what they believe was one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Czech lands in the 14th century.
The cemetery’s existence was already known, said archaeologist Radek Siroky of the West Bohemian Institute for Heritage Conservation and Documentation, but the new documents reveal more specifics about its location.
He said that only excavations, approved by religious authorities, could provide more details about the cemetery’s size and the nature of the Jewish community there.
Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Thousands Rally in L.A. to Support Israel

“I’m here to show this country, my family and friends in Israel that we Jews will be there forever,” said 14-year-old Elad Menna, a Los Angeles resident who emigrated with his family from the West Bank five years ago. “Although I live here, my heart is in Israel.”

The boy spoke to a reporter on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, surrounded by thousands of like-minded Jews and non-Jews who had come together in front of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters in one of the largest pro-Israel rallies in years to express their support for the Jewish state.

The song “Am Yisrael Chai” rang out, along with speeches by political and spiritual leaders, as hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags were flanked by banners proclaiming “Israel Left Gaza for Peace, Not for 800 Rockets,” and “We Want Peace, They Want Jihad,” and “United Against Terror.”

Draped in a blue-and-white scarf decorated with Stars of David, Allyson Rowen Taylor carried a banner that showed a smiling United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The text: “The Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559!” a reference to, among other things, a resolution that mandates the disarmament and disbanding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty. In addition to her sign, the associate director of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) of Los Angeles carried a special picture in her purse: a photo of her 20-year-old son Zachary, who is American-born and currently serving as a sniper in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Because I’ve taught him to be a good Zionist,” said Rowen Taylor, fighting back tears, “I have to be here and be a good Zionist for him.”

Rowen Taylor said she has no idea where the Israeli government has deployed her son.

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel declared their support for Israel, the crowd came together for two hours to make a statement to each other, the media and the entire world: They believe in Israel, its right to defend itself and its quest for peace. Even Jews who have long been critical of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came out to participate.

The gathering, which Federation officials estimate to have reached as many as 10,000 but police pegged at 6,500, stretched along Wilshire Boulevard from San Vicente Boulevard to La Jolla Avenue. To keep cool, many on hand wore baseball caps, shorts and carried bottles of water.

Schwarzenegger told the gathering that he has long, deep affection for Israel. He said that he has visited the country several times, including in the 1970s as a body building champion; the 1980s as “The Terminator;” and in the 1990s to open a Planet Hollywood restaurant. He added that his first trip abroad after being elected governor was to Israel.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “With all the trips I’ve taken to Israel, with all the business I’ve done with the Israeli people, and of course, I have several Israeli people working at my house, I can tell you there is nothing more the Israeli people want than to live in peace.”

Villaraigosa told the cheering crowd that Israelis will welcome their message.
“To the families in Haifa and Nahariyya, to all those in both the north and the south who’ve been terrorized in recent weeks by the relentless rocket attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah, this gathering 7,500 miles across the globe is no distant gesture,” Villaraigosa said.

Fishel, who heads the Federation, which organized the rally, proclaimed that the assembled stand with Israel at a “dangerous and defining moment.” He went on to question whether any actions taken by Israel can satisfy Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

Simon Wiesenthal Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier defiantly told Israel’s Los Angeles supporters that Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists will never realize their dream of destroying Israel, especially if the Jews and their supporters remain united in the face of such implacable hatred.

“Their objective is a Middle East free of Jews,” Hier said. “We can assure them today that is something they will never live to see.”

While there was unanimity of spirit, there was diversity in the crowd. A group of about 25 heavily tattooed Set Free Soldiers caused more than a few double-takes. Clad in black pants and black leather jackets and vests, the burly members of the Evangelical Christian network proclaimed love for Israel.

The club’s leader, a Harley rider calling himself Chief Phil Aguilar, said he has visited Israel 15 times since the early 1980s. Surrounded by his three biker sons and a daughter, Aguilar said he found the Jewish state inspirational. When visiting the Western Wall, though, he said and his fellow bikers sometimes get less than an enthusiastic reception.

“When the rabbis first see us, they look at us a little funny,” Aguilar said. “But they’re in black and white, too, and also look a little funny. In the end, we end up being good friends.”

Metal barricades and a large police presence separated the main rally from a small counter-demonstration of about 200. As police helicopters buzzed overhead, the pro-Israeli rally-goers and the pro-Palestinian protestors hurled insults at one another. Cries of “Terrorists!” “Terrorists!” were greeted with chants of “Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Hezbollah!”

With several Palestinian flags fluttering nearby, architect Eman Bermani said she made the trek from Irvine to voice her disapproval for Israel’s campaign in Lebanon.

“The violence is not going to benefit anyone,” she said. “There’s just going to be more killing and more loss of life. I’m full of frustration.”

An Orange County engineer who would only identify himself as Avraham took a harder-edged position, saying Israel would cease to exist if she didn’t learn how to live in peace with her Muslim neighbors instead of “subjugating them, colonizing them.”

On the other side of the barricade, pro-Israel demonstrator Eileen Jayson said she this was the first pro-Israel rally she had attended, and she came because of the gravity of the situation overseas. The 53-year-old Tarzana paralegal added that she hopes to take her maiden voyage to Israel in November to get married.

“It’s about time I went,” she said. “We haven’t given up yet,”
So did the gathering accomplish anything? Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss thinks it made a difference.

“This rally had everything going against it,” said Weiss, one of the guest speakers. “It was unbearably hot. It came on late notice and during summer vacation.

“And we still filled Wilshire Boulevard with thousands of people. All elements of the community really stood up and were counted.”

First Person – Will You Be at Peace?

I always knew that it would be very difficult to stop a genocide. I just never appreciated how difficult it would be merely to demonstrate against a genocide.

I was among a group of nearly 100 Los Angeles Jews who traveled to San Francisco on Sunday, April 30, to participate in the “Day of Conscience for Darfur” rally. In addition to being accompanied by more than 30 of my congregants from Leo Baeck Temple, I was delighted to be joined by a number of colleagues, including Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the board’s bresident, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation.

The majority of us flew into Oakland that Sunday morning, and the rally organizers had arranged for us to be transported to the rally by bus — only the bus never arrived. Forced to fend for ourselves, we quickly filled every taxi we could hail, urging the drivers to take us to the Golden Gate Bridge on the double.

As my cab began to depart from the airport, I remember being stunned when the driver indicated that he did not know how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was no time to lose, so I started to fetch directions for him on my mobile phone. But as I focused intently on my job as our cabbie’s navigator, I couldn’t miss the conversation that he was having with my fellow passengers.

The driver identified himself as a recent immigrant from Darfur. Incredible. When he learned we were headed to the rally, he shook his head slowly, asking, “Are you Jews?”

When we confirmed his hunch, he snickered and said, “That explains it.”

We couldn’t resist taking the bait: “What do you mean by that?”

“There is no genocide taking place in Darfur,” he replied. “I know. I lived there. This ‘genocide’ has been concocted by the Jews as a means of diverting the world’s attention from what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.”

As the conversation continued, he peppered his verbal assault with a few disparaging references to the “Israel Lobby,” insisting that the truth would soon come out.

It was a rather surreal circumstance from which to emerge on the Golden Gate Bridge with 5,000 demonstrators determined to save Darfur. The rally was filled with inspirational moments. We heard from impassioned Washington legislators. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders implored us to stop the murders. Eyewitnesses to the slaughter relayed their heartrending accounts. African musicians filled the air with glorious song. It was an extraordinary day. But the episode in the cab served as a dark reminder of just how much vigilance it will take to stop this genocide before we are left to mourn it.

The 20th century offered repeated incontrovertible proof that launching a campaign against genocide, getting it to permeate the collective consciousness and mobilizing the masses to take action is a difficult challenge.

There are many, like our cabbie, who possess personal and political reasons to deny the atrocities, and their efforts are bolstered by the very banality of genocide. That is to say, genocide is not always especially newsworthy. Nothing new happened today in Darfur that didn’t happen yesterday … and that won’t happen tomorrow.

This keeps a catastrophe like Darfur’s out of the news, fueling the lies of the deniers and the disinterest of the millions whose righteous indignation will be needed to motivate the world to take action.

With the notable exception of Nicholas Kristof’s venerable work in The New York Times, there is an embarrassing paucity of news about Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been murdered, and millions have been displaced, but it is largely left to our imaginations to hear the cries of the victims. But if we listen closely enough, they can be heard. There are screams. Screams of women being branded and raped — right now. Screams of children being chased from their homes. Screams of men knowingly taking their final breath.

Just another day in Darfur.

Can we remain silent and live with ourselves?

We have a responsibility because we are neither the deniers nor the disinterested. There may not be enough news about Darfur, but we cannot claim that we are uninformed. Talking about the tragedy is not enough. Weeping about the tragedy is not enough. We must relentlessly urge our legislators to move the world to action. On Capitol Hill and at the White House, they count up our phone calls. That’s how they decide whether this genocide matters to us. That’s how they decide whether we want them to take life-saving action. Knowing this, calling daily isn’t too often.

As Jews, who know the scourge of genocide too well, we should each ask ourselves one question every day: “When this atrocity in Darfur is over, and the final losses are known, will I be at peace with what I did to stop it?”

During the week of the Darfur rallies in Washington and San Francisco, Jews all over the world were studying our famous command from the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

Five-hundred more will perish in Darfur today. When the killing is over, will you be at peace with what you did to stop it?

Ken Chasen is senior rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air.

Community Briefs

Possible Terror List Contains Israeli Consulate, 2 Temples

FBI counterterrorism agents are investigating whether two American Muslim converts planned to attack the Israeli consulate general, two synagogues and other targets in Los Angeles.

Yariv Ovadia, Israeli consul for public affairs, said federal agents have warned the consulate of possible threats.

“We fully trust American authorities to handle the situation,” he added, declining to elaborate further.

FBI spokeswoman Vickie Hampton-Franklin said she could not divulge the names of the two synagogues or any other aspect of the ongoing investigation.

The possible threats were apparently discovered accidentally, when Torrance police arrested Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, as suspects in a string of gas station robberies in the South Bay over the last two months.

Washington converted to Islam while serving a prison sentence for a previous assault and robbery conviction in 1999. Patterson, who has no criminal record, is believed to be a more recent convert.

A search of Washington’s apartment in South Los Angeles turned up what police described as jihadist literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of various Los Angeles sites. One entry referred to the “Consulate of Zion,” which investigators took to mean the Israeli consulate. Also listed were the two synagogues and California National Guard recruiting stations.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force of federal and local agents is also looking into Patterson’s recent employment at a duty-free gift shop at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

The terminal houses the El Al ticket counter, where in 2002, an Egyptian immigrant shot and killed two Israeli Americans.

The two suspects have been arraigned on nine counts of robbery and remain in custody in lieu of bail: $2 million for Washington and $1 million for Patterson.

In an unrelated incident earlier this week, Los Angeles police said an inactive World War II Japanese hand grenade was left in front of a firehouse on Robertson Boulevard, prompting firefighters to call the bomb squad.

Streets around the firehouse were cordoned off. At about the same time, a backpack was discovered in the vicinity, sparking additional concerns. It turned out to be harmless. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor, and David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Denial Group Planning ‘Peace’ Rally

A Holocaust denial group is planning what it calls a “rally for justice and peace” at the Simon Wiesenthal Center on July 29, part of an ongoing effort by right-wing extremists to borrow the language of antiwar activists.

The Institute for Historical Review plans its noon rally in front of the center’s Pico Boulevard headquarters, across the street from the Museum of Tolerance. A Web site announcement by the group’s executive director, Mark Weber, said the protest would highlight the Wiesenthal Center’s “record of lies in support of war, Zionist oppression and Jewish supremacism.”

A combination of antiwar and anti-Israel rhetoric have the potential to resonate, say experts, because some participants in antiwar events tie Israel to the Iraq War, blending conspiracy theories about Jewish power with broader ones about the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protest probably will not attract a large crowd, but calling it a “rally for justice and peace” raises concerns, said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at the Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates. “Well-meaning yet naive, antiwar activists are easy prey for cynical right-wingers.”

Berlet added that some left-leaning activists embrace followers of right-wing extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Refugees from the 1990s “patriot” movement produce conspiracy theory DVDs that are sold at antiwar events. Those far-right DVDs use, as source material, the anti-Semitic newspaper, American Free Press, formerly The Spotlight of the far-right Liberty Lobby founded by Willis Carto — who also created the Newport Beach-based Institute for Historical Review.

Wiesenthal Center officials do not comment on extremists, because the center does not want to give them media credibility. But in 1993, the center exposed Weber, who claims to be a historian, as a Nazi sympathizer.

Weber did not respond to a Jewish Journal e-mailed request seeking comment. On July 16, Weber was scheduled to host a small invitation-only gathering of like-minded historical revisionists in New York.

Mark Pitcavage, Anti-Defamation League fact-finding director, said he was skeptical of Weber’s reach, given the typical turnout at his events.

“If 10 people show up to Mark Weber’s rally, then you can say that his attempt to expropriate their language has not had much success.” — DF

Drisha Institute Plans Torah Study Program for Women

An acclaimed organization for text-centered Torah study for women is setting up shop on the West Coast this summer, as Drisha Institute of New York holds satellite classes in Los Angeles Aug. 9-14.

Taught by graduates of Drisha’s Scholars Circle, the daytime and evening classes will explore the theme of “Personalities and Relationships in Tanakh and Rabbinic Literature.”

Founded in 1979, Drisha was the first center fully dedicated to advanced Torah study for women, opening to women texts such as the Talmud and other legal works that had previously been closed in traditional circles.

Today, thousands of women go through Drisha’s programs annually. There are courses for high school girls, mother-and-daughter bat mitzvah classes, adult education offerings and intensive, certified study through the institute’s multiyear Scholars Circle program.

“People discover the transformative power of learning at Drisha, and often talk about how the experience has changed their life,” said Gail Katz, a Drisha board member who moved to Los Angeles in January and organized the summer program.

The Los Angeles classes will bear the Drisha hallmarks — chavruta learning with study partners, as well as instructor-led classes and discussions. English translations for source material will be available, and the school says it has classes appropriate for all levels.

Scholars Beth Samuels, Wendy Amsellem and Ilana Fodiman-Silverman will teach courses on topics such as sisterly rivalry in the Bible, women in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the making of a heretic and a special Tisha B’av program commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Morning classes are open to women only; evening classes are coed.

The entire program costs $50, or $18 per session. For a class schedule, go to www.drisha.org. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor


The Battle Over Gaza in America

It all started with a dream.

One night in March, Jon Hambourger slipped into a deep sleep and envisioned a train rolling through history. The 47-year-old Los Angeles mortgage broker said he had a choice: jump on or risk irrelevance.

The next morning, the Orthodox father of one told his wife that he had to go to the Gaza Strip, the coastal plain occupied by Israeli forces since 1967 and subsequently settled by groups of Israelis.

During his four-day Gaza visit, Hambourger met with Israeli factory owners, farmers and religious leaders. He also spent time with his wife’s nephew, a resident of the Atzmona settlement, which faces an August forced evacuation by the Israeli government.

The withdrawal is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, a key component of his government’s strategy to secure Israel’s borders and perhaps take a step toward peace with Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries.

Hambourger was touched by the settlers’ kindness and determination to stay in Gaza, in the region known as Gush Katif, a block of Jewish settlements in Southern Gaza. They won him over.

In April, he took a leave of absence from his job and founded SaveGushKatif.org, a Los Angeles-based group committed to scuttling the Israeli government’s planned evacuation through advocacy and education.

In the past two and a half months, 70 members, largely Orthodox Jews, have joined, including Jews in New York, Phoenix and Chicago. Another 800 supporters have registered on the group’s content-laden Web site, savegushkatif.org. Hambourger’s group is apparently the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, and it has forged alliances with pro-settlement groups worldwide.

The likelihood of SaveGushKatif or any other pro-settler group stopping the evacuation has dimmed in the wake of a court decision last week: Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the government’s disengagement plan, ruling that the government’s compensation for the displaced settlers is fair. The decision removed a crucial legal hurdle that stood in the way of the Sharon administration.

“Disengagement is decided. It’s planned. It’s going to happen,” said David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.

Still, many newspaper polls in Israel have shown a drop in support over the past year for Sharon’s plan from a high of more than 70 percent to around 55 percent. Public sentiment has shifted, experts say, partly because Israeli settlers and their partisans have launched a successful PR drive.

Among other initiatives, Gush Katif residents are going door-to-door in Tel Aviv and other largely secular communities, explaining why the settlers should stay and handing out complimentary fruit and vegetables from Gaza. SaveGushKatif helps fund these grass-roots efforts through direct fundraising appeals.

To be sure, most of America’s roughly 6 million Jews continue to support the evacuation, according to most experts. Many hope that relinquishing Gaza to Palestinian control might jumpstart the peace process and lessen tensions. At the very least, they argue that Israel should leave the disputed region because of the overwhelming financial and military drain of protecting less than 9,000 Jews surrounded by more than 1 million Arabs.

But there’s still a significant minority, especially among Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians, that opposes withdrawal. Hambourger hopes his organization will become one of the most influential voices among them.

“I had to do something,” Hambourger said. “Otherwise, how could I look at myself in the mirror again?”

Hambourger’s sojourn in Gaza convinced him that giving up the 21 Jewish settlements there would reward Palestinian terror, unfairly uproot settlers and contravene God’s wishes that Jews remain in the land. Sharon’s plan also would uproot four settlements in the northern West Bank.

A Sense of Mission

A religious man, Hambourger said he would ideally like Jews to control all territory the Torah designates as Greater Israel. But as a pragmatist, he said he would support trading land for peace, if he thought it would serve the interests of the Jewish state.

A pullout from Gaza does not, he said. Leaving, he added, would only embolden terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, which are bent on Israel’s destruction.

Hambourger characterized the Palestinian Authority as corrupt, and said it would simply view withdrawal as a concession and step up pressure for the Jews to retreat from the West Bank, Jerusalem and eventually all of Israel.

That’s why, Hambourger said, Save GushKatif highlights the security argument above all others. Such a position also resonates better with nonobservant Jews who might tune out biblical exhortations.

Seated in a booth at the kosher La Gondola restaurant in Los Angeles for an interview recently, the burly 6-foot-2 Hambourger was clad in black pants, blue dress shirt and a kippah. He said he’s found his calling in heading up the group.

Working alongside his chief of staff Chaya Rivka Brenners, a special events and fundraising coordinator, he routinely puts in 12-hour days. Together, they plan events, fundraisers and educational activities.

Given the high stakes, Hambourger said, he has invested nearly $20,000 of his own money in the organization. He also recently retained an attorney to obtain official nonprofit status.

SaveGushKatif wants to make its presence felt across the United States. Members recently handed out brochures and stickers at speeches given by Sharon in New York and Washington. Several local Save GushKatif supporters traveled to Gaza in early June to show solidarity with Gush Katif residents.

SaveGushKatif members believe the tide is turning. The overwhelmingly positive response they received at their debut appearance at the Israel Independence Day festival in Los Angeles shows that opinions can change.

At the May 15 event at a Van Nuys park, revelers, braving long lines and nearly triple-digit temperatures, dropped by the group’s booth and snapped up a thousand free shirts and other items all dyed in orange — the color that has come to symbolize solidarity with the beleaguered settlers.

SaveGushKatif member Shifra Hastings, who donned an orange skirt, orange bracelet and orange nail polish at the festival, hadn’t expected such a uniformly positive reaction. She thought some liberal Jews would make snide remarks about the settlers, whom she said the media stereotypes as crazy right-wingers. Instead, Hastings added, secular, Reform and Conservative Jews in shorts and tank tops, Orthodox Jews in kippahs and Israeli Jews seemed almost universally open to arguments that leaving Gaza would darken Israel’s future.

“People cared. People were curious. People were supportive,” she said. “It was great.”

Local SaveGushKatif volunteers have also distributed bumper stickers and fliers to Jewish bakeries and mostly to Orthodox shuls in Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks, Pico-Robertson and other Southland communities with a high concentration of observant Jews. Similar mass distributions of new materials are planned, as are lectures, fundraisers and rallies. A print advertising campaign has just begun, with the first spot running in The Jewish Journal.

“I believe we’re starting to make a difference,” said L.A. resident Stephanie Wells, a SaveGushKatif member who attended protests in New York and Washington during Sharon’s recent U.S. visit. “We’re just telling the truth and trying to get it out.”

“When people begin to hear the truth, they respond to the truth,” added Southland resident Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member who helps with fundraising. “And the truth is, disengagement is bad for the state of Israel and bad for the Jewish people on every conceivable level.”

Expanding beyond its Southland roots, SaveGushKatif recently joined with seven other groups to establish the bicoastal American Coalition to Save Gush Katif/Gaza and Northern Samaria. Members include the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI, a New York-based advocacy group that supports a “Greater Israel.” Coalition partners share e-mail lists and ideas for educating the public.

Group partners discuss strategy via conference calls, ZOA President Morton Klein said. He added that even if these efforts fail, the importance of taking a stand cannot be overestimated.

“If it doesn’t work here, we have to send a message to the [Israeli government]: Don’t think it will be so easy to throw Jews out of Judea and Samaria,” Klein said, referring to the biblical names for the West Bank.

“Misguided” Zeal

All of these “save Gaza” efforts are misguided, said Sabiha Khan, communications director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Khan said that Israel’s security situation would worsen if groups like SaveGushKatif and the Zionist Organization of America prevailed.

“True peace will not occur until Israel ends its occupation and Palestinians have their independence and a viable state, too,” she said.

Khan’s opinion is shared by many Jews, including Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Sokatch insisted that leaving Gaza would benefit Israel in the long run.

“This overwhelming support for disengagement from the American and Israeli governments, as well as their citizens, reflects an understanding among so many that the only way Israel can survive as a Jewish democracy is to withdraw from the Occupied Territories,” Sokatch said. “Gaza is a critical first step.”

Sokatch and others worry that passions surrounding the pullout could lead to Jew-on-Jew violence in the Holy Land. Certainly, emotions, both locally and internationally, will heat up as the disengagement grows near, observers predicted.

At the very least, the conflict over Gaza reflects a growing division between liberal and Orthodox Jews, who frequently have more in common politically with evangelical Christians than with their secular Jewish brethren, said David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

SaveGushKatif founder Hambourger said the last thing he wants is to exacerbate divisions among Jews. He’s admonished group members to refrain from overheated rhetoric against the Israeli government, including against Sharon, whom he calls a heroic general making a terrible mistake.

Shouting down pro-disengagement Israeli leaders or painting them as traitors only alienates moderate and liberal Jews, whose support SaveGushKatif needs, he said. Recently, Hambourger asked a man who advocated disrupting pro-disengagement gatherings to stop attending Save GushKatif meetings.

Not all SaveGushKatif members appear to share Hambourger’s position. Brooklyn supporter Robin Ticker said God gave Gush Katif and other disputed land to the Jews and to the Jews alone. She thinks Israel should treat Arabs living within its borders well, but bar them from owning land. The Jewish state, which she calls a “theocracy,” should also require Arabs and Muslims to take loyalty oaths.

“Only Jews can sanctify the land, just like only a violinist can play violin or a computer programmer can program,” said Ticker, who has lobbied at least a dozen rabbis in her Flatbush neighborhood to publicly oppose the disengagement.

Hambourger distances himself from his more extreme supporters, because he’s playing to win. And he believes he needs a wide array of Jews, without regard to their religiosity, politics or even sexual orientation.

His acolytes include Zohar Wertheim, 38, an Israeli-born gay man who owns a framing gallery in West Hollywood. He characterizes disengagement as a muddle-headed attempt to appease world opinion. After meeting with Hambourger, Wertheim said, he wrote SaveGushKatif a check for $50 and began posting pro-settler fliers in his shop window.

“I plan to do as much as I can,” Wertheim said.

Talking with a reporter at La Gondola restaurant, Hambourger surveyed fellow diners and said the fight for Gush Katif begins and ends in such places.

“These are the people who make donations, call politicians and get involved,” he said. “These are regular people, and I want to reach them.”


Just a Peace Rally? Read the Fine Print

This Sunday’s "End Occupation" rally in Hollywood has led Jewish watchdog groups to be concerned about the increasing anti-Semitism of the antiwar movement.

"How did the antiwar movement become anti-Semitic?" asked Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). "I don’t think all anti-Israel statements are anti-Semitic, but I do believe anti-Zionism statements are anti-Semitic."

Antiwar rally organizers have struggled this year between anti-American and anti-Israel platforms and outreach to key leftist Jewish peace activists such as Tikkun magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner. Anti-war rallies have been by hosted virulent, at times profanity-driven, anti-Israel speakers, while an open split in the antiwar left began last January after San Francisco activists tried to ban pro-Israel Lerner from a rally speaking slot.

"Even someone as far left as Michael Lerner finds himself not kosher enough for the antiwar movement," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The "End Occupation" march on Sunday, Sept. 28, starts at noon at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, with a rally at 2 p.m. at Hollywood and Highland, as protesters denounce Israel plus U.S. policy on Iraq, Cuba, Syria and elsewhere. It is being organized by the Los Angeles chapter of International Answer, a far-left group closely tied to the U.S.-based, pro-North Korea Workers World Party; the chapter’s listed coalition or steering committee members include the National Lawyers Guild, the Palestinian-American Women’s Association, the Free Palestine Alliance and the local chapter of the American-Arab Discrimination Committee.

Rally endorsers do not include the Progressive Jewish Alliance but do include college student groups and a typical grab-bag of obscure, leftist or Israel-hostile peace groups such as the Coalition for World Peace and cultish Fidel Castro socialists. Also listed as rally endorsers are the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Al-Bireh Palestine Society and the Palestine Aid Society.

Some peace groups feel the anti-war movement has gone too far.

"We are uncomfortable with the strident, and I guess, over-the-top method of the ANSWER coalition," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a progressive Jewish Alliance board member. Beliak said that at a local ANSWER-Run Rally last spring, "Part of what they were doing was they were egging people on to get arrested."

He also said that PJA and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace — another group in which Beliak is involved — did not endorse the rally out of respect for the Jewish Holiday.

The Palestinian activist agenda at such U.S. events seems to be, "to sort of push the antiwar movement [into thinking], ‘If people hate Bush, they should hate Israel,’" said Cooper. "It seems to have worked very well in Europe, it hasn’t gotten traction here."

Of growing concern to British Jews is the rally’s build-up event in London — a Sept. 27 demonstration marking the third anniversary of the Palestinian intifada. Alongside the British antiwar movement’s anti-Israel wing, a key event organizer is the Muslim Association of Britain; the group’s Web site recently promoted the Sept. 9 London lecture, "The Roots and Nature of the Zionist Project," by Abdelwahab El-Messiri, an Egyptian professor whose Arabic language books include, "Secrets of the Zionist Mind" and "The Invisible Hand: A Study in Secret and Subversive Jewish Movements."

Anti-war celebrities, notably Martin Sheen, spoke at U.S. peace rallies earlier this year, but generally did not distance themselves from the event’s harsher anti-Zionist speakers. Susskind said the ADL has not approached activist actors about what’s being said at the rallies.

"We could do more outreach to the celebrities in our own backyard," she said.

Coinciding with this year’s Sept. 11 memorial services, the ADL issued a separate report, "Unraveling Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories" about Israeli and Jewish involvement being central to fringe thinking on the attacks.

The ADL believes that various conspiracy theories, "are essentially updated versions of classical anti-Semitic canards," focusing in part on supposed Jewish influence at the World Trade Center, on Wall Street and in geopolitics.

"The Big Lie has been repeated by imams, the press and government officials in the Arab world,"ADL national director Abraham Foxman stated in the report, "and is contributing to disturbing and dangerous mutations in global anti-Semitism."

Students Seek Justice for Americans in Israel

Armed with reams of notebook paper and plenty of pens, 600 yeshiva students rallied for legislation that would support American families whose loved ones have died in Israel at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

In honor of Yom HaZikaron (the Jewish Day of Remembrance), students from Yeshiva University High School (YULA), Maimonides Academy, Emek Hebrew Academy, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and West Valley Hebrew Day School gathered at B’nai David Judea Synagogue in Los Angeles on Tuesday, May 6 for YULA’s third annual memorial rally and letter-writing campaign. This year’s event was in memory of Yael Botwin, a Los Angeles teenager who was murdered in the September 1997 Palestinian bombing on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

After hearing heart-breaking stories of lives lost, students wrote letters to U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urging them to co-sponsor the Koby Mandell Act, which would create a special unit in the Justice Department to pursue Palestinian terrorists who have harmed Americans. Last year’s rally led to co-sponsorship of the bill by several representatives, including Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

"I think it’s important to pass the [Koby Mandell Act]. I don’t know why it hasn’t received more attention," YULA senior Motti Klein said.

Ezra Pinsky, another YULA senior, has a personal interest in the act, as he plans to study at a yeshiva in Israel upon graduation from high school this June.

"I’d like to know that America is going to take actions against those who could be threatening me," said the 17-year-old, clutching his letter. "It’s not going to be a pleasant year if I’m in danger."

IDF Refuseniks

Among the more than 60,000 people demonstrating for peace May 11 in Tel-Aviv, was a 44-year-old Israeli who has served two jail terms for refusing to do military service in the occupied territories.

It was Yuval Lotam’s first time in many years at a rally. "I always mean to go, but somehow I never get moving in time," he said sheepishly.

Lotam melted into the crowd of demonstrators. As a young soldier, he served three years as a paratroop officer. Then he experienced an about face of conscience, and for the last 20 years has refused reserve duty in the land occupied by his country.

Sometimes, his refusal resulted in transfer from unit to unit. The army "just didn’t know what to do with an officer like me," he said. But in 1993, and again in ’97, he was sentenced to 30 days in a military prison.

Although loosely associated with a movement called Yesh Gvul, the modest, soft-spoken Lotam is essentially a loner. "I am probably the most selfish refusenik ever," he claimed. "The only reason I do it is for myself, so I can bear to look in the mirror."

Lotam is much more loquacious on the subject of friendships with Palestinians, which evolved from his actions. In 1997, Lotam’s imprisonment stemmed from his refusal to perform guard duty at a prison housing administrative detainees. In a continuation of British policy from the Mandate, Israel holds security suspects in detention for renewable intervals of up to six months without bringing specific charges against them.

Immad Sabi, a Palestinian administrative detainee at the prison Lotam refused to guard, saw a small newspaper notice reporting Lotam’s imprisonment and wrote him an open letter. Sabi’s letter, eventually published in The New York Times, touched off a friendship between the two men. Now a graduate student living in Holland, Sabi has hosted Lotam at his home several times.

After his release in ’97, Lotam helped initiate a program of personal correspondence between Israelis and administrative detainees. He is still in contact with several.

On May 11, standing near a stark granite slab, which marks the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 at a peace rally, Lotam listened to the speakers.

Ala Shainskaya, a scientist who immigrated from the former Soviet Union 12 years ago, hesitated when invited to speak — until people asked her if she wasn’t afraid participation might jeopardize her job at a prestigious scientific institute. "That decided me," she said in heavily accented Hebrew.

"I came here from a totalitarian regime," she pointed out. "I refuse to let this happen to our democratic country." To Shainskaya, the emphasis on "togetherness" at any price may engender suppression of dissent. "What does ‘togetherness’ mean?" she asked. "That we all must think alike and march alike like robots?"

Similar thoughts 20 years ago motivated Lotam to begin his selective refusal of duty. This year, 450 Israeli army officers have engaged in a similar action by singing a public petition, bringing the number refusing to serve in the territories to over 1,000. Eighty-five have been imprisoned this year.

David Damelin was student called up for reserves this spring. The 28-year-old philosophy major was a regular at peace demonstrations, but when his activist mother urged him to sign the officers’ petition, he declined.

Damelin reported for duty and was killed in a Palestinian attack on an army checkpoint. Exactly 60 days after his death, Damelin’s mother somberly addressed the rally, saying: "The suffering of Palestinian mothers and Israeli mothers is the same. Put yourselves in the other’s place."

On her son’s fresh gravestone are carved the words of poet Kahlil Gibran: "All the earth is his birthplace, and all mankind his brothers."

Lotam listened, nodding. He left the rally as anonymously as he had come. "I’m no kind of hero," he insisted.

Bring the Noise

An Israel solidarity rally, organized by the grass-roots association Stand With Us, attracted several hundred local Jews and other supporters of Israel to the intersection of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards in Westwood. What made this rally particularly impressive was how large the turnout was on a weekday, especially since the rally was a product of e-mail and word of mouth. Also notable was the preponderance of young American Jews and Israeli ones, many in their 20s and 30s.

Another Israel solidarity rally will be held in front of the Federal Building, on the corner of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards, on Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m.

Stand With Us is a loose configuration of people that began last May when about 40 organizational leaders, lay leaders, rabbis and other members of Los Angeles’ Jewish community banded together to find ways of escalating support for Israel during the intifada. The credo on the affiliation’s Web site standwithus.com proclaims: "We are a grass-roots organization encompassing all branches of Judaism, Jewish organizations and friends of the Jewish people. We are not part of any religious or political organization, and we will not attempt to influence Israel’s government policies."

"It was very effective," Roz Rothstein, an activist involved in Stand With Us, told The Journal following the rally. "It goes to show that people do want to get together if given the opportunity. This is not about politics, this is about murder. We cannot have peace when people sitting around a restaurant are getting murdered."

Stand With Us organized the rally in concert with a wide range of supporters, including Temple Beth Am, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, and Beth Jacob Congregation. Rothstein added that in addition to support from the Israeli and Persian communities, a group of devout Christians also took part.

Beth Jacob spiritual leader Rabbi Steve Weil and Marc Rohatiner, the synagogue’s president, were among those lined up along Wilshire Boulevard.

"For a midweek rally, there’s a lot of people," Rohatiner said. "It’s a pretty decent turnout."

Weil and Rohatiner were also impressed by the short time it took for the rally to be assembled in the midst of the Passover holidays. The word went out Friday.

Although this particular rally was not a Jewish Federation event, many Federation executives, staffers, and board members and their families came down to support the movement, including Federation President John Fishel; Federation Chair Jake Farber; Jewish Community Resource Center directors Michael Hirschfeld and Elaine Albert; South Bay Federation Director Margy Feldman; and Cheri Morgan, vice chair of the United Jewish Fund.

Also supporting the solidarity rally was Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem. On April 1, he held a media conference in which he presented Israel’s position on the Middle East conflict to local media representatives. Rotem decried the recent escalation of Palestinian suicide bombings, and called for the condemnation of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a faux leader who has failed repeatedly to exercise leadership over extremists and to demonstrate a true interest in peace.

"In the meantime, we must exercise our right — the right of every country on earth — to defend its people," Rotem said.

At the Westwood rally, people waved Israeli and American flags, and carried signs with slogans such as "We Stand With Israel," "There Is No Excuse for Suicide-Murder," and "We Ji-Had Enough."

With the situation in Israel turning grislier, many of the young locals present were very concerned about what the future has in store for both Israel and America.

"My whole family is in Israel," said Sean Hashem, an Angeleno in his early 30s who attended Fairfax High School. "All my mother’s side of the family, my father’s side. It’s very frustrating. There’s a feeling of hopelessness, that nothing will be fixed soon, that it’ll escalate. I had to come here and show my support."

Hashem expressed his dismay in "the United States’ indecisiveness" and wants to see the American government "taking a more pro-active approach" in its support for Israel.

"I didn’t think there would be this many people," said Ilona Fass, in her 20s, who says she felt it was vital to demonstrate her support of Israel against the waging of terrorism. "I think that what is happening in Israel can happen here. It’s just a matter of time."

Limore Twena, a recent Angeleno raised in Toronto by Israeli parents, said that if Jews become cowed into not expressing their rage at the violent campaign being unleashed on innocent Israeli citizens, the terrorists have won.

"They want to make people scared to congregate," said Twena, in her mid-20s. "I’m here to show my support to Israel and stand up against terrorism."

Such sentiments and concerns spanned the generations of demonstrators. Blanka Lifshin, a Holocaust survivor in her 70s, has been on edge since the suicide bombings in Israel escalated in recent weeks.

"It’s heartbreaking," said Lifshin, who has family and friends living in Israel. "I call every night."

She added that she has been disappointed by the lack of high-profile Jews, such as those in the entertainment industry, making a vocal statement against what is happening in Israel.

"A lot of Jewish people have influence," she said, "and they don’t do anything."

Locals were not the only people participating in the rally. Out-of-towners visiting Los Angeles for the holidays, such as the Gruens of Boston, were also on hand to lend their support.

"We had other plans for fun in L.A.," Dan Gruen said, "but we thought that this was more important."

"Everybody’s really trying hard to get what we want, and we’ll probably get it,"said Dalia, Gruen’s 10-year-old daughter.

"What do we want?" Gruen asked his daughter.

Dalia, with a shy smile, replied, "We want peace."

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.