Demonstrators arrested outside of Trump rally in California

Some 20 demonstrators were arrested on Thursday outside a Donald Trump campaign rally in southern California, where the Republican presidential front-runner vowed to his supporters to get tough on illegal immigration if elected.

Demonstrators smashed the window of a police squad car, marched in protest and blocked traffic as police in riot gear tried to disperse the crowd outside of the county fair grounds in Costa Mesa, California, according to local media and the Twitter account of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The department said on its Twitter account that about 20 arrests were made and that no major injuries were reported.

Trump visited Costa Mesa, a city of more than 100,000 people, a third of whom are Hispanic or Latino, hoping to garner support in California where voters will go to the polls during the state's Republican primary on June 7.

A strong primary win in California for the billionaire could thrust him above the delegate count needed to secure the Republican nomination for president and avoid a contested party convention in July.

During the campaign stop on Thursday, Trump promised to get tough on illegal immigration by building a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States, a popular theme of his presidential campaign, suggesting that a wall would stop drugs from coming into this country.

“The drugs are poisoning our youth and a lot of other people and we are going to get it stopped,” he said, telling the crowd that he would force Mexico to pay for the wall.

After the event, local news showed hundreds of demonstrators surrounding vehicles, waving Mexican flags and holding signs in protest of Trump outside of the Orange County Fair and Event Center. At least one demonstrator was shown jumping on the top of a police car while other demonstrators were seen shaking a police vehicle.

A Los Angeles Times reporter posted a photo on Twitter of a man wearing a Trump T-shirt with a bloodied face.

Trump has come under fire from rivals for fueling unrest with his rhetoric as several of his rallies around the country have been met by protests during the last several months. 

Family of Ethiopian-Israeli believed held by Hamas rallies for his release

The family of an Ethiopian Israeli believed to be imprisoned in Gaza by Hamas rallied on his behalf outside an Israeli prison where Palestinian prisoners are held.

The rally Monday outside the Hadarim Detention Center was the first on behalf of Avera Mengistu, 29, whose family says he is mentally ill. Approximately two dozen demonstrators demanded that Hamas release Mengistu, who crossed the border into Gaza in September by climbing over a barrier. His disappearance was not made public until July, when a court-imposed gag order was lifted. He is one of two Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas. The other, a Bedouin, has not been publicly identified.

The rally was deliberately held on a Monday, the day that relatives of Palestinian prisoners are allowed to visit. Activists held signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding the Palestinians send a message to Hamas to release Mengistu, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Speaking to the families of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel, Mengistu’s brother Ilan said that “while you are visiting your loved ones in Israel, Avera Mengistu, an innocent 29-year-old civilian, is being held in Gaza. Despite the fact that he is not well and was never a soldier, Hamas continues to keep him captive and refuses to release him or give any information on his whereabouts.”

Members of the Mengistu family said hundreds of supporters had sought to join the protest at the prison, but the police had limited the crowd to 26 demonstrators, according to Haaretz.

Hamas has provided no information about the condition of Mengistu or the Bedouin man, nor has it said it is holding them.

London neo-Nazi rally overshadowed by counterdemonstration

A neo-Nazi rally held in central London was dwarfed by a large counterdemonstration staged by Jewish and anti-racism groups.

About 25 neo-Nazis demonstrated Saturday against “Jewish privilege” and the “Jewification of Great Britain,” while about 200 counterdemonstrators chanted anti-Nazi slogans including “Nazi scum off our streets.”

Some 200 police officers secured the protest.

The neo-Nazi rally had been ordered to move by police from the heavily Jewish-populated Golders Green neighborhood of the Barnet borough. The neo-Nazis waved Palestinian and Confederate flags, as well as White Pride banners. They also had planned to burn Jewish books.

Earlier this year, the neo-Nazis demonstrated in the haredi Orthodox neighborhood of Stamford Hill.

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.

Pro-Israel, pro-peace rally draws 3,000 in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (j. weekly) — Some 3,000 Israel supporters turned out in downtown San Francisco for a pro-Israel, pro-peace rally.

The Bay Stands With Israel solidarity rally on Sunday began across the street from San Francisco City Hall, with speakers from Jewish organizations, synagogues, and state and city government. Police estimated the crowd at 3,000.

Afterward, some 1,200 demonstrators marched along Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza, a mile away, under police escort.

In contrast to anti-Israel demonstrations held in the city the previous two weekends, the pro-Israel event was peaceful. Six counterdemonstrators, one holding a large Palestinian flag, stood near the rally, and a few protesters followed the post-rally march, but no altercations ensued.

Among the signs on display at the demonstration were placards reading “I stand with Israel,” “Kids deserve peace,” “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where they don’t burn American flags” and “More Hummus, Less Hamas.” There were also hundreds of Israeli flags.

“Israel has been vilified in parts of the Bay Area,“ Rabbi Doug Kahn, head of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, said in his speech to the crowd. “For what? For defending its citizens from incessant rocket attacks? For caring enough about its citizens, Jewish and Arabs, to build an elaborate defense system? For risking its own soldiers’ lives to minimize casualties among innocent civilians used by Hamas to hide behind?

“Enough of the hypocrisy by Israel’s detractors. We must dedicate ourselves more than ever to share the real Israel that we know and love.”

The rally was spearheaded by a group of young Israeli-Americans and co-sponsored by 38 Jewish organizations.

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.

German man, 83, assaulted at rally for kidnapped Israeli teens

An 83-year-old man was thrown to the ground during a solidarity rally in Germany for three Israeli teens kidnapped in the West Bank.

The incident took place at a national “Bring Back Our Boys” rally in Hamburg on June 19 organized by the Young Forum of the German-Israel Society and the Hamburg for Israel network, the Juedische Allgemeine, Germany’s main Jewish newspaper, reported Monday.

A counter-demonstrator reportedly threw the elderly man to the ground. His daughter also was assaulted physically and verbally while trying to protect him. The man was treated in the hospital for a head wound.

A complaint was lodged with police.

The counter-demonstration reportedly was organized by the German branch of the anti-globalization ATTAC group.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the Allgemeine that he was shocked and extremely worried that “this kind of pure hatred against Israel not only exists in Germany but is expressed in violent assaults.” He said he was counting on local authorities to “quickly apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Ina Dinslage, spokeswoman for the Young Forum in Hamburg, also expressed shock at the attack.

“We wanted to show our solidarity with the kidnapped teens,” she told the Allgemeine.

Graumann said he hoped for more such demonstrations for democracy and peace, “values that Israel has always stood for.”

Toulouse anti-racism rally features anti-Zionism chants

Participants in a march against anti-Semitism and other racism in the French city of Toulouse hurled anti-Zionist insults at Jewish fellow demonstrators.

Some of the insults were directed at Nicole Yardeni, who heads the local chapter of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities, during the march on Saturday by 2,000 people. The march was organized by a gay group, Arc-en-Ciel, following the spraying of anti-Semitic and anti-gay slogans in several locales last week in Toulouse.

At one point, a group of demonstrators started chanting “Yardeni, get lost” and “CRIF, fascists, Zionists, get lost.”

The Jewish participants were “absolutely unprepared for such a reception,” Yardeni told the French news agency AFP. ”Jews are now being chased away from a demonstration against anti-Semitism.”

Demonstration organizers said they regretted the chants.

“We are deeply disturbed by what happened,” said Noemie Henry, a president of Arc-en-Ciel.

Also in Toulouse on Saturday, some 400 protesters demonstrated a few miles from where the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was performing at the Zennith Theater. City officials did not permit the demonstration opposite the building, the France 3 television channel reported, and police were on hand to check that everyone entering the theater had a ticket to prevent disturbances by anti-Dieudonne infiltrators.

Dieudonne has used his shows to air anti-Semitic views.

The protest was organized by CRIF and the LICRA anti-racism watchdog.

The France 3 report showed young men leaving the theater performing the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi gesture that Dieudonne invented and labeled anti-establishment, but which many French Jews and politicians believe is anti-Semitic.


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.

Tunisian officials decry anti-Semitic chants at rally

Tunisia’s Religious Affairs Ministry condemned anti-Semitic epithets shouted at a rally in Tunis calling for the imposition of Islamic law in the country’s new constitution.

“The call to fight against the Jews is absurd,” the ministry said in a statement issued Tuesday, according to the French news agency AFP. “The ministry rejects this attack against all Tunisian citizens. Tunisian Jews are full citizens.”

A new constitution is being drafted for the country, which has a population of 10 million, mostly Muslims. About 1,500 Jews reportedly live in Tunisia.

The rally Sunday held by radical Islamist Salafists called for the imposition of Shariah, or Islamic law, over all of the country’s legislation. In the Oct. 24 elections in Tunisia, the relatively moderate Islamist Ennahda Party won 90 seats, making it the largest bloc in the 217-member assembly.

Several of Tunisia’s political parties also denounced the attacks on the Jewish community, according to AFP.

The leftist Ettajdid party in a statement Tuesday condemned “the calls to violence, hatred and even murder from fanatical Salafi groups that have again targeted citizens of the Jewish faith,” AFP reported.

Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisia’s Jewish community, met Tuesday with Tunisian Constituent Assembly Speaker Mustapha Ben Jafar, who reportedly condemned the verbal attacks and called for their end.

Bismuth reportedly has threatened to sue a Salafist preacher who during Sunday’s demonstration shouted “young people rise up, let’s wage a war against the Jews” to cheers from the crowd.

Muslim Brotherhood rally calls to ‘kill all Jews’

The Muslim Brotherhood held an anti-Israel rally in a Cairo mosque that reportedly called to “one day kill all Jews.”

Some 5,000 people participated in the Nov. 25 rally, during which they made the call about killing Jews—a quote from the Koran—a reporter for Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot reported from the Egyptian capital.

The rally held in the ancient al-Azhar Mosque was called to raise awareness about the “battle against Jerusalem’s Judaization,” Yediot reported.

The phrase “Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, judgment day has come” was chanted repeatedly throughout the event.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, the mosque’s imam, reportedly accused Jews throughout the world of preventing Islamic and Egyptian unity.

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

Why I went to Occupy L.A. instead of synagogue

A little more than a month ago, I became a Bat Mitzvah. In Judaism, that means I am now an adult and have pledged to keep the traditions of my faith. And yet it was for those very reasons that I decided to spend Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish year – joining the protesters of Occupy L.A. instead of going to synagogue.

No, my parents weren’t thrilled when I first brought up skipping services on this important holiday, but since my Mom marched on Washington for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, I think she at least understood where I was coming from. Also, my mother knows first-hand what it’s like to lose her job in this recession. She was laid off from the newspaper where she worked for 18 years before she got hired by the Huffington Post and AOL.

Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, a day where we reflect on how we could be better people and apologize to anyone who we may have hurt. I think it’s time for the big corporations and banks in America to say they are sorry too.

And it certainly is time for people to stop ignoring the pain of others. We need to stand up for one another and against those who are doing us harm. That’s what Occupy L.A. is doing. It is part of a nationwide protest against corporate greed and the hardships that have fallen on families across the country.

There is a saying that goes, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” If you are standing by and not doing anything, you are part of the problem.

Too many people are out of work and are losing their houses in foreclosure. Too many people are sleeping in their cars or living on the street after the banks take everything. The banks, meanwhile, are still giving their executives bonuses.

I live in Malibu, a city that everyone thinks is a place filled with rich people. Trust me, there are people in Malibu who are hurting too. I know kids at school who have had to move out of their homes. I know families who are starting to fall apart because of all the stress. Our schools have one fundraiser after another and people feel bad because they can’t afford to give anymore. Our eighth grade class is collecting cans of food to help feed people. In my synagogue, we are also collecting food for food banks. The need is so great and people are just being squeezed too hard. It is time for the government to pitch in.

I believe that by joining the protesters, I am not just taking a stand, but I am fulfilling my role of being an adult. Only kids get to ignore problems. I am also fulfilling my role as a Jew, which is to help people who need my help. I want my voice to be heard. I am joining those kids whose parents have lost their jobs and lost their homes and I want to be counted among the people who are trying to change America back to being a place we can all be proud of living in.

I hope G-d understands my choice. I know He will because He planted the idea in my head.

Jewish activists and clergy to join Occupy L.A. with sukkah outside City Hall

Since the beginning of this month, a group of Angelenos has gathered near downtown’s City Hall as part of Occupy Los Angeles, its version of the much-publicized Occupy Wall Street — a protest movement calling for reforms to the U.S. political and economic systems.

On Oct. 16 at 1 p.m., local Jewish clergy and activists will join Occupy Los Angeles to hold a demonstration in a sukkah outside City Hall at the site of the demonstrations, where people have been camping out and protesting for several weeks. Rabbi Jonathan Klein of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA) — along with representatives of Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jewish Funds for Justice — is among those planning to participate.

This is a “collaborative, consensus-based effort,” Klein wrote in an e-mail. “It is not just CLUE-LA or PJA/JFSJ that is making this happen … this is less about organizations and overwhelmingly about a common vision for justice in the world.”

They are inviting anyone interested to join in.

“We are calling on the Jewish community to go out to the streets, to join with Occupy L.A. at City Hall, during the festival of Sukkot on Chol Hamoed (Oct. 16) for a day of demonstration, learning, praying, singing, dancing and conversation in which we begin to clarify the way from here to a more just society,” is the message on a Facebook event page created by the Jewish activists.

Klein and four others, including Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, associate professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University, created the Facebook page, titled, “Not Just a Sukkah: A JUST Sukkah.”

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, 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.


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.


Jewish group vows to stop neo-Nazi rally

A Jewish group is vowing to stop a neo-Nazi rally planned for April in New Jersey.

The Jewish Defense Organization has promised to shut-down a two-day conference, including a rally at the State House in Trenton, organized by the National Socialist Movement, The Times of Trenton reported.

“We’re calling on angry Jews all over New Jersey to call every hotel up and down New Jersey and demand the hotel cancel on them,” said Jeff Goldman, of the JDO’s New Jersey chapter.

A splinter faction of the better-known Jewish Defense League, the JDO is, according to the Anti-Defamation League, an affiliate of the Kahanist movement that is banned in Israel.

Sanity rally: Now that we are all friends, what do we do?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One thing to be said for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Restore Sanity and/or Fear Rally today in Washington: they didn’t pull the transparent trick that Glenn Beck did last month with his Restore Honor Rally.  Beck, the right-wing talker, used his supposedly non-partisan rally to rather blatantly sling a right-wing political agenda. Natch.

Stewart and Colbert stuck to their word, unfortunately. While their three-hour show drew a buoyant and decidedly non-Republican crowd to the National Mall, they didn’t even come close to sending any overt or covert political message. Indeed, the whole spectacle, while immaculately produced, was sort of amazingly content-free.  So tightly scripted, and so scrupulously determined to avoid even oblique political references, the performances -– which included a poetry reading from Sam Watterson, and songs from the O Jays, Cat Stevens, Tony Bennett,  The Roots, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, along with lots of schtick from the two rally stars—at times seemed like an extended and not very funny version of Stewart’s rather unremarkable stint a few years back as host of the Oscars.

The implicit message, one supposed, of this rally is that given the obviously liberal and often courageous and confrontational on-air attitudes of the comic duo, a “sanity” rally in these concluding days of an historic mid-term campaign would somehow be a push-back against two years of frothy, if not lathered-up, conservative resistance to the Obama administration and everything it stands for.

Not much luck.

Only at the very end of the rally, after many had left, did Stewart venture into more political territory, but primarily by attacking the media and decrying what he characterized as a moment of frenetic paranoia. “These are hard times,” he said. “Not the end times.” He blasted the media, especially, cable news for irresponsibly stoking false controversies and needlessly dividing the American people.

“The press can hold a magnifying class to illuminate issues,” Stewart said his rather solemn ten minute closing statement. “Or it can use that glass to set ants on fire… if we amplify everything we hear nothing.”

A true enough proposition. But somewhat naïve or disingenuous to recur to the most routine sort of conventional wisdom —that all passionate pundits are essentially the same, that the only difference between left and right is labels. At least that allusion created some sparks.

Otherwise, it was a somewhat tedious couple of hours from a dais that had little if nothing to do with both the fundamental and sometimes irrational fears and the dampened hopes for sanity that currently roil the American psyche. Nor was it all half as funny as almost any random half hour of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report.

The crowd, nevertheless, seemed not disappointed at all, and content to just enjoy a mild day among a throng of fellow-thinkers.

Video footage from LA’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Story continues after the jump.

By late Friday night and early Saturday morning, hours before the onset of the rally, hundreds, thousands and then tens of thousands converged on the mall, jamming Washington’s sidewalks, the Metro, busses and crashing local cell phone networks.

While the official theme of the rally was a non-partisan, if not overtly non-political appeal to “sanity” –- to calm and reasoned discourse—there was little doubt that the event was populated primarily by Democrats, liberal Democrats.  A light-hearted and almost carnival-like atmosphere prevailed, consistent with an event organized by two comedians, but the signs and placards definitely tilted left of center.

“We the People, Not We the Corporations…Less Hannity More Sanity.. We Have Nothing to Fear Except Fox Itself” were typical of the hand-painted signs that blossomed among the field of thousands.  A plethora of liberal activist groups ranging from those favoring marijuana legalization to those pushing campaign finance reform were on hand to wave the flag, leaflet and recruit.  Others held up signs supporting Obama and praising his health care reform.

Yet, there were also signs, echoing Stewart’s repeated plea that this was all just a “clarion call to sanity” asking those attending to “Chill It” and “Bring it Down a Notch.”

Herein, though, resided the fundamental irony of this odd event.  While it rather reasonably if obliquely mocked the spittle and hyperbole that mars much of current political discourse and over-heated and superficial media coverage that has a direct stake in stoking ratings-friendly partisan wrestling matches, most of these rally-goers come from a constituency that is facing a very likely political bloodbath in less than 72 hours. 

Bringing it down a notch, keeping things calm, cool and cerebral, has been among the traits that have most irked and discouraged President Obama’s Democratic base for the last two years.  With that much-talked about “enthusiasm gap” firing up the Tea Partiers and fueling a probable GOP electoral surge over the Democratic barricades, this final weekend of the campaign might have been much more appropriate for a rally demanding that those political forces considering themselves “sane” -– compared to more frenzied conservatives — ramp things up instead of downshifting. And it might have been more logical, more sane, to have the President himself and not two cable comedians lead the charge.

And while the massive crowd exhibited considerably less of the extreme political theater that has marked more militant and partisan events, such as the anti-war rallies, this rally was still indisputably if unwittingly redolent with a slight whiff of self-righteous smugness, something organic to the central organizing principle of the event.

If those here are “sane,” then by extension those not attending or sympathizing just might be insane -– plain crazy.  Not only does that contradict Stewart’s “Can’t we all get along?” message, but it might also alienate precisely moderate, or “low-information” voters who might see this event as a mass display of Democratic snobbery.

“Poppycock,” exclaimed Marie Fein, a 27-year-old New York office worker who came to D.C. on one of the free buses provided by The Huffington Post (which carted in an estimated 10,000). “This rally is going to help fire up millions seeing it on TV and let them know they are not alone out there, that there are so many others of us who are going to vote Tuesday to end the Tea Party craziness. Most people are sane and they will indentify with us.”

That was hardly a universal conviction, even among the ralliers. “Look, this is going to make people feel good for a couple of hours, including me, but in itself it isn’t going to change much,” said a D.C.-based union organizer who didn’t want to be named.

“The moment this is over, I’m going to be phone-banking all afternoon and night. What counts is not how many people we have out here on the mall today. What counts is how many people we get into the voting booths on Tuesday.”

The word “vote” was never mentioned from the stage.

Marc Cooper is an Associate Professor of Professional Practice and the Director of Annenberg Digital News at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

More coverage on the Rally to Restore Sanity:
Washington, D.C. – Sanity rally: Now that we are all friends, what do we do?


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.