"Our message was clear and loud," said Joy Kurland of Monday’s rally near the United Nations to show support for Israel. Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, had spent the weekend, along with other local volunteers, working the phones to alert people about the rally. It was put together in the course of just three days by the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Between 10,000 and ‘0,000 people from New Jersey, New York, and beyond showed up at noon on one of the hottest days of the year, and the message they sent, in Kurland’s words, was that "we’re all united for Israel to defend itself, stop the terrorism, and make every assurance Israel will be protected and supported in whatever it needs to do to protect the Jewish homeland." (See photo at right.)
A slew of speakers from local and national government, community activists, and Israeli officials voiced their support for Israel’s actions against Hezbollah and Hamas.
"We have to remove a level of ambiguity in this discussion," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) told The Jewish Standard before the rally. "There is one democracy at war with two terrorist organizations and two countries supporting them," he said, referring to Syria and Iran’s clandestine support of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Weiner said that Israel must be allowed the freedom to do what it feels is necessary. "Force gets met with force. Not every international problem has a diplomatic solution."
Weiner’s comments mirrored the underlying message of the rally, echoed by each speaker: Israel must be allowed to finish the job it has started against Hezbollah.
"We stand here today to assure the Israelis that Americans stand with her," U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) told the crowd. "Americans stand with Israel and will stand with Israel and Israel will succeed."
Just weeks after appearing with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to promote the resumption of negotiations, Nobel peace laureate Eli Wiesel stressed his support for Israel’s course of action, and lay the blame for the situation solely on the shoulders of Hezbollah and Hamas.
"They and only they are responsible for the lives lost in Gaza and in Lebanon," he said. "But they don’t care. They are believers in the cult of death and therefore must be vanquished."
Responding to charges by some members of the international community that Israel was using disproportionate force, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman said, "You’re damn right we are," eliciting cheers of support. Israel will "excise the cancer in Lebanon," he said, meaning Hezbollah, which he said has "raped" Lebanon. "Fighting terror is not Israel’s war," he said; "it’s the world’s."
If rockets were fired at the United States from Canada and Mexico, "would we sit back or defend ourselves?" Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) asked the crowd. "We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli [values]."
"The fact is there can be no peace without security," Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Sholom in River Edge said on Tuesday. "The political leaders on the podium delivered a very powerful message of support for Israel in its time of crisis. We have to keep our voices heard."
Earlier Monday, a small group of protesters had set up across the street holding signs that called Israel’s actions "insane." However, by the time the pro-Israel rally had begun, the protestors had left the vicinity, replaced by spillover from the larger rally.
One New York City woman demanded to know why U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had not sent troops to Lebanon to enforce U.N. resolution 1559, which calls for dismantling all militia groups in the country.
Kurland and four other UJA-NNJ staffers attended, waving Israeli flags and holding up signs. Because of the short notice of Monday’s rally, she said later in the day that the federation had not organized busloads of people, as it had done with the rally for Darfur in Washington or New York’s Israel Day parade.
She noted that the federation has opened a mailbox at its offices for donations for Israelis in need of aid, especially children from the Israeli city of Nahariya, the federation’s sister city, who need trauma counseling, Kurland said.
Contributions may be sent to Israel Crisis Relief, c/o UJA-NNJ, 111 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge 07661.