A light rain fell as hundreds of New Yorkers rallied across the street from the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan Wednesday to voice their support for the embattled Jewish state in the wake of the Gaza flotilla deaths.
“This is a consensus rally,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of AMCHA-The Coalition for Jewish Concerns. “Israel is facing an existential threat. It’s important for everyone to express solidarity with Israel.”
Among those at the rally — which organizers said numbered about 1,000 — were Assaf Mahadav, his wife, Yael, and their three young children. The Israeli family, who now live in New Haven, Conn., said they were there to make their voices heard in support of Israel.
“It’s exciting to see the support of the Jewish community for Israel,” Mahadav said.
His wife said they had one simple message for the world: “Israel just wants to live peacefully.”
As they spoke, the crowd sang along with an Israeli folk singer to “Am Yisroel Chai,” [the People of Israel Live].
They also waved Israeli flags of all sizes. At one point, someone walked onto the roof of the building on Second Avenue housing the Israeli Consulate and put up a large Israeli flag to the cheers of those in the crowd.
Also at the rally was Jaclyn Mishal, director of recruitment for Masa Israel Journey, a project in which young Jews spend a semester to a year in Israel. She returned from Israel just last week and was at the rally to reassure everyone that although “Israelis are very concerned with what’s happening, day-to-day life is going on.”
“I went to a wedding,” she said.
A highlight of the rally was the playing of a video of the drama that occurred last week when nine activists were killed during scuffles with Israeli soldiers who boarded their Gaza-bound aid ship to prevent it from docking.
The crowd fell silent as they watched the video played on a television screen mounted on the speaker’s platform.
“Before going to Gaza, they were saying they want to kill Jews,” Avi Posnick, outreach coordinator for Stand with Us, a pro-Israel group, said as the video that showed activists chanting slogans in Arabic hours before the confrontation.
“Here is footage of the soldiers as they are landing,” Posnick said moments later. “Notice that they are already being attacked, beaten with metal rods and with knives.
One is being thrown overboard.”
Israeli authorities said their troops opened fire only after they were attacked and their lives were being threatened.
Rabbi Weiss said in a later interview that Israel has blockaded Hamas-controlled Gaza to keep ships from bringing in weapons that would be used against Israel.
“Israel cannot be expected to do less than the U.S. would do,” he said. “The fundamental responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens and that is what Israel did and has to continue to do.
“Our message to President [Barack] Obama is that if you do anything less than applaud Israel’s actions, you are weakening Israel and you are weakening America. Our message to our brothers and sisters in Israel is, ‘You are not alone.’”
On Wednesday, Israel announced that it was easing restrictions on some food products, such as candy and drinks. The move is seen as trying to satisfy international demands that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza.
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