It wasn’t your usual pro-Israel rally Wednesday outside the United Nations.
That became apparent when Roz Rothstein, founder of the Israel advocacy group Stand With Us, shouted into the microphone, “Today we are all Israelis,” and a voice in the crowd yelled back, “Halleluiah.”
The rally, which was primarily organized by Evangelical Christian groups, was called to protest this week’s so-called Durban III conference against racism at the U.N. At least 14 nations, including the United States, Britain and France, boycotted it because of concerns that it would be a repeat of a similar conference 10 years ago that turned into an Israel-bashing forum.
But many in the crowd, estimated to have numbered between 500 and 700, said they were also there to voice their opposition to the planned attempt by the Palestinian Authority to get the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state.
David Rosen, 77, a Jew who said he flew in from his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., specifically to attend the rally, said he came because there “have been too many rallies for which I have sent money and not shown up.”
Rosen, after watching the speakers for a few more moments from a sidewalk bench, added: “This is a big moment. I wish our president were a little stronger in favor of Israel. … [President George W.] Bush was better.”
Tony Michaels, 47, who said he traveled all night by bus with 56 members of a church group from Cincinnati, Ohio, said he came because of the Palestinian bid for statehood.
“This is a big vote,” he said while holding a sign that read, “Christians United for Israel.” “So we came out to support Israel and say no.”
On the speakers’ platform, the Rev. Robert Stearns, founder and executive director of the Evangelical Christian group Eagles Wings, a rally co-sponsor, pointed out that there were people in the crowd who had come from 20 states. And in remarks addressed to those in the U.N., he said it is “time to do your job and address the real human rights abuses” in the world instead of just attacking Israel.
“Enough is enough,” he said.
Mainstream Jewish groups backed out of the rally after learning that Calev Myers, founder of the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, described as a messianic Jewish group, was a co-sponsor. Because of those concerns, Myers did not speak and was not even introduced.
Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, issued a statement in which he called the Jewish-Evangelical Christian alliance “pivotal for support of our shared values here in the United States and of course for the critical support it signals for Israel.
“We are comforted knowing that as uncertainties lie ahead, we can rely on true friends such as Robert Stearns and Eagles Wings to stand with us and help carry our message nationally and globally to a committed and vibrant faith community.”
Unlike pro-Israel rallies organized in the past by Jewish groups that included many yeshiva high school students, adults primarily attended this demonstration. And many were Jewish, including some students from Stern College and Yeshiva University.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Danny Danon told the rally that the U.N. “should be a place for peace and love” and that instead “today you see hatred against the Jewish people and anti-Semitism.”
“We say to them, `We are not afraid of you. … We are strong, committed and we will prevail,” he said of Israel. “When we see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran coming every year to New York City … when you see him full of hatred talking about killing Jews, you better believe it.
“I am sending a message to President Obama – you have to wake up and show leadership and deal with the threat coming from Iran. It is a threat not only for the Jewish people living in the Holy Land of Israel, it is a threat to all.”
Gary Kellner, executive director of the International Center for Christian Leadership, said the Durban conference, “while it professes to stand against racism and genocide, has a history of Israel bashing. It has nothing to say apparently about the 2.5 million Christians murdered in the Sudan in the last decade or of the executions in Iran. The only violations it finds to condemn are those it sees in Israel. It is the theater of the absurd. So we are gathered here today to say stop the Durban double standard.”
One of those appearing to hang onto every word of the speakers was Jan Shampaner, 62, of Carle Place, L.I., who stood at the front of the crowd holding a shofar.
“I belong to an End Times Church,” she said. “We believe in the Old and New Testament. We’re tired of hearing the U.N. bash Israel.”
Shampaner wore a pin on which a cross and Star of David were welded together – “My husband had it made for me” – and another pin that contained both the American and Israeli flags.
“I’ve been at other rallies before,” she said. “Our church had a prayer vigil on Rosh HaShanah” after the first Durban conference.