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(photo credit: Associated Press)
Thousands of American Jews clogged the streets leading to the United Nations building here in a massive show of support for Israel on Monday afternoon. The turnout was particularly impressive for a weekday and one of the hottest so far this summer.
A large group of sweating dignitaries looked out from the dais onto 42nd Street where the overflowing crowd chanted, sang songs, and lifted banners that said, "No to Terror!" Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton from New York, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and numerous Jewish community leaders addressed the crowd.
The turnout was in stark contrast to the demonstration last week in front of the Syrian mission to the UN, where only 500 people came out to protest the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit. The change seemed to indicate that the attacks by Hizbullah, committed across an internationally recognized border, had inspired many more American Jews to unequivocally support Israel in its counterattack.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman spoke first and struck a particularly aggressive and confident tone. "From this stage, I would like to send out a clear message to that glass building behind you," Gillerman said, referring to the United Nations. "Let us finish the job! You know better than anyone else that what we are doing is doing your own work: fighting terror.... And to those countries who claim we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: you're damn right we are!"
His comments drew wild applause. Other speakers suggested that Israel should be given the time it needs to destroy Hizbullah or at least push it away from the Israeli border. There was no mention of diplomacy or international intervention as an option.
Wiesel said Hizbullah and Hamas were "believers in the cult of death and therefore they must be vanquished." He also expressed his appreciation for President George W. Bush, saying, "Thank God for him," to which a woman in the audience responded by screaming, "We love Bush!"
Local New York politicians drew parallels between the city that was attacked on September 11, 2001, and the citizens of Haifa. Clinton, yelling into the microphone and, like the other politicians, fighting the sweltering heat, called Hizbullah the "totalitarians of the 21st century." She said she wanted "us in New York to imagine if terrorists were launching terror attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks by extremists?"
Steve Landau, an investment banker who works in midtown, stood in the crowd, pumping his fist in the air and chanting, "Am Yisrael hai [the people of Israel lives]." He said, "I came here today because Israel needs our support. We can't let the terrorists think that can bring the Jewish people down with a few Katyushas."
A small opposition of about 30 people waving the Palestinian flag and signs that read "Stop the slaughter" stood across the street in a cordoned-off area. But they were a small, though noisy, presence. The overwhelming impression was of a surge of support for Israel from different sectors of New York's Jews.
Among the people at the protest was Miriam Appelbaum, from Crown Heights, who arrived with her four children, all wearing baseball caps in the orange of last summer's anti-disengagement protests. "Even people that screamed at each other about Gaza, even the leftists, they are here too. Nobody questions that Israel needs us now."
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