British Jews come out to support Israel

Solidarity rallies taking place across America and in parts of Europe.

pro-Israel rally 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
pro-Israel rally 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Pro-Israel rallies will take place on Sunday in London's Trafalgar Square and in central Manchester's Albert Square, after rival demonstrations sparked conflict outside the Israeli Embassy this week. Around 300 police were deployed at the embassy in London on Wednesday night to keep apart pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators after the Jewish community staged a rally of support for Israel. Over 600 people attended the pro-Israel rally waving Israeli flags and banners calling for "peace for the people of Israel and Gaza" and an end to "Hamas terror." With only 30 minutes between the two demonstrations there was a heavy police presence. The two groups were separated by three police vans, barriers and a line of officers. However, rival protesters came face-to-face when anti-Israel protesters remained after their demonstration to await the pro-Israel one. The demonstrators hurled abuse at one another as police tried to keep them apart. Nine people were arrested, all anti-Israel protesters, for public order offences after around 30 of them, many with keffiyehs covering their faces, refused police orders to disperse and staged a sit-down protest. They tried to force their way through to the pro-Israel rally and began throwing objects before police moved in to make the arrests. Moti Freelander, organizer of the pro-Israel rally, told The Jerusalem Post he arranged it after seeing the anti-Israel protests at the embassy. "I was disappointed with the lack of support for Israel in the media and their focus on the anti-Israel protests outside the embassy. With the help of my brothers and friends we managed to get nearly 1,000 people to support Israel, and the police and CST [Community Security Trust] did a fantastic job in protecting us," he said. "The community, together with Christian friends and friends from overseas, came together to express a positive desire for peace for the people of Palestine and Israel. It was an inspiring display and contrasted starkly with the angry and intolerant demonstration of the Hamas supporters several yards away," said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Meanwhile, the Jewish community launched an SMS service on Thursday that will allow people to donate money to hospitals both in Israel and in Gaza. Over the coming weeks people in Britain will be able to text the word "LIFE" to 81400 to support the hospitals where victims on both sides of the current fighting are being treated. At the pro-Israel rallies on Sunday, participants will be asked to make their donation simultaneously in a mass texting. The cost of the text is £1.50, and the proceeds will be divided equally between organizations caring for civilian victims in Israel and in the Gaza Strip. "Needless to say, aid organizations do essential work, and this contribution will make a real difference to the lives of those that been affected by the crisis," Benjamin said. "After the vitriol and threats against British Jews that has characterized the response to the conflict, we are pleased that this initiative will actually have a positive impact in the region." US Jewish were also coordinating a national solidarity day for Israel Thursday, with rallies, prayer services, vigils and other shows of support in the face of pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago and a host of other cities, many of them with smaller Jewish communities, planned events. Wednesday also saw pro-Israel displays around the US, and other activities are slated throughout the weekend, with New York City set to host a large rally across from the Israeli consulate on Sunday. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Jewish communities and pro-Israel groups are planning rallies to support Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas terrorism. In Germany, demonstrations will take place on Friday and Sunday in Munich, Frankfurt, Mannheim and Berlin. In Mannheim, Nickolas Löbel, the head of the Young Union, part of the Christian Democratic Union, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, plans a rally under the slogan "Pro-Israel - Stop Hamas" on Friday. Löbel told the Post he initiated the rally in response to a pro-Palestinian protest in Mannheim and views the IDF's Gaza operation as a "pure self-defense measure" conducted in response to the terrorist aggression of Hamas. Leo Sucharewicz, the founder of the non-profit "I like Israel," is co-organizing the Munich rally. Speaking from the Bavarian city, he told the Post that supporters of Israel would show their solidarity with the IDF operation and highlight that Hamas is "nothing but a terror organization supported by Iran." According to Sucharewicz, "I like Israel" was founded in 2003 to "establish Israel as a global festival" and stages pro-Israel cultural events in 60 cities across Germany each May. The Berlin rally was the brainchild of two Web site editors, Avi Efroni, an Israeli living in Berlin, and Sharon Adler, a German Jew who is editor-in-chief of the on-line women's magazine Efroni oversees, a Web site that serves as a "meeting point for Germans and Israelis." He told the Post that "two days after the war [began], we had to something, adding that there were "so many anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli demonstrations in Germany." Efroni said he had received "a lot of positive responses," including from a non-Jewish German in Leipzig whose firm produced a pro-Israeli banner for the rally. "We are for peace, but we cannot tolerate a terror regime," Efroni stressed. Asked what prompted her to mobilize a rally, Adler told the Post she wanted to show Israelis "that they have people on their side" in Germany. She added that "the mood in Germany is very pro-Arab" and complained about the lack of "facts behind the war." According to Adler, German media outlets fail to show "pictures of dead people in Israel" or of Hamas rocket attacks on civilians. She noted that the 12,000-member Berlin Jewish community was the main organizer of the rally and that its head, Lala Süsskind, would speak on Sunday. Michael Friedman, a well-know TV talk show reporter, will speak at the Frankfurt rally, which a plans a minute of silence for the "civilian Palestinian victims who are being misused as human shields" by Hamas, as well as for the Israeli victims of the conflict. The Jewish community in Vienna is slated to demonstrate for Israel's "defensive operation against the terror of Hamas" on Monday. The Swiss-Israeli friendship society plans to hold a rally in Bern on January 17.