'Biggest pro-Israel rally in Europe' to be held in Germany
Organizer: "We want public to feel responsibility to Israel"; rally aims to draw up to 4,000 people.
By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
Sacha Stawski, the organizer of the 2nd German-Israel Congress, which bills itself as the biggest pro-Israel event in Europe, is a hard man to get a hold of these days.Less than a week before the gathering is set to start this Sunday in Frankfurt, the businessman-cum-event coordinator was still busy tying up loose ends.“There are flights here, hotels there, some 60 exhibitors asking questions about this table or that,” he said over the phone from Germany.“I totally underestimated how much work it would be.”Stawski said between 3,000 to 4,000 members of the Jewish community, pro-Israel Christians and others hailing from across Germany and Europe would take part in the two-day gathering.“The first German-Israel Congress last year had about 1,100 people in attendance,” he said. “At that point we were supported by 80 organizations, but this year we have 200.”Stawski cited two main reasons for the gathering’s doubling in size from last year.First, he said organizers had been successful in getting more people and groups on board. The event is fully financed by a coalition of advocacy groups, including the likes of The Israel Project, private donors like German- Jewish businessman Yosef Buchman and corporate sponsors.Second, he argued this year’s gathering is being held at a time of great urgency in the Middle East.“Support for Israel in [the] German public is dwindling, while demands for recognizing the Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence are growing,” he explained.“Then there’s the Arab Spring that has taken away Israel’s allies in the region and then, of course, the threat of Iran.”Of course, holding a large Jewish conference on German soil comes with some historical baggage. After all, the leaders of this country planned and implemented the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust. But Stawski, who was born in Germany to a Jewish family, said the gathering’s aim was not to make Germans feel bad about the past but to have them help contribute to making a better Israel, at peace with its neighbors.“Germany is the only country in Europe that Israel is part of its rasion d’etre,” said Stawski.“Because of Germany’s history, that is why this is exactly where this conference needs to take place. We’re trying to remind the German public and government not of guilt, but of responsibly.”He said he would find it hard to believe this year’s conference would go ahead without being disrupted, but in a sign of the times protesters are less likely to be neo-Nazis, but rather pro- Palestinian Jewish groups.“Last year we were disrupted by Jews for Justice,” he said.“They stood outside with fliers and protested.”Speakers at the event this year include the likes of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, but organizers have intentionally left the itinerary open to change, given the speed with which things can change in a volatile place like the Middle East.“It is difficult to plan a conference like this. That’s why we intentionally stuck to the slogan ‘peace through security, security through peace,’” he said. “All we knew is that no time is a hot time to do this conference.”
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