The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles staged a rally on Sunday, with thousands of people lined up for a quarter-mile to show their solidarity with Israel over the flotilla incident of May 31. The speakers were as diverse as the attendees — addresses were given by conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, many of whom came from different religious backgrounds and nationalities.
A large number of attendees told me that although they were Democrats, they would not vote for President Obama again.
Many California dignitaries were also present, but missing in action was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. (Perhaps off to pick up his free Lakers-Celtics ticket.) Those who did attend, however, included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Council members Janice Hahn and Paul Koretz, Republican candidates Steve Poizner and Chuck DeVore, Representatives Michele Bachmann and Brad Sherman, and actor Jon Voight.
The event started with the singing of both the American and Israeli national anthems. This was followed by a chilling and emotional conversation between Governor Schwarzenegger and Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad Shalit (the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas). Mr. Shalit frustratingly commented that his son had no access to the outside world and is being held by Hamas for political reasons. He further stated that his son “is crying to us. A silent cry from the depth of his confinement without any days of light … he is asking for only one thing — return my freedom to me. Gilad is slowly disappearing.” Schwarzenegger ended by stating: “I am a big fan of Israel, a big friend of Israel. Remember, I’ll be back.”
A touching moment came when Daniel Pearl’s father, Judea Pearl, compared his experience with Noam Shalit’s experiences. He chastised human rights organizations for “ignoring the most blatant and glaring violations of human rights.”
Most of the dignitaries that spoke echoed the sentiment that they stand with Israel. They explained that Israel is a great ally of America, that the blockade is legal and is necessary for Israel’s self-defense, and that the flotilla passengers were not innocent peace activists but willful violators of international law. Chuck DeVore summed up everyone’s feelings when he noted that Israel’s enemies “hate a free society, they hate religious liberty, and they hate people who will not bend down to oppression.”
John Voight commented to me:
In this moment of time we have to support Israel. We must protect Israel or we ourselves will be at risk. I don’t think people are happy about Obama’s lack of support for Israel. It is outrageous that we would ask Israel to commit suicide by taking down this blockade.
Clergy who spoke included Rabbi Marvin Hier and clergy members who invoked their support in Spanish. Rabbi Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called for revoking Helen Thomas’s White House press pass for her obvious anti-Semitic comments. (Thomas “retired” the following day.) Said Hier:
The Jews are not in Palestine. They are in the state of Israel where they belong. They were there thousands of years before Mohammad. And second, Helen, you are the one that should go home. There is no place for bigots in the White House press room.
Congressman Sherman and Congresswoman Bachmann called for resolutions. Sherman also told the audience that he was going to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to file felony prosecutions against the Americans on the flotilla, because they violated the Antiterrorism Act of 1996. Bachmann told me she would like to work to create a joint resolution in which America stands with Israel, because:
The choice is a difference between Hamas on one side and Israel and freedom on the other side.
The only controversial moment came when a representative from Americans for Peace Now spoke. The crowd was visibly upset — they booed the speaker, called him a traitor, and chanted “shame on you” and “am Yisrael chai (the people of Israel live).”
To conclude the event, doves donated by the Asian-Filipino community were released into the sky, and the audience was asked to write letters to an injured Israeli soldier via the FlotillaFacts.com website.