Jews set solidarity rallies in Bay Area, U.S. cities

As the violence between Israelis and Palestinians rages in the Middle East, Jews will be holding rallies in cities throughout the United States, including San Francisco and Palo Alto, to show their support for the Jewish state.

The rallies are timed to coincide with the Sukkot holiday, which begins tonight. San Francisco organizers urge local Jews to gather under "Sukkat Shalom, a sukkah of peace" at noon Monday at the Embarcadero's Justin Herman Plaza. Another rally will take place at 7:30 pm Wednesday in Palo Alto. As of press time the location could not be confirmed.

The rallies are among many taking place across the country, to demonstrate support for the Jewish state.

"There is an overwhelming consensus to express solidarity with Israel," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco. "Whatever the circumstances and people's views in terms of assigning responsibility, the level and nature of the violence in Palestinian protests has made it clear that there's a sustained and coordinated effort to attack Israelis."

Kahn urged concerned Jews to attend, saying such rallies provide an opportunity for people to send a clear message.

"It conveys to the people in Israel who are under siege a sense of real solidarity from their brothers and sisters as far away as in San Francisco, and conveys to the general public a message of American Jews' continued strong support for Israel," Kahn said.

Such rallies — as well as opinion pieces and advertisements placed in newspapers — have been taking place in reaction to what many perceive as the world's unfair condemnation of the Jewish state's response to Palestinian rioters.

To be sure, there were scattered attempts at fence-mending — as in New York, where Arab and Jewish community leaders signed a statement of unity.

But for the most part, talk of coexistence and peace has taken a back seat to defending Israel in the face of what is seen by Jews as unfair criticism.

The largest of the rallies was expected to be held yesterday outside the Israeli Consulate in New York, but communities across the United States and Canada — from Boca Raton, Fla., to Calgary — were planning to hold similar gatherings.

The immediate goal of the rallies "is to try and reach across the ocean and give the people of Israel a sense that the American Jewish community is with them in this difficult time," said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group of community relations councils.

Ads in the New York Times this week expressing solidarity with Israel and announcing the New York rally were sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the United Jewish Communities, the JCPA and the UJA-Federation of New York.

Leaders of all these groups participated in a conference call Tuesday with 250 participants, encouraging activists across North America to send op-eds to local newspapers and to hold rallies.

The demonstrations "send a strong message to the American government and the American public that the Jewish community is deeply concerned about these developments and feels strongly about the need to press Yasser Arafat to act responsibly," Raffel added.

Some 700 people attended a rally outside the PLO mission in New York, organized by the Coalition for Jewish Concerns — AMCHA on Sunday in support for Israel, according to Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the group.

AMCHA sponsored a smaller rally on Tuesday and called on President Clinton to find those responsible for the death of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, a U.S.-born Jew living on the West Bank who was killed over the weekend.

Meanwhile, other Jewish activists are staging rallies to express a different sentiment.

In New York, longtime Jewish peace activists were planning to hold a counter-rally at the Israeli Consulate.

The need for a counter-rally stemmed from a need some Jews felt to stand up against certain abuses that Israel has committed, said Donna Nevel, one of the rally's organizers.

"As Jews, we do not support what the Israeli government is doing," she said, referring to the more than 90 Palestinians killed in the recent clashes.

At a similar rally outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Sunday, the eve of Yom Kippur, organizers atoned for "justifying the use of excessive lethal force" and called for "an improvement in this year which has begun so tragically."

"We're not pointing fingers," said David Shneyer, one of the vigil's organizers. "We're expressing our anguish, our frustration and our hope for a peaceful solution."

The tragic events in the Middle East — and the world's reactions to them — also prompted several organizations to take out newspaper advertisements.

In an ad for the New York rally in the Times, the Conference of Presidents said it deplored "dangerous and exploitative use of violence by the Palestinian Authority to achieve political gains."

A similar view was expressed by Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, and the American Jewish Committee in their ads.

In its ad — which by Tuesday had run in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune — the AJCommittee attacked the Palestinian leadership for having "deliberately overblown" Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to the Temple Mount, which sparked the violence. It is well known that the ads are read not only by the American public and government, but by diplomats and their staffs as well.

The AJCommittee was also reacting to the U.N. Security Council's resolution passed over the weekend that condemned the "excessive use of force" against Palestinians without mentioning Israel by name.

The group said it was sending letters expressing its displeasure with the resolution to foreign ministers from the 15 countries on the Security Council.

"We were just stunned that when Israel is under attack," only hours later the "Security Council could pass a resolution focusing on excessive use of violence against the Palestinians," said AJCommittee spokesman Kenneth Bandler, referring specifically to Hezbollah's taking three Israeli soldiers hostage on Saturday.

"There's a feeling that Israel is under assault."

The San Francisco rally is being sponsored by a number of Jewish groups, including the JCRC, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, the San Francisco Israel Cente, AJ Committee, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Anti-Defamation League. American Jewish Congress, Board of Rabbis of Northern California and numerous other organizations.

The Palo Alto rally is being sponsored by the S.F-based JCF as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose.