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J. Whyatt Modesire, president of the NAACP's Philadelphia chapter addresses an Israel solidarity rally in Love Park, Philadelphia.
News and Opinion

Rotten in Gaza
Defeat of Hamas suggested at rallies

-- Bruce Ticker

Two under-the-radar issues were highlighted by pro-Israel leaders during rallies in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. - more urgent reasons to confront Hamas now and the hypocrisy of Israel's critics.

"We are fighting for freedom not only for us but the Palestinian people as well," declared Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor during the Washington rally held on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

In Philadelphia the following day, Israeli Consul General Daniel Kutner told a packed lunchtime crowd at Love Park downtown: "It is necessary to disable the infrastructure and prevent them from rebuilding. The terror group Hamas wants to destroy Israel with the help of Iran."

Their statements bolstered growing speculation that Israel is not only attempting to end rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel but incapacitate or eliminate Hamas, if possible. Hamas is seen as a growing threat, an obstacle to a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority and its elimination would be a harsh blow to Iran's ambition as a regional power.

The standing room only crowd at Washington's Historic 6th & I Synagogue was estimated at 1,000 while additional supporters lined the sidewalk outside. In Philadelphia, crowd estimates ranged from 1,000 to 2,500. Philadelphia's higher than usual attendance could probably be attributed to a news story announcing the event that was prominently displayed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Meridor, Kutner and other speakers suggested that more urgent concerns fueled Israel's overwhelming response to Hamas.

An Israel solidarity rally that took place in the square of the Italian Parliament in Rome, Piazza Montecitorio. An extraordinary number and variety of members of the Parliament, about 100 from all political sidesspoke out about the role of Israel, its right to self defense, its moral height, of our civilization and values, against the wild hate of the Islamic jihad represented by Hamas.

"To misquote Shakespeare: Something is rotten in Gaza and now is the time to take out the trash," Rep. Mark Kirk said in Washington. "It is the height of chutzpah for Hamas to shell Israeli cities and then complain when Israel tries to take them out."

Kirk, a Congregationalist Republican who represents Chicago's northern suburbs, added, "There are only two paths: Hamas must recognize Israel, or else (there must be) the military defeat of Hamas as a terrorist organization."

Rep. Bob Wexler, who represents part of Boca Raton and other heavily Jewish communities located between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, said at the same gathering that he hopes Gaza is rid of Hamas to set up "the conditions for a lasting peace."

From the nation's capital to the nation's birthplace, Pennsylvania State Sen. Mike Stack, a Catholic Democrat who represents Northeast Philadelphia, recalled his past visits to Israel, saying, "I'm not surprised that Israel went in. I'm surprised Israel showed so much restraint to not to go in earlier."

Wexler, a Democrat, also said that "the criticism of Israel by certain foreign leaders is disingenious and hypocrtical" because of their failure to denounce Hamas's bombing of Sderot and other southern Israeli communities.

"You know I am from New York," said Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel of the Bronx's Riverdale section, who also represents parts of Rockland and Westchester counties. "I have to tell you that the hypocrisy of the United Nations makes my skin crawl."

Leonard Barrack, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the next day, "I am puzzled by all the criticism. How many countries would allow this to go on?"

A rally 12,000 strong in the center of Kiev in support of the war against terror. They were waving Israeli and Ukrainian flags and their banners said "to Israel - YES!" and "to terrorism - NO!"

The United Nations has been criticized for years for taking actions which benefit the Arab countries and hinder Israel. Russia and Syria, whose leaders bashed Israel for its Gaza operation, have long histories of brutal responses to internal uprisings, especially in Hama in Syria and Chechnya in Russia.

Barrack thanked political leaders for their support of Israel and encouraged the next generation to "continue to advocate and speak out for Israel." Speakers said that 500 students from area Jewish schools were bused to the rally. They were among attendees who held up Israel solidarity signs and frequently shouted "dayenu," Hebrew for "enough."

J. Whyatt Modesire, president of the NAACP's Philadelphia chapter, was quoted in the Inquirer as saying, "The black community and the Jewish community have been joined together for almost 200 years...Israel is not alone. It will never be alone. It has friends all over the world."

Sen. Arlen Specter, a surprise guest speaker in Philadelphia, said, "It is important that President Bush has spoken out in support of Israel. Israel is exactly right in what it is doing."

An estimated 50 pro-Arab demonstrators staged a counter-protest at the edge of the rally site, chanting, "We don't want this racist war." On a few occasions, they raised their voices in an apparent attempt to drown out the speakers, who could still be heard sufficiently. Police separated the pro-Arab group from the rally.

Israel solidarity rally in Washington DC, January 6, 2009.

The Philadelphia rally was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the other was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

In Washington, other speakers included Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat; Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, a non-Jewish Republican; and JCRC executive director Ronald Halber. Other speakers at the Philadelphia rally were state Reps. Josh Shapiro of Montgomery County and Babette Josephs, whose district includes the site of the rally; television personality David Frankel; and Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, who referred to Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza in June 2005.

"We pursued peace. All we got was terror and war," said the rabbi, who is spiritual leader of Adath Israel in Merion Station. "Dayenu. We've had enough. Never again means never again."

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