Community rallies to ‘Stand with Israel’

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

About 1,000 people filled the Jewish Community Center gymnasium in Creve Coeur last Thursday to express their solidarity with the State of Israel in the midst of the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders spoke at the “Stand with Israel Rally,” which took place following events in which Jewish groups held programs and educational sessions regarding the Gaza conflict.

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“I was very moved and impressed with the large turnout of Jews from every segment of the community, from the very Orthodox to the very Reform, as well as elected officials who came to express their solidarity with Israel at this very emotional and difficult time,” said Marvin Plattner, a retired businessman and former volunteer for the Jewish Federation and Israel Bond campaigns, who attended the rally.

The rally was preceded earlier in the week by a news conference at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building at which Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder was joined by other elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, and other community and religious leaders to “publicly support Israel’s right to self-defense.” Kinder, who returned from an eight-day trip to Israel three weeks ago, urged “citizens to actively support Israel during the ongoing conflict in Gaza.”

Kinder, who also spoke at the community rally, was joined by former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, State Senator John Loudon, Rep. Rachel Storch, Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Rep. Jake Zimmerman, Rep. Jane Cunningham and Rev. Harold H. Hendrick, director of public affairs for the Bot Radio Network. Each strongly defended Israel’s right to respond to the continued Kassem, Katyusha and Grad rocket attacks which have rained down on Israeli towns and cities by Hamas terrorists, including Sderot, Ashkelon and Beersheba.

In her remarks at the rally, Sheila Greenbaum, president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, took note of the news conference. “This week an impressive group of current and former elected officials, led by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, came to the Jewish Federation to face the media on the subject of Israel and Gaza. At that news conference, former U.S. Senator Jim Talent went to the heart of the matter with this statement: ‘The Gaza crisis is not really a battle over whether there will be a Palestinian entity. The question is, will there be a State of Israel?'”

Greenbaum continued, “Thousands of miles away, here in St. Louis, we join tens of thousands in cities across North America, who are gathering to stand with Israel during this National Israel Solidarity Week. Your presence here tonight sends a strong message to the people of Israel and to the children who are risking their lives — in this dangerous, tragic quest for peace. Thank you for your show of support, St. Louis.”

Greenbaum illustrated just how dangerous the Hamas rocket attacks have been for the 700,000 people in southern Israel by comparing the geography in the region to that of greater St. Louis. “We have distributed a map of St. Louis and southern Israel that illustrates the striking ranges. The rockets launched from Gaza can now reach targets 24.8 miles away. That’s roughly the size of our own St. Louis metropolitan region.

“In other words, if southern Israel were St. Louis, everyone in this room tonight — while you are here, while you are driving home, while you sleep and while your children are in school — are in danger of rocket attack,” she said. “Now, imagine living with that threat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year after year, as have the people of southern Israel.”

Greenbaum urged the audience to contribute to the Jewish Federation’s 2009 Israel Emergency Campaign. “Our Jewish Federation partner agencies in Israel report immediate and urgent needs for victims of this conflict, many in towns struck by Hamas rockets,” she said.

In his remarks, Kinder said, “It is a great honor to be at this rally to affirm the right of Israel to engage in lawful self-defense. If any part of our country were experiencing rocket attacks from any source, how long would it take us to respond? Government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens. Over the last eight years, tiny Israel has had no fewer than 6,700 rocket attacks fired by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Each rocket fired deliberately against Israeli citizens is in itself a war crime. This is an intolerable situation. We are here to support Israel as it defends its own citizens against these deadly attacks, both its air strikes and its ground campaign.”

Kinder added, “Like many of you, I get very angry about the distorted media coverage of the actions in Gaza; this is another reason that I and my Republican and Democratic colleagues gathered earlier this week and tonight to support Israel’s right to lawful self-defense.”

Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who also recently returned from a trip to Israel, said, “On Dec. 7, we went to a place called Ashkelon, and we were supposed to go to Sderot, both of which have been repeatedly hit with rocket attacks. We met a doctor who had lived in Gaza, who told us about experiencing rocket attacks on their kibbutz every day. We also visited a hospital where not only Israeli but Palestinian patients were being treated,” she said. “People accuse Israel of not being compassionate, but I saw that the Palestinians in that Israeli hospital get exactly the same treatment as the Israelis.”

“Every single day, rockets fired off by Hamas from Gaza hit Israeli cities. Egypt had orchestrated a six-month cease-fire. Israel complied and yet Hamas rockets kept coming into Israel even then,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “This is not just about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, or about the past 60 years, but about the past 3,000 years. There must be a sovereign State of Israel. We also understand the differences between Fatah and Hamas, and we agree that there should be a Palestinian state. But we must do all we can to support Israel’s legitimate right to defend its own citizens.”

Donn Rubin, Israel Chair for the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, which coordinated the rally that was convened by the Jewish Federation, said, “We know that the people in Israel and those here tonight know that Hamas is not interested in peace. The sole purpose of Hamas is to obliterate the State of Israel. Of course we mourn those killed among the Palestinians as well as those killed and wounded in Israel. We also know that Hamas terrorists are trained by the Iranian Republican Guards, and that Hamas treats any cease-fire as a joke. It is clear that Israel is obligated to defend its citizens.”

Rubin said that there is much that those who are concerned about the Gaza crisis can do to help. “Get the facts out,” he said. “Combat disinformation with the facts.”

It is important, Rubin said, to write letters to the editor, to correct inaccurate statements in the media and to write legislators to encourage support of Israel.

“Of course, support the Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign, visit Israel and our sister communities at Yokneam and Megiddo,” Rubin added.

Other speakers at the rally included residents of the southern Israel region hit by the Hamas rockets; Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg on behalf of the Association of Reform Rabbis; Rabbi Ze’ev Smason representing the St. Louis Rabbinical Council and Rabbi Carnie Rose representing the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) of St. Louis; and Rachel Schwartz, assistant professor at Saint Louis University, who holds dual U.S./Israeli citizenship.