Community support for Israel should be outdoors, for all to see

On Sunday, Aug. 3, Pro-Israel demonstrators turned out in downtown Clayton to offer a counterpoint to demonstrators nearby protesting U.S. aid to Israel. Photo: Yana Hotter

By Galit Lev Harir

One interesting facet of Facebook is that it enables people with friends in other U.S. cities and around the world to see what is happening elsewhere in real time. Because of that, over the past few weeks, I have seen pictures of large pro-Israel rallies that occurred in highly visible, outdoor locations in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and numerous other U.S. locations, as well as in places like Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, France and Germany. In every one of the U.S. cities, the rallies were organized by the local Jewish Federation. In fact, the website of the Jewish Federations of North America encourages Israel advocacy and includes numerous resources for communities, including an Israel Advocacy Guide and sample signs for rallies. 

Yet our Jewish Federation in St. Louis made a strategic decision not to hold a highly visible, outdoor rally in a prominent, downtown location in St. Louis. Instead, after an initial small information session, our Federation held an indoor Solidarity Gathering at the Jewish Community Center. There was an outpouring by our community, seeking to show support for Israel. The event, on Tuesday, July 29, attracted 800 members from the St. Louis Jewish community and, because of the choice to hold the event in an auditorium with limited space, many attendees were forced into side rooms and some were even turned away. Most importantly, that gathering was not witnessed by people outside the JCC building and thus did not constitute a public show of support for Israel.

Even more disturbing than the decision of Federation not to hold a public display of support for Israel is our silent response to a pro-Palestinian rally that was held in the U. City Loop, heavily covered in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, from which the Israeli perspective was absent. In addition, it appears likely that the Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC) knew weeks in advance that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Palestine Solidarity Community were planning a second outdoor demonstration in Clayton calling on the United States to stop providing aid to Israel, and that the St. Louis Jewish leadership determined to do nothing. 

If it is true that they knew, then those organizations could have decided to hold a pro-Israel rally – not as a hastily organized counter-rally in response to the CAIR event – but rather, as a well-planned, broad-based demonstration that would draw hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of participants from both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, including many of Israel’s close Christian friends. But instead, they chose to do nothing.


In response to the CAIR event, a grass-roots group of individuals, led by David Rubin and Lynnsie Balk Kantor, quickly organized a counter-demonstration that drew more than 300 supporters of Israel. The pro-Israel rally emphasized the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and the gratitude of the Jewish community. Demonstrators held both U.S. and Israeli flags, and sang “God Bless America,” as well as songs of peace, such as “Oseh Shalom” and “Heveynu Shalom Aleichem.” Many of the people who participated in the rally expressed their strong desire to publicly show their support of Israel, and their frustration that Federation had not held a public outdoor rally. 

One cannot help but wonder why Federation and JCRC failed to organize what could have been a much more successful pro-Israel rally, and why – unlike other communities in the United States – they prefer to hide their support for Israel behind closed doors where the non-Jewish community will not see it. 

JCRC issued a public statement explaining why it opposes holding counter-rallies, but it never explained its failure to organize a broad-based rally that would attract both Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel. Furthermore, if, indeed, the Federation and JCRC knew of the upcoming CAIR rally and chose not to organize a counter-rally, why didn’t they share their knowledge of that event with others in the Jewish community who might be interested in supporting Israel publicly?

Federation and JCRC would do well to remember the words of Rabbi Hillel, in Pirkei Avot 1:14:  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”