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D.C. rally for Israel attracts 1,000

WASHINGTON (JTA) — About a thousand people packed a Washington synagogue for a community pro-Israel rally.

Five members of Congress and Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor were among the speakers Wednesday at the standing-room only event midday at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and some two dozen Washington area-based Jewish organizations sponsored the event.

Hundreds of Jewish day school students, some waving large Israeli flags, were among a spirited crowd that chanted "no more rockets" and carried signs that read "Israel Is On The Map To Stay" and "Iran Funds Hamas."

"You send a strong message: No to terror, yes to peace," Meridor told the cheering crowd.

"All of us want to see a stable, secure, peaceful Middle East free from violence," said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). But "it was unconscionable to expect the Israeli government, or any other government for that matter, to sit idly by" as "rockets rain down on its citizens."

"Any and all allegations of moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas are patently false," added Wexler, who received the endorsement of the dovish pro-Israel group J Street in the 2008 election.

J Street last week was blasted by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, for being "morally deficient" after the group said in an e-mail that "neither Israelis or Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong." The group also has called Israel’s operation in Gaza "counterproductive" because "there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict."

In an interview after his speech, Wexler told JTA that he had not seen the J Street statements and thus would not respond directly to them. But he differed with the argument that military force did not sometimes have a place in the Middle East.

"Military power alone may not achieve peace, but peace can only be achieived from a position of strength," said Wexler, "and it is unrealistic to believe that Israel should continue to exhibit restraint endlessly when Hamas continues to fire untold numbers of rockets. In the past, if history is a judge in the Middle East, progress is most often made after Israel and the West show strength and resolve. Weakness tends to promote further aggressive activity by Palestinian rejectionist groups."

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) all also strongly backed the Jewish state’s actions at the hourlong rally.

"To misquote Shakespeare, something is rotten in Gaza and now it’s time to take out the trash," Kirk said.

Wolf also said he hoped that President-elect Barack Obama would make sustained American involvement in achieving a Middle East peace settlement a priority, which was met by silence from the crowd.

The rally came a day after another pro-Israel rally, organized by two Washington-area rabbis, drew more than 100 people outside the gates of the Israeli Embassy. Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Potomac, Md., said the event was to show the Israelis inside the embassy that the "Jewish community stands with them in solidarity."

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