Around the world, rallies held for and against Israel’s Gaza operation

Israel supporters demonstrating at a rally in Berlin, Nov. 18, 2012. (Toby Axelrod)

Israel supporters demonstrating at a rally in Berlin, Nov. 18, 2012. (Toby Axelrod)

(JTA) – Rallies in support of and against Israel’s ramped-up military operation in the Gaza Strip were held throughout the world.

In Australia, about 4,000 Jews in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra joined in solidarity with Israel on Sunday in what rallies that were dubbed as “Code Red” by the Zionist Federation of Australia. The participants, many dressed in red, heard the 15-second “code red” siren that has echoed across Israel this week as Hamas continued to fire rockets across the Gaza border.

A message from Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem was read at the rallies.

“The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, runs 200 meters in under 20 seconds,” the message said. “If Usain is that far from a shelter when a rocket alarm sounds in southern Israel, he won’t make it to safety in time. Enough is enough. Israel exercises its most fundamental duty as a nation to defend its people, and we are not going to apologize for that because this is what every other government and every other nation would do for its own citizens.”

In Sydney, Gabrielle Upton, the chair of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel Group, drew widespread applause from the crowd crammed inside the Mizrachi Synagogue in Bondi when she said she would be presenting a motion in state parliament this week condemning Hamas.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Friday condemned Hamas and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against “indiscriminate attacks” by Hamas on Israeli civilians, which she said were “utterly unacceptable.” Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition Liberal Party, also issued a statement condemning the missile attacks from Gaza, which have claimed three Israeli lives.

“We of course regret the escalation of conflict, but Israel has every right to defend herself against the threat while continuing to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” Abbott said.

Dr. Ron Weiser, a past president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, praised both major political parties for their “very strong and unambiguous statements of support for an Israel under enormous barbaric and violent attack.”

In Germany, some 500 people demonstrated support for Israel on Sunday in Berlin’s commercial center at a rally organized by the Mideast Freedom Forum, an interfaith pro-Israel organization. On the same day, a pro-Palestinian march in the city attracted some 700 people.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany,  was among the speakers at the pro-Israel rally.

“If there is someone who does not care about the Palestinian people,  it is certainly not Israel … but rather Hamas, which uses civilians as a protective shield,” he said. “Solidarity with Israel is not just an expression of friendship but of conscience.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have underscored their support for Israel and pointed to Hamas’ rocket attacks as the trigger for the current escalation.

In Belgium, some participants at an anti-Israel demonstration on Sunday in Antwerp reportedly called for Jews to be gassed. Approximately 150 demonstrators — extreme rightists and extreme leftists — convened outside the Provinciehuis concert hall in the Flemish capital to protest the IDF orchestra’s performance there, according to the online edition of the Flemish-Jewish magazine Joods Actueel.

Several demonstrators can be heard chanting “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas” in recordings from the gathering posted on the Joods Actueel site.

The audio will be filed to police along with an official complaint over hate speech, the paper reported.

Of the extreme left and right coming together for the demonstration, Michael Freilich, Joods Actueel’s editor in chief, wrote, “We are not surprised by this. When it comes to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments, we find these groups together.”   

Several European cities, including The Hague and Brussels, have seen protests against the Israeli offensive .

In Poland, about 20 Israel supporters came out Saturday in front of the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw.

“Our demonstration was a spontaneous citizens’ initiative,” Marcin Kozlinski, who came to support Israel, told JTA. “We brought Polish and Israeli flags and sang Israeli songs.”

“It was obvious to all that we must appear in front of the embassy and protest against the lies and manipulations of Solidarity with Palestine and mark the right of Israel to defend itself,” Pawel Czyszek told JTA.

Czyszek was referring to a pro-Palestinian demonstration across the street being held at the same time by about the same number of members of Solidarity with Palestine. The rally was led by Omar Faris of the Palestinian Social and Cultural Association in Poland.

On Friday, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that Israel, like every country, has the right to defend itself.

In South Africa, demonstrations against the Israeli operation were held Friday in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Duran. Pro-Palestinian coalitions in South Africa say they are planning more events for the coming days.

The Palestinian Solidarity Alliance in South Africa and Cosatu, South Africa’s main workers union, were among the groups and individuals that called on the nation to expel the Israeli ambassador.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu,a Nobel laureate, appealed for a stop to what he called the recent cycle of violence in the Middle East.

“Once again, the innocent people of Israel and Palestine are paying with their blood to advance the divisive and exclusive agendas of the intolerant few,” Tutu said in a statement. “Once again, fanatics on both sides blame each other and claim to be acting with the approval of God.”

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