(New York Jewish Week) — Liberal Zionists joined with right-wing activists and secular and Hasidic Jews grieved together with elected officials at a demonstration outside the United Nations on Tuesday that expressed solidarity with Israel and mourned its dead.
The gathering occurred as a bloodied Israel continued to battle terrorists and buried its fallen, four days after an invasion by Hamas killed more than 900 people, wounded thousands and took more than 100 captive. At least 14 U.S. citizens have died and 20 are among the hostages.
“This is the place that our voices must raise and cascade throughout the entire country. We will not be alright until every person responsible for this act is held accountable,” Eric Adams said in a fiery speech. “I’m here today to say, not only am I the chief executive of this city, but I’m your brother. Your fight is my fight.”
State leaders including Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul had harshly condemned the pro-Palestinian Times Square event.
There did not appear to be a significant counterprotest outside the gathering aside from a small group from Neturei Karta, a Jewish movement that opposes Zionism and shows up to counter pro-Israel rallies as a matter of practice.
The massive crowd on Tuesday — its size roughly estimated by organizers to be 12,000 — spilled out of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in east midtown. Many in the somber audience bore Israeli flags and homemade signs voicing support for Israel, in addition to signs printed by some of the Jewish organizations sponsoring the rally. Placards in the audience read, “Never again is now,” “Hamas=ISIS,” and “Free our brothers,” and displayed photos of the attack’s victims.
In addition to Adams, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James gave passionate speeches in support of Israel and the New York Jewish community. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, and the acting consul general to New York, Tsach Saar, welcomed US support and voiced defiance against terror in their addresses to the crowd. In addition to the state leadership, a number of city council members were in attendance.
“I stand here to tell you that New Yorkers will never tolerate evil, whether it’s committed here in our homeland or in Israel,” Hochul told the crowd. “In such moments of darkness and in cruelty, yes we are called upon to pray for peace, but justice first. There must be justice for the slaughter.”
Participants came on their own and in large groups. Buses that shuttled in students from area religious schools lined Second Avenue, while progressive Israeli activists handed out Israeli flags, and members of right-wing groups held signs demanding a harsh response against Hamas. Some of the flags bore the slogan “Free in our land,” the insignia of the Israeli protest movement — underscoring how a movement focused on opposing the government has transformed into an impromptu aid and support network in the wake of the invasion.
Chabad Hasidic emissaries also dotted the crowd, urging men to put on tefillin.
Some in the crowd cried as two parents from Long Island told the story of their son in Israel, who went missing in the attack, and as a group of cantors performed a song saluting Israel Defense Forces troops.The event ended with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
“Omer, look at all the love and support. We love you and we’re just looking forward to bringing you home,” the father said in a message to his son.
The event’s estimated size made it by far the largest show of support for Israel outside the country since the start of the war. Some arrivals struggled to get inside the cordoned-off area due to the crowding and tight police security.
“It’s definitely really important and it’s good to be living in a city like New York where there’s such a large population of other Jewish people,” said Evan Purcell, a Jewish man from the neighborhood. “It builds more of a community and to be supported by politicians and leaders only strengthens us and makes us feel heard.”
The event, billed as “New York Stands With Israel,” was led by the UJA-Federation of New York and the city’s Jewish Community Relations Council. It was sponsored by nearly a dozen other Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Israeli American Council, Union for Reform Judaism, and Orthodox Union.
“All the Jewish organizations including the ADL came together to be united because that’s what we need in this moment, to be united,” Scott Richman, the regional director of the ADL, told the New York Jewish Week.
Riki Cohen, an Israeli woman living in New York, came to the rally with her son. She said she would be traveling soon to Israel, where her daughter lives, to be with her. Cohen’s husband, an officer, was also called up to military service in Israel. Almost all of her friends were at the rally, she said.
“It really moves me to see all these people who support Israel, who during normal times don’t think about it so much but when there’s sorrow, everyone’s together and everyone supports,” she said. “It definitely helps. It gives a feeling of strength and security.”
Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
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Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
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Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
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