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Pro-Israel Rally at Capitol Expected to Draw Tens of Thousands

April 14, 2002|CHUCK NEUBAUER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of people from across the country are expected to attend a rally at the Capitol on Monday to demonstrate solidarity with Israel and to declare that its military operations in the West Bank are part of the global battle against terrorism.

"America and Israel are engaged in a common critical struggle against those who are responsible for inciting, supporting and harboring terrorists who are responsible for atrocities like the September 11 attacks and the Passover Massacre," rally sponsors said in a statement.

Plans for the rally come at a time when tension has risen between President Bush and the Israeli government over its continued offensive into Palestinian territory. Some critics view the president's requests for Israel to pull back even though Palestinian suicide bombings continue as being inconsistent with his war on terrorism. At the same time, protests against Israeli policy have erupted on some U.S. college campuses.

But sponsors of Monday's rally are skirting the specifics of the tangled and divisive issue, preferring instead to emphasize broad support for Israel and denunciation of terrorism as issues on which all Americans can agree.

"This is a rally against terrorism. It is about people, not policy," said Robert Hyfler, chief executive of one of the rally's supporters, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. "Terrorism is not a political weapon."

The rally is being sponsored by the mainstream Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its approximately 50 members as well as the United Jewish Communities, another umbrella group.

"We want to show the people of Israel that we stand with them at this difficult time when so many have been the victims of terrorist outrages including scores of suicide bombings and attacks which in the month of March alone took more than 100 lives," Conference Chairman Mortimer Zuckerman and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement.

Organizers of the rally said more than 700 buses are expected to bring demonstrators from the East Coast and as far as Wisconsin and Florida. Others are expected to fly in from the West Coast for the event, which is being called the National Solidarity Rally for Israel.

Deborah Kattler Kupetz, a Los Angeles businesswoman and head of a literacy program for the Jewish Federation, said she was taking her twin 8-year-old daughters to the rally.

"I feel this is a crisis for Israel," she said. "We are going to express our solidarity with Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism just as the U.S. defends itself."

"This is an amazing grass-roots phenomenon," Hyfler said, noting that the rally was put together in less than a week.

He said the decision to hold the rally was made by Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday night, with word then spread to local leaders via telephone and e-mail.

The scheduled speakers for the rally include former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Rally organizers have also invited congressional leaders to speak.

Hyfler said the rally's organizers wanted to express their appreciation to Congress for its "unwavering support for Israel."

He insisted that the rally is not intended to send a message to Bush or to Congress regarding U.S. policy.

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