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Pride flies at Israeli consulate

Crowds watch as the country's flag is raised at the L.A. office, one of two in the U.S. to display it so openly.

September 29, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Thousands cheered Sunday as the blue-and-white Star of David flag was raised for the first time in front of the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.

"As we mark 60 years of Israeli independence, as we paint Wilshire Boulevard blue and white, we must reaffirm in one voice our support for the Jewish state," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told those gathered for the flag-raising ceremony.

Consul General Jacob Dayan said the ceremony marked the first time the Israeli flag would be raised outside a consulate's front doors in the United States and was only the second time an Israeli consulate had flown its flag openly in this country.

"When I came to Los Angeles, it was 11 months ago. One of the first questions I asked was why we don't have an Israeli flag outside the consulate," Dayan said in an interview last week. "I was told, 'You know, it's security.' "

Dayan said that other than a flag at the consulate building in New York, offices did not fly the Israeli flag for fear it would make them targets of violence.

"This is an answer I cannot accept," Dayan said. "I've been in much more dangerous places than Los Angeles, and I've seen the Israeli flag raised. It doesn't help to hide."

Engineer Mark Stuhl, 49, attended Sunday's celebration with his family and said the event was emotional because it connected him to Israel.

"We shouldn't be hiding," Stuhl said. "Put it up; everyone should see it."

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles opened in 1973 and has a staff of about 60. It is one of nine Israeli consulates across the country and is considered "more important than some of our embassies," said Shahar Azani, Israeli consul for public affairs in L.A.

Azani said Los Angeles has the largest population of Israeli nationals outside of Israel. Several city officials have visited there in recent years, including council members and Villaraigosa, who led a trip in June.

Dayan said Sunday's celebration cost more than $50,000, and thousands of people flooded Wilshire Boulevard -- which was partially closed for the event -- waving their own Israeli flags and dancing and singing to Jewish folk songs. A small group of protesters, one of whom held a Palestinian flag, were nearby.

Macy Gray sang the national anthem and dozens of elected officials participated, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

The celebration came a day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which begins tonight at sundown.

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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