More than 200 people gathered on the steps of Borough Hall on Monday as political and civic leaders embraced Israel’s cause during this latest round of rocket attacks.
The rally was organized by the Queens Jewish Community Council, and drew numerous elected officials from city and state government.
Israel has been under increasingly intense rocket fire aimed at civilian areas from neighboring Gaza in recent weeks.
The overreaching theme was that Israel has the right to defend itself.
But Assemblywoman-elect Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), a native of Israel, went a step further.
“Israel has the right to exist,” Rozic said.
Rabbis and community leaders from the entire spectrum of Judaism were present, as were scores of children from the Ezra Academy in Forest Hills.
The featured speaker was Shahar Azani, consul for media affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York City.
“I wondered if I should speak about Israel’s talking points, about Israel’s right to self-defense,” Azani said. “But you already understand them.”
He instead read a brief note he received Monday from a friend living under threat of attack with her mother.
“In the south, you have 15 seconds from the time you hear the siren warning you about the missiles,” Azani’s friend wrote.
Congresswoman-elect Grace Meng (D-Queens) parsed no words in her condemnation of the recent attacks.
“Israel takes great care to avoid civilian casualties,’ Meng said. “Hamas targets civilians.” Assemblyman David Weprin, (D-Little Neck) said Hamas also deliberately places its own civilians in the line of fire to show pictures of the horribly wounded.
“It’s a public relations move,” he said.
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky concurred.
“Israel is not the aggressor!” she thundered.
Cyrus McGoldrick, advocacy director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-New York, said he was disappointed with quotes by political leaders reported to him from the rally.
“I think the knee-jerk reaction is to support Israel,” he said. “Yes, any nation does have the right to defend itself. But so do people. And the Palestinian people have been subject to blockades for years and years. To view these last two weeks of activity in the context of Israel defending itself is thoroughly ridiculous and short-sighted ... This is an occupation.”
McGoldrick said the United States and Israel have aligned themselves against virtually the entire world.
“I hope they decide to come over to the right side of history,” he said.
McGoldrick said reports of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi possibly stepping in to effect a truce could be promising. So too did Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), a staunch Israel supporter who spoke at the rally.
“I think President Morsi could be the only honest broker,” McGoldrick said.
Speaking to the Queens Chronicle on Friday, Lancman, who lived under rocket attack in Israel in December 2008, had a somewhat different take should Morsi, a leader in the virulently anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood, choose a significant role.
He said Morsi and leaders in Turkey can play significant roles in ending — or extending — the hostilities
“This is an opportunity to be a leader, to play a role in ending the conflict,” Lancman said. “President Morsi has some grown-up decisions to make that could either save or cost thousands of lives.”
At Monday’s rally, Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz had little patience for critics of Israel’s current actions.
“To ask them to do anything but defend their citizens is uninformed and hypocritical,” he said.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) chose words he said are old, but still accurate.
“It is said that if Hamas lays down its arms, there will be no war,” he said. “If Israel lays down its arms, there will be no Israel.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and others said it is impossible to negotiate with an adversary interested in destroying the country and people.
Hevesi took it further, calling for stronger international pressure on Hamas’s patrons in the Iranian government.