Just one day after nine pro-Palestinian activists were shot dead aboard their ship in a clash with Israeli soldiers, activists on both sides of the issue took to the streets here in separate protest rallies.
“I’m outraged by the way the media portrayed the [Israel Defense Forces] as the bad ones,” said Dr. Elizabeth Layliev, an ob-gyn from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who said it was her first time at a pro-Israel demonstration and that she learned of it from Facebook.
“They were acting as a protective force to make sure no weapons were transferred to Gaza from the ships,” she said of the soldiers.
Levi Pine, 26, said she decided to attend her first pro-Israel rally because “from every side everyone was banding against Israel and it’s time we put a stop to it and defend ourselves against these so-called peace activists.”
“We need to respond to all accusations against us,” she added. “We can’t sit idly by.”
The pro-Israel rally, which drew about 100 people, was held in front of the Turkish Mission to the United Nations on First Avenue. Organizers, which included the Russian American Jewish Experience, had scheduled it for in front of the Israeli Consulate but a pro-Palestinian rally had already secured a police permit to demonstrate there.
The pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the Israeli Consulate began with about 150 protesters, but later in the evening hundreds of demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags and a “Free Palestine” banner marched through Times Square.
Several people who said they were part of a group called Jews Say No joined the protest.
“I feel the [Israeli] blockade and [ship] invasion was being done in my name, and as a Jew I don’t support it,” Ellen Davidson, 50, of Manhattan, said. “When I was 7, Israel began occupying territory and it hasn’t done anything I feel I can support since then.”
Another Jewish pro-Palestinian demonstrator, Judith Ackerman, 68, of Manhattan said she had once supported Israel but turned against it in 1982 after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in a Beirut refugee camp, an incident Israel was widely blamed for allowing.
“From them on they have been making hell for everyone not Jewish,” she said of the Israeli government. “They are doing in Gaza what the Nazis used to do to us. But instead of putting them in a concentration camp, we bomb them.”
Dorothy Zellner, 72, of Manhattan, who said she has visited Israel eight times, described herself as a “secular Jew with deep roots in the Jewish people.”
“That’s why this is upsetting to me; it’s painful,” she said.
Asked if she remembers how she felt when the State of Israel was established 62 years ago, Zellner paused and then began to cry. Her family had supported Israel then, she said, but does not endorse the way it is behaving today.
“We don’t murder people,” she said. “We are the people of the book who argue and debate. Whoever heard of murdering nine people? It’s an outrage.”
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