Queens Officials Stand With Israel
By ROSS BARKAN
|Israel Consulate General Shahar Azani speaks at a rally in support of Israel on the steps of Queens Borough Hall on Nov. 19. Photo by Ira Cohen
"Enough is enough.”
That message dominated a Nov. 19 rally on the steps of Borough Hall, affirming the Queens political establishment’s support of Israel in the wake of an escalating conflict with Hamas, the political party that governs the Gaza Strip.
Headed by Borough President Helen Marshall, the rally brought together elected officials, Jewish leaders and Israeli government representatives to defend Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense” while denouncing Hamas for launching rockets into Israeli civilian areas.
“I stand before you…to express my complete and lifelong solidarity with our trusted friend and ally, the State of Israel,” said Marshall. “Peace will not come through aggression, but the attacks on Israel must stop immediately.”
Along with local Council and Assembly Members, Israel Consulate General Shahar Azani spoke forcefully at the rally, relating an anecdote of a suffering Israeli civilian. Behind him, signs were held up reading “Israel’s citizens have a right to be safe.”
“Should I tell you Israel is allowed to defend itself? But it is clear you understand that,” Azani said. “So I chose to share with you the words I received today sent to me from a dear friend in Israel who is now hiding in a shelter from incurring sirens and alarms in the south of Israel.”
Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, has been trading rocket fire with Israel for more than a week. An advanced missile defense system has limited Israel’s casualties while Israel’s potent fire power has killed more than 100 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Middle East on Tuesday in an effort to defuse the volatile situation. She met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Egyptian officials in Cairo. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, also arrived in Israel that day.
Israeli soldiers are massing for a possible ground invasion of the dense Gaza Strip, an outcome that the U.S. government and international leaders are working to avoid.
In 2008, at least 1,400 people were killed when Israeli troops invaded Gaza after a similar outbreak of rocket attacks.
Gaza itself has been under an economic embargo since Hamas won control of the territory from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, after a landslide 2007 election.
Queens’ large and religious Jewish population is highly engaged in Israeli affairs, as evidenced when schoolchildren from Ezra Academy, a Jewish school in Forest Hills, poured onto Borough Hall’s steps with various religious leaders to cheer on a country thousands of miles away. Nearby Forest Hills and Kew Gardens are home to politically-active Orthodox Jewish communities.
Candidates in the recently concluded 6th Congressional District race, a district spanning a large portion of Queens, treated Israel’s defense as a central campaign issue. Congresswoman-elect Grace Meng, the winner of that race, was the only elected official at the rally that could have direct input on America’s foreign policy.
“We stand 100 percent behind the State of Israel and its right to defend itself,” said Warren Hecht, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council. “Hamas is a terrorist organization which is bent on from its inception to present day to destroy the State of Israel.”
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.