2,000 people rally for Israel
By RICK GERSHMAN
TAMPA -- More than 2,000 people from across Tampa Bay attended Sunday afternoon's Israel Solidarity Rally at Congregation Schaarai Zedek.
Supporters packed the synagogue and spilled into the parking lot, requiring hundreds of attendees to watch on television screens.
The event, sponsored by the Jewish federations of Tampa and Pinellas County, was held to express solidarity with Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to raise funds for affected Israeli families and businesses.
David Hayman, a telecommunications executive, traveled from Clearwater with his family.
"We came to show our support, with our bodies and with our wallets," he said. "It's gratifying to see so many people came out. We knew the turnout would be something big, but this is more than I expected."
The rally came nine days after an event attended by several hundred demonstrators outside Tampa's City Hall. That rally featured an appearance by suspended University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who closed with a fiery speech denouncing Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.
Sunday's rally coincided with Israel's withdrawal from two West Bank cities, Ramallah and Nablus. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had launched a reoccupation of West Bank towns and refugee camps March 29 after suicide bombings killed numerous Israelis.
More recently, Israel has come under criticism from the United Nations over an eight-day battle in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin. Palestinians have said Israeli troops killed hundreds of civilians, while Israel said about 50 Palestinians were killed, most of them militants.
Sunday's two-hour rally featured a speech by Michael Arnold, managing editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which bills itself as the "global news service of the Jewish people."
Arnold defended Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands as self-defense and called Palestinian actions acts of terrorism. But he also implored attendees not to celebrate Palestinian casualties.
"We need to be aware of the suffering on the other side," he said. "But we can't let it cloud our reason."
Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel in St. Petersburg provided a rare moment of levity when he thanked attendees for coming from across the Tampa Bay area, mentioning various cities. An attendee complained his town wasn't mentioned.
"Don't get distracted," Luski lightly admonished. "You're still going to have to give."
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