A few Drexel University students heard last minute that there was going to be a pro-Israel rally in Center City, and within an hour about 20 members of the group, “Dragons for Israel” — many of whom were draped in Israeli flags — arrived at the demonstration by running down JFK Boulevard.
Among them were Ilana Azran, a recent graduate, and Steve Graber, who is studying sports management. Each said they were there to show solidarity with Israel during the current crisis and make sure Israel’s side of the story is heard.
“People don’t know the facts and people need to see what is going on here,” said Azran, who wore Israel’s blue and white like a tallit. The media, she said, doesn’t report on rocket attacks on Israel “until Israel retaliates and wants to defend herself.”
Roughly 100 pro-Israel supporters turned out on Nov. 16 for a noon rally outside the Israeli Consulate that was sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America.
On the same day as the rally, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced it was collecting dollars for a “Victims of Terror Fund” to aid those who have been affected by the current escalation of violence. Those funds will be a portion of the $5 million that the Jewish Federations of North America has committed. (Contributions can be made at jewishphilly.org or sent to 2100 Arch St., Phila., Pa. 19103.)
The rally took place about an hour after air-raid sirens were sounded in Jerusalem, marking the first time the holy city has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza.
For an hour, pro-Israeli demonstrators stood on one side of 19th street, singing “Hatikvah” and “Am Yisrael Chai” and chanting “Yes to peace, not to terror” while pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including many Jews, stood on the other side, chanting “no justice, no peace.” Oftentimes, the chants and songs were drowned out by overpowering honks from trucks and taxi cabs: Some of the drivers were expressing support for the Israeli cause and others clearly sympathized with the Palestinian side.
And a few times, the loud blast of the shofar pierced the din of the city. The instrument was blown by Susan Warner, a Christian who came from Delaware to attend the rally.
Both the ZOA and the pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold court on 19th Street every Friday, but this week’s standoff was much larger.
Speaking with a megaphone, Howard Katzoff, co-president of the ZOA chapter, told the crowd that “if you have a relative or friend in Israel, call them, let them know that you were here and stood united with many in the Philadelphia area.”
Another Drexel student, Ariel Arbely, said he was energized by the number of people waving Israeli and American flags.
“I love being able to see so many people who support Israel,” he said.
Several ZOA members pointed out that no one on the pro-Palestinian side displayed an American flag.
Among those demonstrating against Israel’s actions was John Gold, from Plymouth Meeting. He carried a sign that read “I am a Jew: Israel should stop killing babies.” The other side read “Never again means never again for everyone.”
“Israel needs to stop the blockade, stop the settlements,” he said. “If somebody was stealing land from you, or driving you out of your home, would you like that?”
Back on the pro-Israel side of the street, Jonathan Saidel, Philadelphia’s former controller, stood with supporters of the Jewish state.
“The Arab Spring has turned into an Arab winter,” he said. “It’s like dropping bombs from Conshohocken onto Philadelphia. The proximity of violence is so close.”