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Queens leaders rally for Israel

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Queens Jewish leaders and elected officials at a celebration of Jerusalem in Hillcrest last week said anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world, which they contended was evidenced by recent remarks by journalist Helen Thomas and widespread condemnation of Israeli defense forces killing nine aid workers on a flotilla bound for Gaza.

Nearly 500 people gathered at Young Israel of Hillcrest last Thursday evening for its annual “Celebration of Jerusalem” ceremony that marked the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of Israeli control over all of Jerusalem following the Six Day War and the 62nd anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.

A number of participants said they believed anti-Semitism was at an all-time high since World War II, and they criticized former Hearst journalist Helen Thomas’ recent comments that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and that Jews should return to Poland and Germany. Thomas is of Lebanese descent.

“She was one of the most respected journalists,” Hecht said. “This is telling us anti-Semitism has become mainstream America. This is a real wake-up call for us.”

The Queens Jewish Community Council helped to sponsor the event, as did Borough President Helen Marshall, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Young Israel of Hillcrest.

Marshall said she has repeatedly sponsored the “Celebration of Jerusalem” because it is important to “remember the miraculous result of the Six Day War.”

The 1947 United Nations partition plan, which proposed the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state, called for Jerusalem to be an international city that was to be neither Arab or Jewish. The document spelled out a plan in which Jerusalem residents would vote as to whether they wanted to join the Jewish or Arab state following a period of 10 years.

Jewish officials approved the plan, but the Arabs did not.

Following the creation of Israel in 1948, Jordan took over east Jerusalem and the Old City, and Jewish residents were forced out of those areas. After the Six Day War, Israel captured the Old City.

“Jerusalem is controlled by a free, democratic, civilized people,” said state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows). “May it always be under control of the Jewish state.”

Those who spoke at Thursday’s event defended Israel for its response to an aid flotilla´╗┐ traveling to Gaza, when Israeli commandos killed nine volunteers on the ship carrying 10,000 pounds of food and other supplies. Israel closed the border with Gaza after Hamas, one of two main Palestinian political groups, took control of the area in 2007 after winning an election. Israel has said it closed the border in order to deter Hamas from obtaining rockets that Hamas has fired into the Jewish state.

The Israeli government has said its military members were defending themselves after being attacked by knives, clubs and other weapons by individuals´╗┐ on one of the six boats in the flotilla, but The New York Times and other publications have reported other eye witnesses saying they saw Israeli forces fire gunshots on the flotilla before before boarding the ship, killing several people.´╗┐ The pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement has said Israelis boarded the boat and shot at sleeping civilians, a statement the Israelis have said is untrue.

“Israel is the one vibrant democracy in the Middle East and should not be criticized for protecting its citizens against potential terrorist attacks,” Marshall said Thursday.

The European Union and a number of countries throughout the world, including Turkey, a former ally of Israel, have strongly condemned the killings and called for Israel to let in more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Israel had every right to defend itself,” said Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. “They came on to the ship only to be attacked, assaulted, mugged. They had to defend themselves.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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