Israeli consul asks boro Jews for stronger backing

Israeli Consul General Alon…

By Kathianne Boniello

More than a thousand Queens Jews who attended a Sunday night forum in Forest Hills on violence in the Middle East were urged to do more to support Israel as it battles terrorism from the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkus, who told the packed audience at the Forest Hills Jewish Center that he spent several years of his childhood just a few blocks away, was the featured speaker at the forum organized by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills).

“Remember that you have the power to make a difference,” said Pinkus, who repeatedly denounced PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as unwilling to honor any cease-fire agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. “But only if you do not contribute to an appearance of a disagreement between Israel and the United States. Think before you attack (President George) Bush or (Secretary of State Colin) Powell.”

Violence in the Middle East has reached new heights since Israel went on a military offensive earlier this month to rout out what it calls Palestinian terrorism, including suicide bombers. The offensive began after dozens of Israelis were killed by a suicide bomber during Passover.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was dispatched to the Middle East last week to try to end the violence during which Arafat has been restricted to just a few rooms inside of the PLO headquarters in Ramallah.

Betty Ehrenberg, a representative from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations also spoke. The conference, an umbrella group of more than 50 Jewish organizations, sponsored Monday’s “Solidarity with Israel” rally in Washington, D.C.

Ehrenberg said Jews in America must use their political muscle and do whatever they can to support Israel, whether by writing to their elected officials or buying Israeli products.

“You cannot just come to shul and wring your hands and complain,” said Ehrenberg, who spoke passionately about the need for support from American Jews. “If you don’t write, if you don’t call, if you don’t vote, then no one will know how you feel.”

A number of local elected officials made their feelings known during the town hall meeting, all voicing support for Israel’s right to defend itself. In addition to Weiner, those who turned out included Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz, former City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), city council members Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows).

Weprin sparked applause when he told the crowd about his son, who had been studying in Israel but came home for the Passover break before the violence erupted. Weprin said though the family struggled with the decision, they agreed to let him return to the war-torn region.

“We decided that now is not the time to let the terrorists win,” he said.

Weiner said “we have to reiterate the idea that the United States and Israel are inextricably bound as allies.”

Before the forum began the congressman said he was not surprised by the turnout for the event, which had hundreds of people lined up outside the door of the center waiting to get in.

“This is the support Israel has in our community and hopefully in Washington as well,” he said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at [email protected] or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.