Thousands march on L.A.’s Westside in show of solidarity with Israel

Waving Israeli flags and clutching images of people believed to be kidnapped by Hamas fighters, thousands of pro-Israel demonstrators marched to the Museum of Tolerance on Sunday, calling for an end to the bloodshed.

The demonstration began midmorning at Young Israel of Century City, with demonstrators — many draped in Israeli flags — marching to the Museum of Tolerance, where politicians, community leaders and others spoke in solidarity with Israel.

“The time has come for the world to wake up and to confront the terrorists,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder, chief executive and president of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which organized the event along with dozens of other groups. “Let us stand up to the terrorists as we stood up to Hitler,” he told the crowd.

Los Angeles is home to the second largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. The Pico-Robertson neighborhood, where the march took place, is a major hub for the city’s Jewish community.

Marchers of all ages — some pushing strollers, others relying on walkers — made their way west along Pico Boulevard, with clutches of demonstrators singing or stopping to take selfies among the crowd.

One group at the event, carrying an oversized banner depicting the faces of dozens of people who went missing during Hamas’ attack on an Israeli neighborhood and music festival, chanted “Bring back our babies.”

Shabnam Levy, a resident of West Los Angeles, carried one of the many “KIDNAPPED” placards that had been distributed to the crowd and plastered on trees, light posts and bus shelters.

The one in her hands featured a photo of a couple and the message that Gad Haggai, 73, and Judih Lynne Weinstein, had been kidnapped from their home.

“I wish I could carry all of the signs of all of the hostages,” she said. “I just want the world to know that there are innocent civilians being held by a terrorist organization. And we want them all to be freed and returned back to us in one piece — unharmed, untouched.”

In the last week, Israelis, Jews, Palestinians and others in Los Angeles have voiced anxiety and anguish over the fate of their loved ones in the Middle East. More than 4,000 Israeli and Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, the day Hamas launched its surprise attack on Israel.

The harrowing images of civilian deaths, kidnappings and the Palestinian exodus have revived deep historical traumas.

A day before the march, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near the Israeli Consulate in West L.A. to condemn Israeli’s ongoing aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas’ attack a week ago. The protest was one of many held in major cities around the world calling for an end to the violence.

That demonstration was briefly interrupted by a small crowd of pro-Israeli counterdemonstrators, one of whom fired pepper spray, injuring a Times photographer.

Israeli troops have been massing along Gaza’s border, as they appear to be readying for a ground invasion in an effort to dismantle Hamas. Palestinians have been ordered by Israel to flee northern Gaza, where more than 1 million people live, raising fears of a massive humanitarian crisis.

Palestinians have said they fear a repeat of Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when about 700,000 fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding the state’s creation.

Organizers of Sunday’s event have repeatedly described the Oct. 7 attack as the bloodiest day for the global Jewish population since the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews perished in Nazi Germany.

“I’m here today to tell you in 1939 we couldn’t fight back,” said Israel Bachar, consul general of Israel to the Pacific Southwest, in his address to the crowd. “In 2023, we can and we will.”

Cathy Lawrence, who lives in L.A.’s Pico-Robertson neighborhood, said she joined the march to show her support for Israel and her “disgust for terrorism.” She said that, over the last week, she had been feeling shock, fear, sadness and despondency — not just over the initial attack but also over protests that have targeted Israel in recent days.

“When things like this happen, it makes me think the world hates Jews,” she said. “And that’s really difficult for me to accept — that the world would kind of be OK if we all went away.”

Lawrence, who works as a production manager, said the march was a way for her to help provide show of strength.

Ellen Hurwitz, 56, said she has heard from a number of friends in Israel whose children have been deployed in recent days as part of the war in Gaza.

“Doing a march today is the little I can do to help,” the North Hollywood resident said.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has generated protests, exacerbated tensions on college campuses and even tested intimate relationships.

President Biden has been forceful in condemning the Gaza-based militant group and in supporting Israel. During Sunday’s rally, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis echoed that support.

“Israel has the right, but more important, Israel has the duty to protect itself and its people and hold Hamas accountable for these unspeakable crimes against humanity,” she said.

Greta Angert, a 48-year-old psychotherapist, said she turned out on Sunday to show support for Israel’s right to exist — and for the Jewish people to have the ability to go to school, love their children and “be able to walk safely” in the street.

“I want the same thing for Palestinian people as well,” she said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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