By: Fern Sidman

“Welcome to New York City, Mr. Prime Minister,” was the rallying cry of the day as over 150 zealously pro-Israel supporters gathered outside the Council on Foreign Relations on Manhattan’s upper east side on Thursday afternoon, July 8th to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he delivered an address on Israel’s role in the global community. The demonstration of support for Israel was spearheaded by the campus advocacy organization, “Stand With Us,” along with the endorsement of other such organizations as American Friends of Likud, American Zionist Movement, AMIT, Dor Chadash, Emunah of America, Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement, the National Council of Young Israel, the Northern New Jersey Region of Hadassah, the Queens Jewish Community Council, The AISH Center of NY, the West Side Sephardic Synagogue and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

“The State of Israel wants peace and has done everything in its power to achieve it, but the only thing standing in the way are such purported “peace partners” as Hamas and Hezbollah who have vowed to obliterate Israel with the help of their financial backers such as Iran,” said Avi Posnick, New York City chapter chairman of Stand With Us.

Posnick’s comments come only a day after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in closed door meetings at the oval office of the White House. Responding to reports of the demise of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Netanyahu said they are “flat wrong.” In contrast to the icy reception accorded the Israeli prime minister by the US President back in May of this year, the two leaders presented a united front with President Obama telling reporters, “The United States is committed to Israel’s security. We are committed to that special bond. And we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words, but with actions.”

For the Israeli leader’s part, Netanyahu said of the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “We’re committed to that peace. I’m committed to that peace.” Hinting at the possibility of circumventing proximity talks with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and resuming direct face-to-face talks that stalled in December of 2008, Netanyahu said he and Obama discussed specific steps that could be taken in the coming weeks to move the peace process forward, without elaborating. “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean,” he said. “The President means that too.”

“My question is: Who is the real Barack Obama?” declared New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) who represents the 48th assembly district in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Hikind, a featured speaker at the demonstration is also a longtime Jewish activist. “There is nothing like an election year that would serve as an impetus for the President of the United States to actually treat the Prime Minister of Israel with respect,” Hikind declared. “It is Hamas who has publicly proclaimed its commitment to violence and it is Israel who has made every effort towards a long range peace with the Palestinians including making the most painful decision to evacuate Jewish residents of Gush Katif in 2005,” he said.

Holding aloft signs saying, “Israel Has a Right to Defend Herself” and “Iran Is The Impediment to Peace,” the demonstrators waved Israeli flags and chanted “Am Yisroel Chai” (the nation of Israel lives) as a formidable contingent of anti-Israel and pro-Hamas apologists stood directly across the street in opposition. Some 40 members of the anti-Zionist Chareidi organization Neturei Karta stood shoulder to shoulder with members of The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, American Jews for a Just Peace, Adalah – NY, Jews Say No! and the WESPAC Foundation as they called for an “end to the siege on Gaza.” Holding Palestinian flags and chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the demonstrators called Prime Minister Netanyahu “a war criminal” for his role in the May 31st Turkish flotilla controversy.

“The Palestinian people in Gaza are living in squalor; without food, medicine and basic supplies because of Israel’s blockade. We are demanding that President Obama and world leaders call for an international war crimes tribunal against the leaders of the Israeli government for their brutal execution of humanitarian activists on the Marvi Mamara,” said Ahmed Husseini of the Muslim Students Foundation.

“Don’t believe for even a moment that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “There is no shortage of food and medicine in Gaza. Every week Israel allows tens of thousands of pounds of food and other essential staple items into Gaza,” he said. “We, too, want to end the ‘siege’ on Gaza. We, too, want to end the siege that has been imposed on the Palestinian people of Gaza by the Iranian proxy terrorist organization Hamas. We, too, want to see a ‘free’ Gaza. A Gaza that is free of rockets, missiles and deadly explosives that are smuggled in by the kinds of people who were aboard the IHH sponsored flotilla,” he intoned.

Referring to the counter-protestors, Hoenlein said, “Despite the signs they hold that designate themselves as humanitarians, the clearly stated objectives of these people is the annihilation of Israel. We must let the world know that those who are enemies of Israel are also enemies of freedom, democracy, justice and liberty and they threaten Western civilization as we know it.”

Hoenlein also called upon Hamas to release Sgt. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Palestinian terrorists since 2006. “Both Gilad Shalit and Jonathan Pollard should be released from their respective prisons and we will not stop working towards their freedom until that is assured,” he said. Prime Minister Netanyahu said on CNN’s Larry King Live that he would offer 1000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the freedom of Gilad Shalit. “While the majority of these Palestinian prisoners will be freed only to kill and maim both Israeli soldiers and civilians, some kind of deal must be struck to secure Gilad Shalit’s freedom,” said Dov Hikind.