About 1,200 people attended the meeting at Temple Beth Sholom in Sarasota for supporters of Israel's "Right to Self Defense". The Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation rally was supposed to highlight a small, discussion of Israeli security issues by intelligence expert John Loftus.
In the aftermath of Israel's ongoing military response to years of random bombing by terrorists in Gaza, however, the event became a rally for supporters of Israel's "Right to Self Defense."The title of the event was carefully chosen to reflect the sensitivity of federation leaders toward any perception of Israel as the aggressor in the conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 500 Palestinians and injured thousands.
"This is a not a celebration of anything," said Howard Tevlowitz, federation executive director and the person responsible for the last-minute change in the program.
To Tevlowitz & associate director Martin Haberer, the retaliatory nature of Israel's recent actions has been lost in some of the international attention to the bombings and ground war have created in Gaza.
"The tendency is to see poor, downtrodden Palestine and big muscular Israel beating them down," said Haberer. Haberer, who joined the local group from Detroit a year later, acknowledges Israel's "public relations problem." He says the notion of Israel as bully has been skillfully manipulated by Arab politicians and the media.
The Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation reorganized its scheduled event in six days, generating what was expected to be the largest crowd it has ever drawn with e-mailings to about 17,000 Jewish residents of the two counties, a more than threefold increase since the organization's founding in 1959.
The federation, which raises some $6 million a year, half of which goes to local charities, celebrates its 50th anniversary next month. Organizers point out their membership is not exclusively Jewish, nor even their featured speakers. Loftus, former volunteer president of the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, is an Irish Catholic.