Hard-line Israeli supporters boo Wolfowitz

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO   |   April 15, 2002 at 5:25 PM

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) -- At a rally before the U.S. Capitol to express support for Israel attended by tens of thousands, the crowd booed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz when he expressed some concern for civilian Palestinians killed in Middle East violence.

The event was organized in support of Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent offensive against the West Bank.

Billed as a rally to express U.S. solidarity with Israel, the event often took the tone of an anti-Palestinian event, particularly when Wolfowitz was interrupted by jeers and taunts for expressing concern about Palestinian civilians and their suffering during the most recent conflict. He looked shocked when the crowd forced him to interrupt his speech.

"Israelis are not the only victims of the violence in the Middle East," he said. "Innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact."

Despite noting that for the Palestinians, the "suicide bombers are the single greatest obstacle to ending their suffering," he was booed. Most of Wolfowitz' other comments were expressions of empathy and solidarity with the people of Israel.

"Since Sept. 11, we Americans have one thing more in common with Israelis. On that day, America was attacked by suicide bombers. At that moment, every American understood what it is like to live in Jerusalem or Netanya or Haifa," he said.

Other speakers at the rally -- which was organized in about a week and drew tens of thousands from around the country -- expressed support for the recent Israeli military intervention in Palestinian-controlled portions of the West Bank.

"We are all here today for the same purpose: to support America and to support Israel," said former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "We need to end the threat of terrorism and make sure that we stand together to accept those goals."

Later Giuliani told United Press International that Israel's leaders were among the first to express support for New York after last fall's terror attacks on the World Trade Center, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

"After the events of Sept. 11, I feel like I gained a new insight into what Israel has been going through," he told UPI. "And Prime Minister Sharon -- a very close friend -- was among the first to call me and express his support."

As for the political wisdom of openly supporting Israel at a time when the world has grown more critical of its military actions, Giuliani points to the special relationship between the two countries and their political similarities.

"There is no question that we have a common objective here," he said. "If we want to live in freedom and democracy, then we cannot allow them to terrorize our people."

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the methods used by militant groups are indicative of their true goals, and that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat cannot be trusted to work for peace.

"The means they use to accomplish their goals tell you what their real goals are," he said "Anyone who preaches the destruction of our nation, is not a partner for peace. The means and goals of Arafat are illegitimate. He doesn't want a Palestinian state next to Israel, he wants a Palestinian state instead of Israel."

The appearance of a senior Bush administration official at a rally for Israel, while Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the Middle East trying to broker a deal between parties was considered strange by some observers.

According to government officials, Wolfowitz appeared at the White House's request. A U.S. government official said the White House called Wolfowitz "late Friday or Saturday" to ask him to speak at the rally, where it was felt a senior official was needed to represent the administration.

According to the official, Wolfowitz' speech was carefully calibrated to signal that the United States understood the Palestinian situation as well as the outrage by Israel about a recent wave of suicide bombings.

"If you look at his remarks and some of the things he said it was not universally popular with the crowd," the government official said. "He made it clear we understand what's going on there."

More than 1,500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the most recent intifada in September 2000, including at least 55 suicide bombers. Roughly 400 Israelis have been killed, including soldiers.

Wolfowitz is well known and respected in Israel. In 1991 he traveled to Tel Aviv to pressure the Israeli government not to retaliate against Iraq for Scud missile strikes, a move that would have shattered the Arab coalition carefully assembled by President George Bush, the current president's father.

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