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ISRAEL: Sympathy for Iranians swells, solidarity gatherings planned

June 22, 2009 |  6:08 pm

An editorial Monday in the Israeli paper Haaretz said there is good reason for official Israel to stand aside, to refrain from declarations and to "hope quietly for the victory of the Iranian people over its dictators."

And official Israel has been relatively quiet. After initially refraining from making comments, officials became more vocal this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of "incredible acts of courage" on the part of the protesters and President Shimon Peres -- who still remembers Israel's relations with a different Iran -- called on the Iranian government to let young people "raise their voice for freedom" and to let Iranian women, "a very courageous group of people, to voice their thirst for equality."

Demonstrators in Iran are clamoring for stronger statements from the West, in particular from the U.S. Netanyahu has said he doesn't intend to second-guess the U.S. president, but others in Israel are critical of President Obama's comments, which so far have been reserved.

Obviously this reservation doesn't serve the maybe-revolutionaries, but it doesn't serve U.S. interests either, says Soli Shahvar, the Iranian-born director of Haifa University's Ezri Center for Iran and  Persian Gulf Studies. This is America's chance to pressure the Iranian regime to carry out reforms and extract concessions on other issues related to the Middle East, he says. Obama, Shahvar adds, is afraid of making his first mistake upon arrival at the first critical junction, where, instead of decisiveness, he's shown hesitance. The demonstrators need moral support if they're going to keep the momentum, which Shahvar thinks might increase if they succeed in keeping it up until the 10th anniversary of the July 9, 1999, student uprising.

And the demonstrators are getting moral support, not necessarily where they thought they might. Having been following the events for days -- closely and intensely in a highly computerized and media-oriented country -- Israelis' sympathy is starting to swell and suddenly support demonstrations are being planned all over the place: at Ben-Gurion University by students, in Holon by Iranian Jews and at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square by a Facebook group for freedom. Israelis were also asked to turn on their headlights and tie green ribbons too -- via Twitter, appropriately.

-- Batsheva Sobelman