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Mayor Villaraigosa throws support behind Israel

January 5, 2009 |  6:34 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa threw his support behind Israel this afternoon, backing the country in its latest strikes against Hamas and its invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The announcement, made during a news conference, pleased Jewish leaders in Los Angeles but sparked anger among local Muslim groups.

"I've been to Sderot and seen the wreckage caused by a constant barrage of rocket attacks," Villaraigosa said of the city in southern Israel. "I've met parents afraid to let their kids play in the streets and students unable to go to school each day. I've walked along empty roads, visited vacant buildings and witnessed the sheer destruction of a town decimated by eight years of missile strikes."

The mayor wasn't alone in his backing. He was joined by City Council members Wendy Greuel, Janice Hahn, Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine. Jacob Dayan, Israel's consulate general to the southwestern United States, thanked the mayor and council members for their support at the news conference at the Jewish Federation's Goldsmith Center, on Wilshire Boulevard.

"At a time like this, in a fight like this, where the odds and the deck are stacked against Israel, thank God Los Angeles and thank God Mayor Villaraigosa are there to stand with Israel," said Councilman Weiss, who represents the city's 5th District.

The council members said they too have visited Sderot over the last few years so they could see for themselves the destruction that Villaraigosa had told them about after his trips.

The mayor took the stance that Israel is not the aggressor in this latest battle, which started 11 days ago and expanded to a ground invasion of Gaza on Saturday. The operation has left hundreds of Palestinians dead and thousands wounded in the Gaza Strip.

"No country would sit silently while innocent families are threatened and civilian lives are at risk," he said. "Israel is no different. It must act against the Hamas leaders targeting the innocent. And it must be allowed to exercise its right and responsibility to defend itself."

Villaraigosa said he personally has kept in touch with officials at the Israeli Consulate since the recent conflict began.

When asked why he didn't reach out to the city's Palestinian community personally as he did with Israeli Consulate officials and the city's Jewish community leaders, Villaraigosa said he would be willing to sit down with members of Los Angeles' Palestinian and Muslim communities to address any issues.

The mayor's news conference was followed by a news conference held by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national Muslim advocacy group, questioning why Villaraigosa would want to take a side on a battle about 6,000 miles away.

"Why is the mayor of Los Angeles dragging himself and his constituents into international conflicts in the Middle East?" the council's executive director, Salam Al-Marayati, said in a statement. "We elected the mayor to represent all Angelenos, not to take the side of a specific group of citizens on a foreign issue." The council's news conference was held at the Islamic Shura Center of Southern California, on Vermont Avenue.

The center also issued a statement challenging Villaraigosa's stance on Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"The Islamic Shura Council is disappointed and feels betrayed by the Mayor's one-eyed perspective on the tragedy of colossal proportions in Gaza," the statement said. "While we grant the right for the Mayor to his opinion, we also believe he is obligated to recognize all perspectives to any situation. The Mayor failed Los Angelenos in this regard and we hold him responsible."

The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California is an umbrella organization for mosques and other Muslim organizations, and the Jewish Federation is an umbrella group for Jewish organizations.

--Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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