Villaraigosa defends his support of Israel
L.A. mayor comes under criticism from Muslim groups after he says the nation has a 'right and responsibility to defend itself' from Hamas rockets.By Phil Willon
January 9, 2009
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday defended his support of Israel's military action against Hamas, a day after he met privately with local Muslim leaders who had criticized him as being one-sided and ill-equipped to wade into the complex Middle East conflict.
At a rally outside the Israeli Consulate earlier this week, Villaraigosa said Israel had the "right and responsibility to defend itself" from the rocket attacks being launched from the Gaza Strip.
Muslim organizations argued that the mayor should have spoken just as strongly on behalf of innocent Palestinians killed and wounded by the Israeli attacks.
The uproar, while expected to be short-lived, again revealed how events elsewhere in the world can cause political tremors in a city as diverse as Los Angeles, home to some of the nation's largest Jewish and Arab populations.
But Villaraigosa's strong and vocal support for Israel, a country he has visited three times, including a trip last summer, has helped solidify his support among the Jewish voters who helped elect him mayor in 2005...
Local Muslim leaders worry that those strong ties, and his travels to Israel, have clouded Villaraigosa's perspective on the latest conflict and the plight of the Palestinians. They urged him to be just as active in the Muslim community.
"There's no objection to the mayor having his personal views, but as the mayor of one of the most diverse cities in the nation, he has the responsibility to engage in activities that bring all Angelenos together," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of California based in Anaheim. "His role is not to be a cheerleader for one side . . . He ought to be on the side of justice and peace."
Ayloush was one of a handful of Muslim leaders who met with Villaraigosa on Wednesday to discuss their concerns over the mayor's comments supporting Israel's recent military action in the Gaza Strip. He said the conversation was cordial and frank.
"The mayor needs to demonstrate his sensitivity to the suffering of the Palestinians. This is what the mayor said he would do, and we'll hold him accountable for that," said Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
During the meeting, Villaraigosa strongly defended Israel's right to respond to the hundreds of rockets Hamas has fired into the country. He also agreed with the Muslim leaders that there should be a cease-fire and that Israel should not disrupt humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip...
Villaraigosa on Thursday dismissed any speculation that his comments at the pro-Israel rally were orchestrated to score political points with Jewish voters in Los Angeles. Given the subsequent criticism he's received, the safest political move would have been to keep quiet, he said...