Los Angeles mayor under criticism for support of Israeli attacks in Gaza

Other News Materials 10 January 2009 02:38 (UTC +04:00)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came under criticism from Muslim groups this week after he made a speech in public supporting Israel's recent military attacks in the Gaza Strip, Xinhua reported.

Villaraigosa joined local Jewish community leaders and Israeli Consul-general Jacob Dayan at a news conference earlier in the week to express his support for Israel on its airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled area.

He said that Israel had the "right and responsibility to defend itself" from the rocket attacks being launched from the Gaza Strip.

The mayor's remarks drew wide criticism from Muslim organizations, which argued that he should have spoken just as strongly on behalf of innocent Palestinians killed and wounded in the Israeli attacks.

A group of local Muslim leaders met Villaraigosa privately on Wednesday to discuss their concerns over the mayor's pro-Israel comments. They have been criticizing him as being one-sided and ill-equipped to wade into the complex Middle East conflict.

Villaraigosa reportedly defended Israel's right to respond to the hundreds of rockets Hamas has fired into the country during the meeting, but also agreed that there should be a ceasefire.

The mayor later said that given the criticism he has received for his speech about the Gaza Strip situation, his safest political move would have been to keep quiet. But he dismissed any speculation that his comments were aimed at scoring political points with Jewish voters in Los Angeles.

However, Villaraigosa's support for Israel has helped solidify his support among the Jewish voters who helped elect him mayor in 2005.

Villaraigosa has visited Israel three times. The latest one was in last June when he led a contingent of Los Angeles city and community leaders on a week-long mission to promote the city's cooperation with Israel on anti-terrorism and other issues.

Leaders of Muslim groups here worry that the mayor's strong ties with the Jewish community and Israel have clouded his perspective on the latest Middle East conflict and the plight of the Palestinians.

"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," Salam Al- Marayati, a member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

The controversy regarding Villaraigosa's pro-Israel remarks was just another example how events elsewhere in the world are politically sensitive in an ethnically diverse city like Los Angeles, which has some of the largest Jewish and Arab populations in the United States.