Together for Israel – The Czech Republic is the voice of Israel in Europe

Společně pro Izrael (Together for Israel) was the name of the public gathering organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic (FŽO) in support of the State of Israel and its people. On Wednesday, November 1, 2023, the Old Town Square in the center of Prague was filled with people who came to condemn the unprecedented murder of civilians committed by the Hamas terrorist movement on October 7, 2023, to remember the more than 230 hostages taken, and to support the right of the State of Israel to defend itself and its people.

The Czech and Israeli anthems were played at the beginning of the gathering.

In his opening remarks, FŽO Chairman Petr Papoušek said, “This is a difficult time for Israel, for the Jewish community around the world, and for the Palestinians who have the right to self-determination without terrorists. This war began with an unimaginably barbaric attack by Hamas, which is solely responsible for unleashing the violence and for all casualties on both sides. We deplore the Israeli and Palestinian civilian casualties without distinction and extend our condolences to their loved ones.” He pointed out that this “is not just an attack on Israel and its people, but on the Jewish community around the world, on the liberal and democratic values of our civilization.”

“It is hard to find words for what has happened,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said at the event. “Israel desperately needs friends,” he said, adding that the Czech Republic is one of them and will be a voice for Israelis in Europe. Fiala also recalled that during his visit to Israel he had met some of the people affected by the war. “These are terrible stories. It was not only an attack on Israel and its society, but it was an attack on humanity and our civilization. That is why we must be unequivocal in our condemnation of that attack, unequivocal in our support,” the prime minister said.

The prayer for peace in the State of Israel was delivered by Omer Tal.

The Czech Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, also spoke at the event, warning against anti-Semitism and bigoted hatred and warning of the rise of these pernicious manifestations. She further stated that “No one must be afraid to live in society as it is, and no one shall be the target of hatred, violence and cruelty because of his origin, what his faith or religion is.”

Emma Günsberger, chair of the Czech Union of Jewish Youth and a student at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, shared a little-known fact about hidden or even open signs of anti-Semitism and hatred that Jewish students are experiencing at Czech universities: “The war between Hamas and Israel are already slowly finding their way to Czech universities. We are afraid.” and clarified that it was verbal attacks from classmates and teachers. She further appealed to those present “Let us not polarize the already heated conflict. Please, let us be responsible, even words matter”

Director and screenwriter Jan Hřebejk asked the rhetorical question “Whose side are you on?”, and he immediately replied that he was on Israel’s side. He further elaborated his answer with “To stand on someone’s side, to stand in solidarity with someone, is not to be against someone else.” And he quoted Michal Sýkora: “There are moments when choosing a side in a non-black and white world is not only possible, but also desirable. When one side in a conflict fears nothing, driven by sheer hatred, I side with those who defend themselves from utter annihilation.”  

Jonathan Gutmann, a graduate of the Charles University’s 3rd Medical School, reminded those present that there are still more than 230 hostages, many of them children and women, kidnapped and held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Among them is his cousin, Evyatar David, whose fate is still unknown to his family and the public. Dr. Gutmann said that “Evyatar was at a peace festival in southern Israel on October 7 and never returned,” describing how his family learned of Evyatar’s abduction from a video released by Hamas. He now believes that the unconditional and immediate return of all abductees is the most important thing, “and this must be constantly emphasized.

Anna Azari, Ambassador of the State of Israel, thanked the Czech Republic and addressed the gathering in Czech. “I would especially like to thank Prime Minister Petr Fiala for the fact that the Czech Republic has stood unequivocally behind Israel since the first days of the war.” She also spoke about  the hostages, whose release she considers an absolute priority.

The Kaddish prayer was recited by Chief Rabbi Karol Efraim Sidon.

In addition to Jewish organizations, the Společně pro Izrael (Together for Israel) gathering was supported by a number of cultural, social, educational and other public institutions and organizations, as well as individuals.  The event was personally attended by ministers, members of parliament from the ruling and opposition parties, senators and representatives of churches, representatives of the diplomatic corps and many other personalities.

The gathering included a commemoration of the victims and was moderated by Ester Janečková. The whole event took place in a tense but at the same time peaceful atmosphere.

Photo credit: Barbara Matějková

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