Jewish community leaders in the Kansas City region on Sunday called for peace in the Middle East following days of violence that left more than 250 people dead.
During a vigil outside the Jewish Community Center campus in Overland Park, those leaders denounced anti-Semitism and mourned the lives lost on both sides of the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
They also said Israel has a right to protect itself from missiles fired from the Islamic militant group.
Gary Wolf, president of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee, said it has been an “incredibly difficult” two weeks to be Jewish and a supporter of Israel.
“Not only have we been worried about our friends and family there who have constantly been running into bomb shelters,” he said, “but we have simultaneously been dealing with the onslaught of misinformation and bias in the news and social media against Israel.”
Wolf cited a quote this week from President Joe Biden, who supports a two-state solution: “Let’s get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”
Misinformation about the crisis has led to a “terrifying rise” in anti-Semitism, Wolf told the crowd of more than 100 supporters, some of whom waved the Israeli flag during prayers and songs. He noted that Jews have been attacked in Los Angeles and New York.
The Israeli flag was “vandalized” during a recent rally of Palestinian supporters in Kansas City, Wolf added. It occurred during the first of two pro-Palestine rallies at Mill Creek Park, where the crowd chanted, “Free, free Palestine.”
Michael Abrams, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, said Sunday he and others were praying for an enduring peace for not only those in Israel, but in Gaza and other territories in the region.
Abrams said he prayed that “we will remain ever dedicated and steadfast” in the pursuit of peace.
The event ended with the group singing Israel’s national anthem.
On Friday, a cease-fire took effect after an 11-day campaign that left more than 250 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to Gaza.
At least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed.
The fighting erupted May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, built on a site holy to Muslims and Jews, and threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians by Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem had inflamed tensions.
Hamas and other militant groups fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel throughout the fighting, launching the projectiles from civilian areas at Israeli cities. Dozens of projectiles flew as far north as Tel Aviv, the country’s bustling commercial and cultural capital.
Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes targeting what it said was Hamas’ military infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network.
After the fighting, both Israel and Hamas claimed victory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.