On Jan. 4, members of Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) California, a movement of pro-Israel women, marched in Beverly Hills expressing outrage over Hamas’ violence against women and girls as well as the lack of universal condemnation.
“We will not, and we will never allow the evil of Hamas against women and girls to go unacknowledged,” Adat Shalom Rabbi Miriam Potok said, addressing the program’s approximately 300 attendees.
Beverly Hills City Councilmember Sharona Nazarian called the silence of women’s groups, in the face of testimonies of sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on Oct. 7, “deafening.”
“Today we march for the innocent women who were raped, mutilated, burned, victimized and brutalized on October 7,” Nazarian said. “When the voices of these women were bound and gagged, the silence from the women’s organizations was deafening.”
Nazarian was one of several speakers at “Walk with WIZO,” a community event. Waving blue-and-white Israeli flags and carrying signs reading “Silence is Betrayal,” attendees denounced the brutality of Hamas, a terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as the troubling silence of the international community when confronted with reports of Hamas’ gender-based crimes.
“Wrong is wrong,” Adeena Bleich, a board member of WIZO California, told the Courier. “Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you can still say weaponizing sexual violence is never okay.”
Regarding Hamas’ October attack on Israel, credible reports have emerged, including from the New York Times, of Hamas members committing acts of sexual violence against Israeli women and girls. Nevertheless, there are those who continue to challenge or ignore that rape or sexual assault occurred, leading many to attribute their skepticism to antisemitism.
“We’re calling attention to the atrocities committed by Hamas against the women and girls of Israel,” WIZO California Chair Gina Raphael, one of the program’s organizers, told the Courier. “Where are the women’s groups? Where are they on this? When we saw this news, we decided we were going to act.”
Women and men of all ages participated in “Walk with WIZO.” For her part, Raphael brought along her 15-year-old daughter and her daughter’s best friend.
“You have to bring the next generation with you—you have to empower them,” she said. “We have people here from across the generations—from babies in strollers to women in their 80s.”
WIZO California’s leadership decided just two weeks ago to organize the event after noting that groups, including UN Women, as well as those who supported the #metoo movement had insufficiently called out Hamas amid reports of gender-based violence. The Jan. 4 walk underscored that, indeed, there are those who are fed up and won’t take it anymore.
They included Anna Abramzon, a Judaica painter based in Beverly Hills who attended the rally. She, like others, has been disappointed by the world’s response to the apparent sexual violence done by Hamas.
“While I’ve been to many pro-Israel rallies and protests since the beginning of the war and since Oct. 7, I really appreciated this one was specifically calling out the violence and rape against women that has been kind of ignored by the larger community,” Abramzon said. “The message today is if we are to believe women, then we need to believe Jewish women and rape is not a form of resistance and not a legitimate form of anything. It’s a war crime.”
The event began around 12:30 p.m. outside Mickey Fine Pharmacy, on Camden Drive. People gathered around as community leaders—including Nazarian, City Councilmember John Mirisch, L.A. City Councilmember Traci Park and Rabbi Potok—gave remarks highlighting their support for Israel. Park presented the leadership of WIZO and the Israeli-American Civic Action Network with a city proclamation underlining Los Angeles’ backing for the groups’ missions.
Additionally, Cantor Shanee Zamir, a vocalist, peace advocate and graduate of the WIZO’s school system in Israel, led the crowd in a rendition of Israel’s national anthem.
Afterwards, participants marched east from Camden Drive toward Rodeo Drive. They headed up and down the iconic street before making their way over to Mickey Fine’s other location, on Roxbury Drive. Many of those driving by honked in apparent solidarity.
Since Oct. 7, the city of Beverly Hills has vocally supported Israel, with its leaders including Mayor Dr. Julian Gold and City Councilmembers Lili Bosse, Mirisch and Nazarian condemning Hamas on multiple occasions, including at local rallies and synagogue events. This Jan. 4 event was no different.
“There’s no more important issue today than not only the survival of Israel but also the explosion of anti-Jewish racism it has engendered,” Mirisch said in an interview as he marched down Rodeo Drive carrying a large Israeli flag.
Founded in Great Britain in 1920, at a time when women lacked representation in Zionist institutions, WIZO is a nonprofit with members in more than 50 countries. Today, the nonpolitical organization operates more than 800 social welfare projects in Israel, including childcare centers, schools, shelters for battered women, homes for girls in distress and services for the elderly. WIZO California, established in the 1980s, is comprised of members who work to support and fund WIZO’s projects in Israel.