As Israeli forces pushed into Gaza on Sunday in fierce fighting, Minnesotans half a globe away weighed in with fierce opinions.

About 750 supporters of Israel's action crammed inside the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park to show their support of Israel in the deadly conflict. And outside, 250 protesters gathered to show their dismay.

A group of elected officials of all political persuasion -- ranging from Gov. Tim Pawlenty to archrivals and U.S. Senate wannabes Norm Coleman and Al Franken -- were united, if only for an afternoon, in supporting Israel as it battles Hamas.

"I'm glad to be a friend of Israel,'' Pawlenty said to a raucous standing ovation. Roughly a dozen speakers followed, all voicing a similar theme of support and solidarity.

The show of unity seemed a bit odd for Coleman, the Republican incumbent, and his Democratic foe, Franken. The two are engaged in a bitter recount battle for a Senate seat that has winnowed down to several hundred votes, and is now being contested by Coleman in court. The two appeared cordial at the rally Sunday, but kept their distance.

Both drew an enthusiastic response from the standing-room-only crowd.

"Our support has always been part of the miracle of Israel, and that must continue," Coleman said. Franken politely applauded.

Outside the rally, protesters from a variety of local organizations hoisted signs and shouted slogans opposing Israel's action in Gaza.

"Just as it is not anti-American to criticize the U.S. government, it does not signify hatred of Jews who criticize Israeli government policy,'' said Lisa Albrecht, of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network of the Twin Cities.

The group called for an immediate ceasefire and opening of Gaza's borders, and also called for the Minnesota state pension fund to sever its investment ties with Israel.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752