Israel Caravan at SFSU eclipses Palestinian protest

Amid Israeli music, flag-waving and hora-dancing Thursday of last week, 12 San Francisco State University students held signs reading "Israel Stop Stealing Palestine" and "Collective Punishment Is Terrorism."

Their chant, "Netanyahu, you will see, Palestine will be free," was drowned out by strains of traditional Hebrew tunes.

"This is great," said Aaron Forkash, a senior in the Jewish studies department. "They've learned the difference between anti-Semitism and opposing Israel."

While many might not consider the protest of a campus cultural event a positive sign, the Palestinian presence at SFSU's annual Israel Caravan was low-key compared to past years.

SFSU maintains a reputation for anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment among students.

Last year Palestinian students marred the Israel Independence Day celebration, sponsored by the Israel Project of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, by surrounding dancing students and shouting anti-Semitic epithets through bullhorns.

This year, the university was better prepared.

Campus police surrounded the celebration area in the middle of campus, including a pavilion above Malcolm X Plaza where kaffiyeh-clad students hung anti-Zionist banners last year.

In addition, the campus-regulated counter-protest line was extended from 30 feet to 70 feet from the Israel caravan, and marked off by yellow police tape.

Although both protections were suggested following last year's Israel event, the additional police presence may also be attributed to a banner hung last week by the Pan Afrikan Student Union during an Earth Day Celebration.

The banner displayed an Israeli flag with a swastika, an American flag with a dollar sign and called for the death of Peru's president and his "Zionist commandos."

SFSU President Robert Corrigan responded in the campus newspaper and in a campus memo, calling for a recommitment to the "highest values" of tolerance, respect and dignity for all.

Nonetheless, the Palestinian students disobeyed campus regulations by protesting as a group. SFSU policy requires 24-hour notice for all counter-demonstration requests. The General Union of Palestinian Students did not file any paperwork. In addition, GUPS ignored the 70-foot protest boundary.

Jewish students representing Shalom Yisrael, the campus Zionist organization, said they will file a complaint with the university.

"We will abide by university policy and pursue this matter," said Ryan Dulkin, president of Shalom Yisrael. "GUPS has chosen to be in full violation of campus rules."

Meanwhile, the songs of Jimmy Gamliel and his band overpowered the protest and the celebration proceeded with little interruption.

One passerby noted, "It's great to see a bunch of Jewish kids smiling."

Israel Project director Peter Altman agreed, adding, "This [caravan] is bigger and more colorful than ever."

The caravan boasted displays of a Tel Aviv flea market and booths including information on Israel's environmentalist movement and natural resources.

Blue Jewish National Fund boxes were set out to collect donations. Vendors sold jewelry and embroidered kippot.

A four-sided political board explained Israeli election procedure, results and platforms of left-of-center parties like Labor and Meretz, right-of-center parties like Likud, the religious voting bloc and the Arab party bloc.

As always, Altman said, the caravan is "cultural, not political."

Nonetheless, "The word Israel upsets people," Altman said. "How can you get upset about a display of wildflowers from Israel? I don't know, but people do."