Protesting Jews in S.F. decry Israels aggressive tactics

Walid Moussa was confused. The tourist from Tunisia wasn't sure what to make of the kaffiyeh-wearing women on Kearny Street last week who were chanting "Israel out of Palestine."

"They're Jewish?" he asked a bystander. He smiled when he was told indeed they were. "They're good Jewish," he said. "Israeli Jewish must stop killing children."

The women were Bay Area counterparts to Women in Black, a group founded by Israelis during the Palestinian uprising in 1988. Then, Israeli women and later, Palestinian women, wearing all black, stood in silent vigil in Jerusalem on Friday afternoons, calling for Israel to withdraw from the territories it conquered in the Six-Day War.

The Women in Black rally was one of two Oct. 13, during which groups primarily of Jews called upon Israel to stop using "excessive violence" to quell Palestinian rioting.

In contrast to their Israeli counterparts, the American women made some noise. They shook cans with coins in them, yelling "No justice, no peace!" They held up a turquoise banner declaring "Israel Out of Occupied Palestine and Lesbians and Gays Against the Intervention," seemingly recycled from the Gulf War.

A petite, silver-haired woman with a Green Party button and a "Grandmothers for Peace" sign attracted most of the attention from the press. "I'm here because I care about people," said Fran Rachel of Berkeley. Emphasizing that Israelis and Palestinians needed to get back to the negotiating table, Rachel said, "I think the U.S. could make it happen, by stopping support for Israel."

Her friend, Larry Harris of Berkeley, was the sole male protester.

"I'm a man in blue," he said. "But I support the Women in Black."

While the protesters never numbered more than several dozen, they were joined on the sidewalk by many journalists — with reporters, photographers and cameramen at first outnumbering them.

Earlier that day, about 200 protesters gathered across the street from the Israeli Consulate on Montgomery Street.

"As Jews, we feel a particular obligation to speak out against the Israeli government, which often claims to speak in our names," said Rebecca Stein of Berkeley, one of the organizers. "We believe it is imperative that U.S. Jews speak out in protest of such actions. If we fail to vocally condemn Israel in our own communities, we effectively sanction its aggressive tactics."

Sponsored by the Coalition of Jews for Justice in Israel and Palestine, an ad hoc group of Bay Area Jewish activists, it was co-sponsored by the Middle East Children's Alliance and A Jewish Voice for Peace.

The Kaddish was said for those killed in the recent violence, and one protester held up a yahrzeit candle.

Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh, spiritual leader of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco, called for a moment of silence and led a prayer for healing, in which she prayed for there to be sufficient blood supply and medicine in Palestinian hospitals.

Paul Bloom of Oakland held a sign with the words, "U.S./Israel, 6 million dead condemn you, stop the slaughter."

He explained that the memory of Holocaust victims was being exploited "in self-righteous ways."

"It's no excuse for people to act violently themselves," he said. "It should mean no more genocide anywhere in the world."

Andrew Janiak of Berkeley said, "I want to avoid the very simplistic thinking that if you criticize Israel, you support everything the other side does."

He condemned American Jews for not speaking out. "When this kind of excessive force is used, which is paid for by U.S. taxes," he said, "I'm upset that the American Jewish community is so silent."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."