10 pro-Palestinians protest Silent Voices talk at Presidio

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Ten pro-Palestinian protesters planted themselves outside a lecture on anti-Semitism, racism and hate crimes at the Presidio's Herbst International Exhibition Hall on Sunday.

But according to the supervisor of the exhibition and lecture series titled "Silent Voices Speak: The Holocaust and Social Injustice Today," it was a "senseless" demonstration.

"There's nothing there for them to protest," said Robert LeRoy. "We have a display of righteous diplomats who saved thousands of people's lives, and Barbara Shilo's works depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. I truly think they were just seizing the opportunity to capitalize on an audience."

The lecture itself featured several prominent speakers, including actor Ed Asner; the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union's executive director, Dorothy Ehrlich; and the family of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man from Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to death by white supremacists in 1998. It attracted a diverse crowd of 450 people.

As the audience filtered into the exhibition hall, the protesters stood near the doorway carrying picket signs criticizing Israel, including one that read "Stop killing us."

As of press time no one was able to identify whether the group was affiliated with a particular Palestinian organization, but members did distribute pamphlets from Jews for Justice, a group of Jews who support Palestinian rights.

They also distributed their own flier criticizing "Silent Voices Speak."

LeRoy assumed they were critical because the lecture series on human rights did not specifically include them as targets of injustice.

He also said they "rambled on" derogatorily about two of the exposition's 89 sponsors, but did not mention which two.

This was the second time this particular group of people protested at "Silent Voices Speak." The first was during a Sunday lecture on Holocaust rescuers and survivors two weeks earlier, according to LeRoy.

Their presence elicited strong reactions from some of those in attendance.

One man, who opposed the protesters but whose identity LeRoy did not know, actually became involved in a small physical altercation with a demonstrator while trying to get into the lecture.

Because the protesters did not have the required permits, the police then asked them to leave. But LeRoy said it was OK for them to stay as long as they stood in a specially designated area across the street.

"They have the right to protest," said LeRoy. "I just don't know why they were there. I don't think they really knew themselves."

He then invited them into the lecture; three of them accepted.

"I talked to two of them after it was over and they said it was very good — one of them even went through the food line," said LeRoy. "The third went directly out afterward and stood in front of the doorway, handing out her literature."

He said she was asked by police to move to the designated area across the street but refused and was arrested.