Seder foods used as props in S.F. peace demonstration

It was the matzah that did it. Seeing the bread of affliction being used in this manner got Steve Berley a little upset.

The director of Israel programs at the Jewish Community Relations Council wandered down to the Consulate General of Israel the morning of April 16 because he had gotten word that Jews for a Free Palestine would be protesting there.

And when he arrived, he saw it: a piece of matzah with a message. Scrawled on it were words comparing the Israeli incursion in Jenin, the Palestinian refugee camp, to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

In addition to the fact that far fewer Palestinians were killed in Jenin than were Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, Berley said, "The world knew about Jenin and had international inquiries at the time. No one cared about Warsaw, and it's offensive to equate them in this way."

Jews for a Free Palestine member Julie Browne disagreed. Citing the use of writing numbers on Palestinian suspects' arms, among other tactics employed by the Israel Defense Force, she said making the comparison was not such a stretch.

Browne was one of 12 protesters to be eventually arrested that day in the lobby of the Montgomery Street building in which the Israeli consul general's office is located.

There were about 50 protesters in all, most of them Jewish. Some were affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, an organization that has lately been making the news: Two of its activists, American Rachel Corrie and British citizen Tom Hurndall, were recently killed by the Israeli army, and a third American citizen, Brian Avery, was gravely injured.

Many protesters held aloft symbols from the seder, such as maror and charoset.

"We brought different things we use during an actual seder," said Browne. That's because "this is what we teach our children, that we too were once slaves in the land of Mitzrayim, and that we can never let these acts of violence we're seeing committed in the name of the Jewish people, happen to any people today."

The decision to protest on April 16 was deliberate, of course, as Passover was to begin that evening. "At night we're in our homes talking about the history of our oppression and solidarity with all peoples," said Browne, "but we believe that the Jewish people will never be free until all people are free."

The protest was called to speak out against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the killings of the International Solidarity Movement activists.

After standing in the street for some time, 12 activists, all of them Jewish, entered the lobby of the building. They had with them a letter of demands, which they tried to deliver to the Israeli consul general.

According to a statement released by Jews for a Free Palestine, the demands were:

"End the war on the Palestinian people; prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the criminal killings of international peace activists by Israeli forces; end the illegal occupation and the settlements in the West Bank; and uphold the international human rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of refugees to return home."

The building's security prevented the protestors from going up to the consulate.

"There was no connection between us and them," said Amir Segev-Sayag, press attaché at the consulate. "There are no drop-in hours. If you want to set up an appointment, call, and we'll see you if it's an appropriate request. But if you come by and ask to see someone, it doesn't work that way."

Once security called the police, they came and arrested the 12 protesters, citing them for trespassing.

As for JCRC's Berley, it wasn't just the matzah that left a bad taste in his mouth.

"I think it's unfortunate that some Jews are so quick to show their own foibles and don't hold others in the conflict to the same standards they hold for themselves," he said. "If you want to hold Israel to high standards, go ahead, but hold the Palestinian Authority to the same standards of conduct."

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."