Do we have an answer for ANSWER

Calls for Israel’s destruction, charges that Israel is a “racist” state, even comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany. At the United Nations or on al-Jazeera? No — right here in San Francisco!

On Saturday, June 5, vicious anti-Israel propaganda will be on public display, as the “antiwar” group International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) will be rallying to further its agenda, which specifically opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. ANSWER’s steering committee includes the Free Palestine Alliance (which declares Zionism “an abhorrent ideology”). Their Web site proclaims “End the Colonial Occupation of Palestine; Support the Right of Return,” by which they mean allowing millions of third- and fourth- generation descendants of Arab refugees from 1948 to demographically overwhelm Israel so that it would no longer be a Jewish state. Recent history in the Arab world suggests that this would soon be followed by expulsion of the Jewish “colonial” population. ANSWER’s recent march in San Francisco featured many anti-Israel posters and marchers; not just people opposed to Israel’s occupation on the West Bank and Gaza, but the very existence of Israel itself.

How should Bay Area Jews respond to this? Some say we should just ignore the protesters and perhaps they will fade away. Some say we should not stand against them because then we would appear to be aligning our support of Israel with support for the war in Iraq, making it a left versus right issue. I suggest that we can and should stand up to the lies, to the hatred and to those who have insisted that anti-Zionism must be part of the anti-war movement.

This is not an issue of anti-war versus pro-war, or of liberal versus conservative. It is simply a response to a dangerous ideology that has not only insinuated itself into the anti-war movement, but onto college campuses and even nonprofit organizations having nothing to do with foreign policy, such as San Francisco Women Against Rape, which all but made “anti-Zionism” a prerequisite for volunteers. Those of us who heard Alan Dershowitz’s speech at U.C. Berkeley last month heard him describe how pro-Israel students and even professors are afraid to speak up on campus anymore. What are we telling our students at U.C. Berkeley and at San Francisco State when we allow ANSWER to go unchallenged?

As supporters of Israel, we have a lot to be proud of. Despite living in a near-constant state of war since its founding, despite the most horrific terrorist acts committed against it over the past four years, despite ongoing calls for its destruction, Israel has maintained democratic government, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and has built a country out of a wasteland. (Israel is the only country in the world with a net gain of trees!) Israel is the only country in the region that guarantees civil rights for minorities, not only of religion, but also of sexual orientation. We may not agree with everything that the government of Israel does (after all, neither do many Israelis, as you can read in the pages of any Israeli newspaper). But the question placed before us is not whether we support Ariel Sharon, or whether we support settlements, but whether we support the right of existence of a Jewish state in our historic homeland where Jews have lived continuously for 3000 years.

The pro-Israel community in the Bay Area has organized itself over the past few years, through the tireless efforts of many individuals, and with invaluable help and guidance from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. It is now time that we move into peaceful public response to ANSWER and to those who wish to turn American policy against Israel. On March 20, the first organized counter-demonstration to ANSWER took place, as members of our community proudly stood on the steps of City Hall with Israeli flags and pro-Israel messages. The leaders of that effort have organized a new group, San Francisco Voice for Israel. Our mission is to counter the lies, to educate our neighbors and to encourage our community to show up, to speak out, to stand for Israel.

At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 5, we will gather in San Francisco at Powell and Market, and march to the Embarcadero to peacefully challenge ANSWER’s anti-Zionist rally by showing them that this community will no longer remain silent in the face of such hatred. We welcome Jews and non-Jews, regardless of your position on Sharon, on Bush, on settlements or on the war in Iraq. We are united exclusively in support of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, free from attacks and threats of destruction from its neighbors — and we need you to join us!

ANSWER has challenged us. If we do not respond, then our silence is deafening.

Michael Harris is a physician in Mill Valley and a member of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which can be reached at

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