Counterprotest in S.F. shines light on support for Israel

Hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators, singing “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” and “Am Yisrael Chai,” gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall to protest an anti-Israel rally Jan. 10 that drew thousands to Civic Center Plaza.

Waving Israeli and American flags and carrying signs that read “Pro-Israel, pro-peace” and “More hummus, less Hamas,” some 400 demonstrators of all ages came together to counter those condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza.

“We will not cede the public space to the enemies of Israel in the Bay Area,” said Michael Harris, one of the founders of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which helped organize the event. “We are not going to let them stand up publicly and call for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

Across Polk Street in the plaza was a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel protest of much greater magnitude, complete with a stage, a variety of speakers and a booming sound system. Approximately 10,000 attended the afternoon demonstration, according to Saul Kanowitz of ANSWER, which helped organize the event. ANSWER is an anti-war and anti-racist coalition that formed in the days following Sept. 11, 2001.

When asked why S.F. Voice for Israel didn’t stage a similar demonstration, Harris said that in order to do so, organizers would have needed to acquire city permits as well as set up a platform and audio system. In addition, while the anti-Israel side ended its demonstration with a huge march down Market Street and back to Civic Center, the pro-Israel side did not march.

San Francisco police, batons and riot helmets clipped to their belts, lined the perimeter of the counterprotest and the marchers’ route, but demonstrators on both sides were relatively peaceful, with no property damage or arrests reported.

Early on, a handful of anti-Israel demonstrators crossed police tape on Polk Street dividing the two sides and approached the pro-Israel contingent, pumping their fists, waving Palestinian flags and igniting heated verbal exchanges. Police quickly defused the situation and maintained a presence until the march began and the Israel supporters departed.

“We were concerned for our safety and our First Amendment rights, but the police came through and I’m very pleased,” said Faith Meltzer of Voice for Israel. “We’re here to provide the truth, and the best antidote to bad information is good information.”

Meltzer was referring to a barrage of anti-Israel slogans, both spoken and displayed Jan. 10, that Harris said “blurred the line between political speech and anti-Semitism.”

Signs with swastikas and tombstones reading “Jews, can you rest in peace” were lifted high above the anti-Israel crowd, while marchers shouted “One, two, three four — we don’t want this racist war; five, six, seven, eight — Israel is a terrorist state” as they walked downtown.

On the Web site for ANSWER, the international organization noted that it supports “solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.”

“We’re opposed to all forms of racism and intolerance, including anti-Semitism,” said Kanowitz, an organizer with the San Francisco chapter of ANSWER. “The damage done to [the Jewish] community by anti-Semitism is not a justification for ethnic cleansing of the people of Palestine.”

A day later, on Jan. 11, several hundred people gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco for a peaceful demonstration in support of Israel. Participants waved Israeli flags and carried homemade signs.

“Israel, in the eyes of the world, is not looking too good right now,” 16-year-old Samuel Rothmann of San Francisco said at the Jan. 10 rally. “But we’re being heard. I think being here strengthens my identity as a Jew, especially when I see the community coming together.

Federations ratchet up aid campaigns

With the crisis in Gaza, Bay Area Jewish community federations have launched efforts to raise funds for Israelis impacted by the fighting.

The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley has signed on to a national campaign to raise $10 million in emergency funds for Israel.

Federation President Steve Green wrote in a letter to supporters, “We have been asked by our partners, Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee to provide funds for single-day respite activities to evacuate children from the front lines; critical support packages for residents seeking refuge in bomb shelters across southern Israel; assistance for disabled and seniors living in the region; and urgent interventions to help new immigrants in Jewish Agency absorption centers in the south cope with the fear and anxiety of war.”

The federation’s Web site address is

The Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay has opened a fundraising opportunity to help those in southern Israel, supporting many of the objectives detailed in Green’s letter. A link to the federation’s Gaza war fundraising appeal can be found at its Web site,, along with daily news feeds on the situation.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has a link on its Web site’s home page ( for those interested in donating to the federation’s Israel projects during this time.