Rancor at S.F. demonstration community braces for more

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With Israel in the Gardens just days away, the angry, noisy protest June 1 outside the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco was not a good sign for Israel supporters.

“The anger and hatred was the worst I’ve seen,” said Robin Dubner, a longtime member of StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel, of the anti-Israel protesters. “And they were more antagonizing than usual.”

Just 36 hours after Israel’s navy raided a Turkish ship carrying aid and supplies to Gaza, hundreds gathered at 4:30 p.m. on Montgomery Street to protest the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli raid, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists on board.

“Somewhere along the line, Israel has got to align its conduct with its values and demand that the government operate according to those values,” said Michael Eisenscher, a Jewish man from Oakland who stood with pro-Palestinian demonstrators and held a sign that said, “When did military aggression become a Jewish value?”

The pro-Palestinian contingent, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace, outnumbered Israel supporters 10 to 1. Hundreds clogged the sidewalk in front of the consulate and also stood across the street and next to the Israel supporters, shouting accusations that Israel is a terrorist state.

Yehiel Yisrael of Oakland (left) and Scott Benlevi of San Francisco sound shofars in support of Israel June 1 at a counterprotest in front of the Israel Consulate. photo/stacey palevsky

Police lined both sides of the block in the Financial District to ensure the barricades remained standing. Dozens more were gathered one block over on Sansome Street, ready to jump in and help if needed.

When the rally ended, police escorted the Israel supporters off-site to a nearby office, where members of StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel planned a rally at the same spot the following day, June 2.

“As the truth comes out about this so-called ‘hum-anitarian peace mission,’ we’re angry,” wrote Michael Harris in a letter to SF Voice for Israel supporters. “But we’re going to take that anger and do something positive with it — we’ll use that energy to be on the streets of San Francisco to show the public and the media that Israel’s supporters will not be quiet at this critical time.”

The intensity and timing of the anti-Israel protests has put the coordinators of Israel in the Gardens — set for Sunday, June 6 — and the S.F. Police Department on alert.

Less than 24 hours after the pre-dawn flotilla raid on May 31, protesters showed up at the Israel Consulate and threw bricks through the glass doors at the main entrance of the building, said spokesman Daniel Morgan.

“It was really late at night, so the only people there were the building’s security guards, not the consulate security guards,” said Gideon Lustig, deputy consul general.

Despite the demonstrations, “everything is operating as usual here,” Lustig said.

The SFPD said it was aware of the rallies planned this week and the expected protests at Israel in the Gardens, and would have a visible police presence circulating at Yerba Buena Gardens. Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, a police spokeswoman, declined to release details of the June 6 security plan for safety reasons.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said he and the agency’s director of community security, Allan Levigne, have been in close contact with the SFPD after the May 31 incident sparked a number of community demonstrations.

“In the aftermath of the most recent events, we are now scheduling follow-up meetings to review security protocols and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Kahn said. “We anticipate tremendous cooperation, as we’ve always had.

“And we do anticipate there will be some protests that may be somewhat larger than they otherwise would have been” in light of the reactions to the flotilla raid, Kahn said.

A pro-Palestinian demonstration is planned Saturday, June 5 in front of San Francisco City Hall. StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel will be there to counterprotest. Though Israel in the Gardens coordinators expect protesters as usual at the annual festival, no specific event had been announced by pro-Palestinian groups as of press time June 2.

“The police department knows we as a community take security seriously,” Kahn said. “Our hope is that the entire community continues to recognize that Israel in the Gardens is a family day, that it is an annual event which provides an extraordinary opportunity to express our connection and solidarity with Israel and celebrate our own community at same time.”

StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel will counterprotest an anti-Israel demonstration from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 in front of San Francisco City Hall. Information: [email protected].

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.