S.F. supervisors put resolution condemning Israel on hold

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After impassioned two-minute speeches from hundreds of people on June 15, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors didn’t vote on a resolution condemning Israel for its “military attack” on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Just before midnight — after four-and-a-half hours of public comment — the resolution was sent to committee, where critics are hoping it will die.

To pass, the nonbinding resolution needs a unanimous vote of 11 supervisors. So once Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who is Jewish, expressed his opposition and called for the resolution to be sent to committee, the vote was off — perhaps for good.

“This is a success for the Jewish community, for those who turned out to stand against the resolution and for the supervisors, who recognize that … Middle East peace is not going to get solved in the halls of the San Francisco government,” said Abby Porth, associate director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

The resolution can now make it back in front of the full board in one of only two ways: if two of the committee’s three members recommend that, or if at least four supervisors vote to bring it back.

The City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee (composed of supervisors Dufty, John Avalos and Carmen Chu) could even opt to not discuss the resolution. But if there is a meeting to discuss it, that meeting, too, will be open to public comment.

In any regard, Mayor Gavin Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that if the resolution ever reaches his desk, he won’t sign it. “I don’t think it’s well timed or conceived,” the Chronicle quoted him as saying.

The resolution was introduced last week by Avalos and co-signed by Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, with input from pro-Palestinian groups. It sparked a wild debate during the weekly board meeting and inspired people from across the Bay Area to spend nearly 10 hours at City Hall waiting to lend their voice to the dialogue.

“I’ve never done this before but I am infuriated that my tax dollars are going to support incredibly one-sided propaganda,” said Joseph Brent of San Francisco. “Where were the protests and resolutions after the Chabad shooting in Mumbai?”

Brent never made it to the podium for his allotted two minutes. He got in line to speak at 2 p.m., when the meeting began, but because a state-mandated hearing on the Department of Public Health’s budget lasted more than four hours, public comment on the Israel resolution didn’t even begin until 7:45 p.m.

And so throughout the afternoon and evening, people slowly trickled out of the line, not having anticipated that comment on the resolution would be delayed until after dinnertime.

While waiting, members of the Jewish community passed out talking points and stickers that said “Pro Israel, Pro Peace,” brainstormed what they would say during public comment and blasted action alerts from their smart phones to the Web (in hopes of getting more pro-Israel voices to the podium).

Howard Epstein, chairman of the Northern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, speaks in opposition to the resolution. photo/stacey palevsky

Some Jews got into heated debates with the opposition. A priest originally from Syria, who declined to give his name, argued with three Jewish immigrants, two from Russia and one from France, about who actually has rights to the land in Israel.

When David Chiu, president of the Board of Supervisors, opened the floor for public comment on the Israel resolution, some 150 people rushed forward to get into line. Since no one can be denied an opportunity to speak, the public comment period ended up lasting more than four hours.

Those in support of the resolution offered claims that Israel’s blockade of Gaza perpetuates inhumane living conditions for Palestinians. One woman referred to Gaza as “the world’s largest concentration camp.”

In contrast, those speaking against the resolution focused on how the issues were too complex and too divisive and that the resolution was too one-sided. Several people said they felt the resolution delegitimized Israel, ignored the country’s right to protect itself and completely ignored the culpability of Hamas.

“People are saying that this resolution is divisive,” Avalos said while snacking on a sandwich in the press area, “but Palestinian Americans are divided from their families — that’s divisive.”

Many speakers pointed out that it was inappropriate for a city government to consider such a resolution, especially before Israel completes its own investigation into the incident.

“I’m puzzled as to why we are here,” said Roberta Zucker of Tiburon, area coordinator for Stand With Us/San Francisco Voice for Israel. “This resolution has no place in a board of supervisors meeting. It divides our community and damages the name of our city.”

Rabbi Ryan Bauer, an assistant rabbi at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El,  similarly pointed out that “the resolution is frivolous at a time when education and economy are such major issues.”

A number of Jewish communal leaders spoke in front of the board, including Mervyn Danker, regional director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Doug Kahn, director of JCRC; Howard Epstein, chairman of the Northern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition; and Akiva Tor, Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest region.

“We must supervise the goods going into Gaza because if we allow unfettered access, it becomes an Iranian missile launch on our doorstep,” Tor said.

Dina Omar, a pro-Palestinian woman who spoke well after Tor, angrily called his use of the word “supervise” “one of the grossest euphemisms I have ever heard.”

A similar level of passion was exhibited by many of the night’s pro-Palestinian speakers, some who talked about their relatives in Gaza. One person said her mother was stopped at a checkpoint for 13 hours, and another said her friend was shot by Israeli soldiers while studying for a math test.

 But there was passion on both sides. “When the Palestinians spoke, the anger in their voices was palpable, just as it was for those who opposed the resolution for its one-sided prejudicial condemnation of Israel,” Porth said. “Both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered, but the resolution … did not put any responsibility on the Palestinians to help create a different situation on the ground that would foster an end to their poverty and despair.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.