A group of Israelis who live in the Bay Area gathered at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Feb. 5 to denounce Israel's new far-right government. (Photo/Lillian Ilsley-Greene)
A group of Israelis who live in the Bay Area gathered at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Feb. 5 to denounce Israel's new far-right government. (Photo/Lillian Ilsley-Greene)

At S.F. rally, Israeli expats raise voices against new far-right government back home

Corrected Feb. 9: The size of the crowd has updated.

With the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, more than 100 Israeli expats and other Bay Area Jews gathered on Feb 5. to protest an overhaul of the Israeli judicial system proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government.

Cries in Hebrew of “Democracy!” (“Demokratiyah!”) filled the air as Offir Gutelzon, a Palo Alto tech executive and founder of UnXeptable, a grassroots movement to support Israeli democracy, spoke to the crowd.

“Now is the time we all need to do everything we can to save Israel from being destroyed,” Gutelzon said.

The protest was part of a chain of demonstrations in nine North American cities supporting Israelis in their fifth consecutive week rallying against the government’s plans to reform the High Court. The changes proposed by Netanyahu and allies would greatly increase government control over the courts, allowing a majority of Knesset members to override any court rulings.

Gutelzon said the goal of Sunday’s gathering in San Francisco was to show solidarity with the protesters in Israel and raise American awareness. Many of the demonstrations have been organized by UnXeptable, which Gutzelzon and others formed in 2020 after Netanyahu was re-elected.

RELATED: ‘No Freedom, No Hi-Tech’: This right-wing Knesset puts Israel’s tech sector in peril

On Sunday, supporters gathered next to the pier at Crissy Field, waving Israeli flags and carrying homemade signs. “Uncorrupted leaders matter,” one read. “Democracy in Israel,” stated another. Young children weaved in and out of the crowd as speakers took to the mic to voice their concerns about the future of the Jewish state.

“The government wants to virtually eliminate judicial review of Knesset legislation,” said Dan Simon, professor of law and psychology at USC Gould School of Law. “You know who’s going to be on the wrong end of that? It’s going to be women, minorities, Arabs, members of the LGBTQ community, asylum seekers.”

At his turn to speak, Guy Horowitz, a venture capitalist in Menlo Park, addressed concerns that the proposed judicial reforms would negatively impact foreign investment in Israel, particularly in the tech field. Companies have already begun to pull funding from the country for fear changes in the Israeli government will jeopardize their investments, Horowitz said.

“We’re here to show everyone who’s looking, investors from all over the world who want to participate in this miracle, that we’re not going to let Israel deteriorate into volatility,” Horowitz said.

Shimrit Braun Kamin, associate director of the New Israel Fund, an NGO supporting social justice and equality in Israel, came to the event fresh off a visit to Israel where she attended a protest in Tel Aviv. She was moved by how people from different backgrounds participated, she said.

“We need to make sure we continue to fight and support the protesting in Israel, so they know that they’re not alone,” Kamin told the crowd.

Between speeches, the group took time to sing songs in Hebrew, chat with friends and eat snacks that included dried fruit and babka made by Gutelzon. They sang “Kol Ha’olam Kulo,”  a song whose lyrics were inspired by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.”

Protesters came from across the Bay Area. Palo Alto resident Tzippi Zach did the 45-minute drive for the event (that’s nothing compared to the 14-hour flight to Israel, she said). Zach has lived in the Bay Area for 27 years but goes back to Israel every six months.

She held a sign that read: “All of Israel Is Responsible for One Another,” a translation of the Talmudic maxim “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.”

“Our heart is broken from what’s going on in Israel,” Zach said. “I felt like we need to raise our voices, both in protest of what’s going on and even more than that, in support of our friends who are fighting for democracy.”

The next UnXeptable rally in the Bay Area will be in Sunnyvale on Feb. 11.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.