Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El blows a shofar at a Sept. 10 rally for Israeli democracy in San Francisco organized by the Israeli expat group UnXeptable. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)
Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El blows a shofar at a Sept. 10 rally for Israeli democracy in San Francisco organized by the Israeli expat group UnXeptable. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)

A major Jewish-led protest will greet Netanyahu in the Bay Area next week

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Updated Sept. 13 at 10:05 a.m.

A major Jewish-led protest is planned for Monday in the Bay Area, as opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come out in droves to “meet him anywhere that he will be,” one leader said. Netanyahu plans to land in the San Francisco region in the morning for a daylong trip before heading to New York City, according to an itinerary his office shared with journalists. Netanyahu will land in San Jose, according to multiple media reports.

The policies of the Netanyahu administration, particularly its treatment of Palestinians, are broadly unpopular among Bay Area Jews. According to a 2022 survey facilitated by the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, only about one-third of respondents said they are “generally comfortable with the Israeli government’s policies related to Palestinians.” 

Netanyahu’s acceptance of far-right nationalist parties into his governing coalition in late 2022 and his efforts this year to weaken the judiciary have supercharged grassroots opposition locally. 

In a rare step, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, which usually stays neutral on Israeli politics, issued a public statement in February expressing “concern” about the direction of the government, stating its support for “strong liberal democracy” in Israel and directing philanthropy and community engagement accordingly. The statement was jointly signed by JCRC Bay Area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on April 10, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Tomer Neuberg-Flash 90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on April 10, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Tomer Neuberg-Flash 90)

The protest is being organized by UnXeptable, an Israeli expat-led grassroots organization that initially formed in the Bay Area but has since expanded across the country and to cities outside the U.S. 

UnXeptable’s mission is to “call on world Jewry to come together and preserve the democratic identity of Israel as the home of all Jewish people,” according to its website. The group recently partnered with the nonprofit America-Israel Democracy Coalition, which has enabled it to accept tax-deductible donations.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives in San Francisco on September 18th for one day (maybe less),” a Facebook event page says. “FREE UP YOUR CALENDARS, all hands on deck!!! Lovers of a free and Jewish democratic State of Israel will be coming from all over. It will be the largest demonstration we have ever had on the West Coast !!!”

Netanyahu’s actions have been “shameful for Israel and shameful for the expat community,” Offir Gutelzon, UnXeptable’s founder, told J. 

Gutelzon said that a WhatsApp group he notified about the protest has 3,000 members. He is also reaching out to congregational rabbis across the Bay Area, hoping they will share information about the protest with their congregations as Rosh Hashanah approaches this weekend.

Offir Gutelzon, one of the local Israeli organizers of UnXeptable, holds up a microphone while Rabbi Michael Walden blows a shofar at a protest. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)
Offir Gutelzon, one of the local Israeli organizers of UnXeptable, holds up a microphone while Rabbi Michael Walden blows a shofar at a protest. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)

“The message we are sending is the same one as Martin Luther King,” Gutelzon said about the American civil rights leader. “Pray with your feet.”

Netanyahu will meet with Silicon Valley leaders in the field of artificial intelligence, according to media reports. The prime minister has high hopes for AI in Israel, tweeting in June that he would like to match his country’s success in the tech world and become a “powerhouse” for AI too.

According to reports, Netanyahu also plans to meet with Elon Musk, though the meeting has not been confirmed by the prime minister’s office.

The two men have spoken before. Earlier this summer they shared a phone conversation; afterward Netanyahu praised Musk, tweeting his “genius & impact on humanity are formidable.” 

The rumored meeting with Musk has drawn sharp criticism from members of the American Jewish community. Opponents of Musk, the unpredictable and headline-grabbing CEO of X (formerly Twitter), Tesla and neurotechnology company Neuralink, point to past behavior that has been perceived as amplifying antisemitic tropes or remaining indifferent to antisemitism.


RELATED: Anti-Israel graffiti scrawled on Cupertino bridge that hosted Israeli pro-democracy protest


Earlier this month, Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, the country’s oldest nonprofit dedicated to fighting antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, claiming it is “trying to kill” his social media platform and had “almost succeeded” in doing so.

The ADL has called national attention to Musk weakening content-moderation on the platform, leading to increased hate speech. Advertisers have pulled their dollars in large numbers since Musk bought the company last year. 

In the midst of that controversy, Musk popularized the hashtag #BanTheADL, a slogan that subsequently was championed by white supremacist and antisemitic groups, including the notorious Goyim Defense League, whose name and logo are a parody of the ADL’s.

Musk also drew criticism earlier this year for saying that Holocaust survivor George Soros “hates humanity,” “wants to erode the fabric of civilization” and “reminds me of Magneto,” the Jewish supervillain from the X-Men franchise. Critics said the statements echoed antisemitic tropes about nefarious Jewish global control.

Musk tweeted on Sept. 4 that while he is “pro free speech” he is “against anti-Semitism of any kind.”

“No one should allow this meeting,” tweeted Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It would “give cover to Musk’s explicit engagement in and embrace of antisemitism,” she wrote.

The Israeli Consulate based in San Francisco would not confirm Netanyahu’s itinerary, only saying via a spokesperson that the prime minister will visit the area. Two years ago, Netanyahu was photographed wearing a mask while waiting alongside a mess of luggage at the San Francisco International Airport. 

The Israeli leader is visiting the U.S. for the first time since returning to office in late December. After stopping in the Bay Area he will fly to New York, his itinerary states, where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly and deliver a speech.

UnXeptable's Sept. 10 rally in San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)
UnXeptable’s Sept. 10 rally for Israel democracy in San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)

Joining Israeli expats, scores of American-born Bay Area Jews have protested across the region in recent months, often with the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. Rabbis and other Bay Area Jewish community leaders have been among the pro-democracy protesters. 

Jonathan Singer, senior rabbi at San Francisco’s largest synagogue, Reform Congregation Emanu-El, told J. that he had attended a previous protest in the city. But he said he could not share on the record whether he will be attending Monday.

“Our community feels very strongly that the direction of a government which has extremist tendencies is a dangerous government. And it needs to change its direction,” Singer said, adding that Israel will be on his mind this weekend during Rosh Hashanah.

“He’s got a lot of teshuvah to do right now,” Singer said of Netanyahu and repentance. “Maybe that’s why he’s coming.”

Update: This story was updated to reflect that Netanyahu plans to land in San Jose, according to media reports.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.