“It’s hard to be standing against so many people,” said BHS student Lev Teiblum (center), seen here with his father (right) Mati Teiblum and BHS parent Paul Sas (left). (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
“It’s hard to be standing against so many people,” said BHS student Lev Teiblum (center), seen here with his father (right) Mati Teiblum and BHS parent Paul Sas (left). (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

At Berkeley High walkout, lone pro-Israel protester makes dad ‘proud’

A lone Berkeley High School student stood holding an Israeli flag Wednesday morning while roughly 150 of his classmates stood opposite him during a rally in a city park next to campus.

The rally was one of a handful of student demonstrations in the Bay Area coinciding with the “National Student Walkout for Gaza” organized by the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center. Stridently critical of Israel, AROC leads boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts across the Bay Area and blames Israel for “for all unfolding violence we’ve witnessed across historic Palestine,” including the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel.

Promotional materials for the walkout falsely claimed that Israel is committing “mass genocide of the Palestinian people” and included a now-contradicted report that Israel was responsible for Tuesday’s explosion at a Gaza hospital that enraged the Arab world.

Lev Teiblum, a senior at Berkeley High, stood with his father and one other counterprotester.

“I just wanted to stand with my dad, who’s from Israel,” Lev said. “That country means a lot to me. Most of my family is from there.”

Wearing a bucket hat and flip-flops, Lev quietly held the Israeli flag with his father, Mati Teiblum, and Paul Sas, another Berkeley High parent. They stood about 15 feet behind the Palestinian rally leaders.

“Allowing my children, this community to just stay silent in the face of this hypocrisy and misinformation — I cannot accept that,” Mati Teiblum said.

A walkout at Berkeley High School on Oct. 18. It was sponsored by anti-Israel group AROC. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

The walkout was not school-sanctioned, and absences were recorded as “unexcused,” according to an email sent Wednesday to parents from Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel. But “because Berkeley Unified has a long tradition of students peacefully exercising their right to free speech,” the email added, teachers were “prepared” for the walkout.

Some adults attended the pro-Palestinian rally, in what appeared to be a supervisory role.

At the event, which lasted about 30 minutes, students chanted “Free Palestine!” “Stop bombing Gaza!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Students then walked to the UC Berkeley campus, before returning to class around 11:30 a.m.

Mati, who served in the Israel Defense Forces, described himself — like the protesters — as “pro-Palestine.” Before the Oct. 7 massacre, he attended rallies in support of Israeli democracy wearing an “anti-occupation” T-shirt, opposing the occupation of the West Bank.

“Let me be clear, I’m all for Palestinians being free and safe — and independent if that is what they want,” he said.

“These young adults have been chanting ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ under the banner of AROC, an organization that states exactly that. No state of Israel,” Mati said. “That — I’m not willing to accept. And that’s why I’m here with the flag.”

Some people not involved in the main protest slung insults at the three counterdemonstrators. At one point, two young people strode through Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and one shouted, “F**k Zionists!” At another point, a man walked by the pro-Israel contingent and said in a low voice, “The worst of America.”

Lev’s trio didn’t respond.

Lev said there are other Berkeley High students who are “pro-Israel” but chose not to walk out and attend the counterprotest. BHS has a student body of approximately 3,000.

“It’s hard to be standing against so many people,” he said.

Mati said he feels proud of Lev, whose voice quaked slightly while speaking with J. After the interview, the two embraced.

“I’m proud of Lev 24/7,” Mati said, “from the moment he was born and every single moment thereafter.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

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