The Jewish community as a whole needs to start getting a grip on the insane zealotry inherent in lock-step support of Israel.
As someone who was raised in an orthodox community which supports settlements, anti-Arab racism and the sort of awful tendencies that have gained so much more prominence in both Israel and the American Jewish community in recent years, I also understand that the violence reported below, directed at two personal friends of mine whom I know to be non-violent, is not typical of most supporters of Israeli policies.
But it is also the inevitable result of zealous nationalism, a force which not only leads so many Jews to support massive human rights violations by Israel but also to a growing split in our community between those who are willing to have a rational discussion about Israel (a group which includes many pro-Israel voices, ranging from supportive but critical ones like mine to others who believe that Israel is usually right but that discussion should remain free) and those who display the fanaticism that extremist nationalism so often produces.
And, while it’s true that criminal extremists like those who attacked my friends in Berkeley are the exception, they are also always to be found when people condone fanatic ideas and excuse behavior we would otherwise condemn because we identify in some way with the perpetrators. Sadly, that describes too much support of Israel, something that certainly need not be.
One can also make the point that criticism of Israel, crucial of course for the rights of Palestinians, is critical today more than ever as Israeli policies and actions lead it to the precipice of national suicide. But for the sake of the Jewish future, we must, in any case, confront the zealous lunacy that support for Israel has become in some quarters. We should, most of us, be able to band together for that.
If any readers would like to express solidarity or support for Alexei Folger or Glen Hauer, the two JVP members who were assaulted yesterday, send me a message using the contact form here and I will pass it along to them.
Right-wing Israel advocacy group San Francisco Voice for Israel/ StandWithUs
Member Pepper Sprays Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) members
at Bay Area JVP Chapter Meeting. Wraps self in Israeli flag.
Group well known in Bay Area for harassing and intimidating peace activists
Jesse Bacon 215-298-3923
Dana Bergen 510-854-6761
[Oakland, CA November 15, 2010] Last night, up to a dozen members of San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs, a right-wing Israeli advocacy group with a documented track record of aggressively taunting and intimidating grassroots peace activists, attended a Bay Area Jewish Voice for Peace community meeting at a South Berkeley Senior Center with the intention of disrupting, intimidating and possibly assaulting Jewish Voice for Peace members. Jewish Voice for Peace is the largest U.S. Jewish peace group dedicated to a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on democracy and full equality — the Bay Area chapter is the founding chapter of the organization. Approximately 50 to 60 people were at the meeting, and numerous witnesses are available to corroborate the events.
Watch video of some of the disruptions and the victims and perpetrator of attack here.
Eyewitness testimonies are here and here.
Wrapped in an Israeli flag, San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs (SFVI/SWU) member Robin Dubner, an Oakland based attorney, pepper-sprayed two JVP members in the eyes and face after they attempted to nonviolently block her ability to aggressively videotape the faces of JVP meeting attendees against their will. The members, Alexei Folger and Glen Hauer, were careful to make no physical contact with her or her camera prior to the attack.
Folger said, “I did not see it coming and all of a sudden there was gooey stuff all over my head and hand. I have never been pepper-sprayed before, my whole head felt like it was on fire.”
JVP had earlier this year filed a police report about a June SFVI/SWU protest at which JVP and (peace group) Women in Black members were intimidatingly videotaped and threatened by a StandWithUs supporter after being taunted with chants like “Nazi, Nazi, Nazi” or “Kapo,Kapo,Kapo”. Caught on a widely seen videotape was a SFVI/SWU supporter pointing his camera to the faces of silent peace vigil participants while saying “You’re all being identified, every last one of you…we will find out where you live. We’re going to make your lives difficult. We will disrupt your families…”
For that reason, JVP members were particularly concerned about protecting the safety of meeting attendees and preventing the videotaping.
Hauer, a retired attorney and member of San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’har Zahav who was treated for pepper spray explained, ”When one of the intruders [Dubner] continued standing and filming people despite the facilitator and facility manager repeatedly telling her that she could not, I first asked her politely to please put away the video camera, then several times told her to put away the camera, and then tried nonviolently to stay in front of the camera with my body. I could have taken the camera but decided instead to talk to the woman and to try to be the only person she photographed.”
Hauer, who also leads groups on healing from WWII & the Holocaust, and speaks to churches about anti-Semitism as it relates to the movement for peace in the Middle East, went on:
“In my mind was the history targeting of Jewish peace activists by the right wing of the Jewish community–the posting of our photos on internet hate sites, for example, followed by acts of vandalism at our homes and places of work. There were many in the room for whom I care deeply. I could also see that many at the meeting were new to the work we were doing, and I did not want them to be scared away.”
Dubner was accompanied by up to a dozen other StandWithUs members–including Susan Meyers, Mike Harris, Bea Lieberman, Faith Meltzer, and Ross Meltzer–who repeatedly disrupted and aggressively videotaped the JVP meeting and JVP members against their will, wielding the cameras in an intimidating and belligerent manner. Despite repeated requests from the JVP meeting facilitator and other JVP activists to desist from recording and put away their videocameras, the SFVI/SWU activists – who had spread themselves throughout the room – continued to record and launch lengthy monologues while the presenters attempted to speak.
They were explicitly invited by the JVP facilitator to stay in the meeting and participate without videotaping but they refused. They also refused offers for floor time by the presenters. The manager of the facility asked the SFVI/SWU members to abide by JVP’s rules or face the police, and when SFVI/SWU refused to comply with JVP’s protocol, the police were called.
At one point, JVP members and presenters worked to restore calm and de-escalate by singing the Hebrew peace song, Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Peace will come to us) while waiting for the police to arrive. Most meeting attendees did not know until later that 2 people had been attacked with pepper spray.
When police arrived, Dubner was temporarily placed in handcuffs while other members of San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs remained inside the meeting blowing loud whistles, using videocameras to intimidate meeting attendees.
Dubner refused repeated requests by JVP members or the police to identify the substance she sprayed. A police officer later identified it as pepper spray and paramedics were called to help treat the victims of the attack. One of them, Alexei Folger, looked visibly red and swollen, as though she had been burned on more than half her face.
Immediately following the attack, Ms. Folger, not knowing the nature of the substance on her face, rubbed some of it on Ms. Dubner’s shirtsleeve at which point the physically powerful Ms.Dubner, who also wore a pen videocamera in her shirt pocket, started physically shoving the petite Ms. Folger. A Jewish Voice for Peace staff member stood between them to prevent further escalation or physical contact between Ms Dubner and the shocked and injured Ms. Folger.
This deliberate confrontation is part of a pattern of escalating intimidation and attacks against peace activists in the Bay Area. Earlier this year, the home of Tikkun Magazine editor Michael Lerner was covered in threatening posters. In addition to the videotaped harassment of Women in Black and JVP members, several months ago someone grafiited outside of the JVP offices “Jewish Voices for Palestine: Viva Barch Goldstein”