Protesters critical of Israel ramp things up locally

Bay Area groups critical of Israel have ramped up their public profile in the past two weeks, initiating street protests, placing posters in BART stations and staging a demonstration that led to seven arrests.

On Dec. 13, while AIPAC Northern California held its annual East Bay membership dinner at the Oakland Marriott City Center, a group of activists from varying left-wing organizations performed a routine in the lobby of the hotel’s convention center.

Using the Pink Floyd tune “Another Brick in the Wall,” the protesters changed the lyrics to reflect the group’s message that Israel is occupying Gaza.

One of the advertisement posters hanging in three BART stations: Berkeley, Oakland–12th Street and San Francisco–Civic Center.

Seven people were arrested, charged with trespassing and released in the morning after a night in jail, according to witness Rae Abileah, a member of Code Pink, an anti-war group composed mainly of women.

Additional protesters critical of Israel (from Code Pink and several other outfits, such as American Friends Service Committee) gathered on the sidewalk outside the hotel, as did pro-Israel counterprotesters from StandWithUs/S.F. Voice For Israel.

A block away, at the 12th Street BART station in downtown Oakland, advertisement posters stating “End U.S. military aid to Israel” are on display as part of a new campaign launched by the Northern California Friends of Sabeel, which paid for the ads.

The Bay Area–based group supports the aims of Sabeel, a non-Jewish group in Israel that claims “solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Co-sponsors of the ad campaign include the local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine.

“It’s very important to change the conversation,” said JVP member Cindy Shamban of Berkeley. “The conversation is so often pro-Israel versus anti-Israel, so everything else gets defined in those terms. The tagline ‘Two peoples, One future’ feels to us more real and is an important framework to how we can all start thinking differently about the conflict.”

The ads appear at two additional BART stations — Berkeley and Civic Center in San Francisco — and are slated to be up through the end of December.

“These posters make the claim that JVP is on the side of peace and justice,” said Yitzhak Santis, director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council’s Middle East Project. “When one of the partnering organizations is overtly anti-Semitic, it makes a mockery of the terms ‘peace’ and ‘justice.’ ”

Santis cited a Dec. 5 e-mail to members of the NorCal Friends of Sabeel, written by a member, that mentions “Palestine, Israel and the destructive role of the worldwide Zionist cabal.”

A protester is led away by police Dec. 13 at the Oakland Marriott City Center. photo/from youtube

Calling that statement “clearly anti-Semitic,” Santis referred to other examples of what he says are Sabeel’s “anti-Israel positions.” They include, he said, advocating for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and employing “theologically loaded language” influenced by Christian texts specifically directed against Jews.

Santis added that it’s up to JVP to “make up their mind about who they are and why they partner with [Sabeel].” 

“I call this ‘Jew-washing,’ ” Santis added. “JVP is offering itself as a Jewish shield to an overtly anti-Semitic organization. I have the evidence. If anyone wants to challenge me, I would love to have that discussion.”

Shamban said to her knowledge, this was the first time the Bay Area chapter of JVP partnered with the NorCal Friends of Sabeel on any campaign.

On Dec. 10, Shamban gathered with approximately 15 JVP members in front of the San Francisco office of TIAA-CREF as part of an ongoing campaign calling on the retirement planning giant to divest from businesses JVP says are profiting from Israel’s occupation of Gaza, specifically Caterpillar. According to JVP, the tractor manufacturer benefits from the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Other gatherings were staged at more than a dozen TIAA-CREF regional offices across the United States, including Palo Alto.

TIAA-CREF spokesman Brian Browdie offered this statement: “While we have a good dialogue with many stakeholders on this issue, we cannot agree to limit our investments in certain companies doing business in Israel.”

Amanda Pazornik