The Bay Area is bracing for two provocative rallies this weekend. In the guise of trumpeting free speech, they are in fact likely to condone a message of hatred and bigotry that could very well lead to violence.
The National Park Service has approved a permit for a Patriot Prayer “freedom rally” on Saturday, Aug. 26 that is anticipated to bring 400 followers to San Francisco’s Crissy Field. And on Sunday, Aug. 27, the group “No to Marxism in America” plans to hold a rally at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
These are the types of events that attract white nationalists, alt-righters, haters and a bunch of other not-good characters. And while organizers of Patriot Prayer in particular disavow these labels, their protestations are disingenuous, for their rally is a direct provocation and not about any kind of freedom we can support.
The question before us, as Jews and as a Jewish community, is this: How should we respond? Should we put our bodies on the line and march with the counterprotests planned for both days? Or should we refuse to give these provocateurs the attention they crave and instead attend one of several alternative gatherings, some being held in synagogues, that aim to bring together the interfaith community for song, prayer and celebrations of inclusivity?
Both options are being put forward by our rabbis and community leaders. Some plan to join Sunday’s “Bay Area Rally Against Hate” in Berkeley, scheduled a few hours before and just blocks away from the alt-right gathering. Others are heeding the advice of the larger Jewish communal organizations, including the ADL, JCRC and both Federations, which are urging people to stay away from the rallies and head for the Jewish-organized gatherings instead.
What is not an option is to do nothing. This is too important. The normalization of hatred, bigotry and, yes, anti-Semitism, that has been unleashed in this country threatens everything we hold dear.
And it travels. The same hatred that animated the young man in Charlottesville, Virginia, to drive into a crowd of counterprotesters, with deadly results, surfaced last week in Alameda, where an unknown assailant threw rocks through the windows of classrooms at Temple Israel. The windows had images of Stars of David, drawn by children in the religious school.
So this weekend, do not stand aside or stay quiet. Stand up, stand with bravery and love. Say no to hate. And say it together.