After making a splash in the pro-Palestinian stronghold of Berkeley the weekend before, members of San Francisco Voice for Israel (SFV4I) and ProtestWarrior.com returned to their usual San Francisco stomping grounds for the latest round of pro-Israel activism. On Saturday, October 2, around 40 of them gathered across the street from the Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission District to protest a conference being held on the premises.
Hosted by the Justice in Palestine Coalition, the conference was titled, ''The Struggle for Palestine: 4th Anniversary of the Intifada.'' Sponsors included International A.N.S.W.E.R., the ADC (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee), the ISM (International Solidarity Movement), Al-Awda, SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Taxpayer Support Against Israel Now), Jews for a Free Palestine, and QUIT (Queers Undermining the Occupation). Along with commemorating the death and destruction that has resulted from the Palestinian Intifada, organizers expressed an interest in making ''links with others who are fighting against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.'' Apparently, killing U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, beheading civilians, and blowing up women and children in suicide bombings are par for the course for these people. After all, they support such activities when perpetuated by Palestinians against Israelis.
No doubt expecting opposition, organizers had arranged for their own demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the school. Around 50 of them faced off the pro-Israel counter-protesters with an ocean of Palestinian flags and the ever-present A.N.S.W.E.R. banner, complete with socialist slogans. At the end of the block each group held a corner, holding signs towards the street for optimal viewing and waving flags.
With an information table, Israeli and American flags by the dozen, and tons of professional-looking signs, the pro-Israel forces were well prepared. Local news reporters conducted interviews, including one with writer and activist Lee Kaplan, whose detailed article on the conference came out the day before at FrontPageMag.com. He and several others tried to get into the conference, citing legal precedent, but to no avail. Despite the fact that it was billed as a ''public forum,'' the goons at the entrance managed to justify keeping ''outsiders'' outside. One has to wonder what exactly they were trying to hide by restricting access? Eventually the SFPD was called in, but they sided with the conference organizers, telling the others to move off the sidewalk in front of the building. Look for the same people the police protected to allege ''police brutality'' on their websites before the week is out.
Of all the debates and discussions that went on throughout the morning, one of the most interesting was an exchange between two liberal Jewish women (members of Tikkun) and a young Palestinian man and member of the right-leaning ProtestWarrior.com. Seeing Jews attempt to argue the pro-Palestinian position with a Palestinian effectively arguing the pro-Israel position, was a surreal sight indeed.
At the same time, there was a fair amount of support from neighborhood residents and passersby. Two Hispanic women with bibles in hand stopped to express their support for Israel, saying ''God bless you,'' and as always, pro-Israel folks got lots of honks and thumbs-up from people driving by. One man yelled out his car window, ''Long live Israel!''
Despite the successful protest, many in the community are still outraged at the use of taxpayer-funded public school grounds for a political event of this nature. Conference organizers did mislead the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) by describing the event simply as an ''Educational Forum on the Middle East'' on the application form. But considering all the information available on the extremist groups involved in the conference, this is hardly a valid excuse. San Francisco Board of Education president Dan Kelly was hit with a ton of e-mails objecting to the conference, but he fell back on the ''we have to treat everyone equally'' cop-out. When one correspondent asked sarcastically if that would extend to hosting a Klu Klux Klan meeting in the future, Kelly agreed!
But after the outcry over this event and the attendant bad publicity, perhaps the SFUSD will think twice next time about hosting a conference of terrorist sympathizers. And if not, pro-Israel and pro-American protesters will be there to remind them.
Cinnamon Stillwell is contributing editor to ChronWatch and lives in San Francisco. Cinnamon receives e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.