Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Tuesday's demonstration at San Francisco's Israeli Consulate General was hastily called (by Code Pink), precipitated by the physical sabotage and legal wrangling deployed by Israel against the boats of the Gaza Flotilla detained in Greek ports.  For my part, I was even more outraged by our State Department's warnings, not to the Israelis who might use violence against the boats, but to the Americans on cease and desist.

Arriving at the consulate about five, we were two, maybe three dozen, a similar number of Israel supporters on the other side of the consulate entrance.  They had a megaphone (which we did not) and sang a few songs in Hebrew.  Across the street, a police officer watched from his car and, on the corner, a familiar, nattily-suited skinhead – probably Mossad.

I brought my Palestinian flag and there were a few others, one large sign, and some small "Free Gaza" and "Let the Boats Sail" signs.  I had toyed with bringing my large "Episcopalians for Peace" sign and, in retrospect was glad I hadn't.  It takes two Episcopalians to hold it.  I made it a point, however, to wear my clerical garb.

Already by 5:30 we were running out of flyers.  Nancy McFarlane took my flag to wave, while I went to a Fed Ex a block away, returning with 200 more flyers, most of which were handed out before we dispersed.

The response of passersby and those in cars was quite positive.  More than one pedestrian said "I'm glad you're here," as he or she accepted the flyer.  And there were plenty of honking horns, "V" signs, and thumbs up from passing drivers.  One has the impression that the narrative has changed.  The Palestinian story is getting through.

On the negative side, the pro-Israeli group was aggressive and combative and frankly full of hate they were all too willing to share, as they mingled in with our group, seeking to provoke untoward reactions and taking pictures right and left.  Their main themes seemed to be "You're anti-Semites" and - one directed to me over and over - "Jesus was a Jew."  My responses varied - from "Yes, that he was, but, oh, so much more" to "I don't think God has a denomination."  Adding to the latter once a reference to Desmond Tutu's new book God Is Not a Christian, I was greeted with the retort "Oh that guy, a notorious anti-Semite."

I asked more than one of the pro-Israeli demonstrators to stay with their group on the south side of aqn invisible line in the interest of a peaceful evening and suggested to the police officer that he keep the two groups apart.  He finally intervened when some of the pro-Israeli crowd drifted back into our midst, chalking over the chalked slogan our members had written on the sidewalk.

Though I met one civil and very pleasant pro-Israeli demonstrator (She wanted me to know her name was Robin.), their generally pugnacious behavior was a real turn-off, causing me to question the utility of any further attempts at dialogue.  As I was leaving, I ran into a "friend" from social justice marches with CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), a black female rabbi.  Addressing her with a smile as "Rabbi," I gave her a hug amidst the blue and white flags, my Palestinian flag still in one hand.  She rebuffed me with a look that was a cross between disgust and contempt.  It hurt.

The contempt, however, was unalloyed in the attitudes of the three people I encountered at the entrance to the consulate – a man, a woman, and a twenty-something who appeared to be the woman's daughter.  Pointing angrily at the olive-wood cross around my neck, the woman snarled "What does that say?  'Jesus, Lord?'  Don't you know Jesus was a Jew?"  At which point, the man turned on me, raising his voice "You couldn't wear that in Palestine.  You'd be killed!"  I responded simply, "I bought it in Palestine…in March," and then attempted to educate the three of them about the fact that there are many thousands of Palestinian Christians.  The woman, her flag draped over her shoulders like a prayer shawl, would have none of it.  She interrupted "I can't tell.  Are you a man or a woman?"  End of conversation.  Returning her smirk with my own silent and unworthy look of contempt, I walked away in guilt and sadness to fight the sprouting seeds of anti-Semitism.    

I don't like how that feels and know I must keep fighting.  I will, but, God, Israel is making it hard…for me and for Jews, my sisters, brothers, friends.

1 comment:


    Maybe the people on the other side have also had a bit too much of bad behavior from your side. After having dozens of flags stolen and burnt, and having our participants assaulted and terrorized, maybe we too question the utility of further dialog.

    But then we need to ask ourselves- if we can't find common ground here for dialog and understanding, then how will it ever be possible to find it in the Middle east?