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  • Autumn in the Bay

    On my last day in the Bay Area, I visited an Oakland farmer’s market where protestors have been weekly squaring off over Israel for years. At the appointed hour, both groups assumed their positions on opposite sides of Lake Park Avenue. On one side were about a half-dozen protestors affiliated with San Francisco Voice for Israel handing out flyers and holding Israeli flags. Across the street, about twice as many showed up for a silent vigil organized by Women in Black, an anti-occupation group. Everyone I spoke to, in both groups, was Jewish.
    When I asked if there had been attempts to initiate some cross-boulevard dialogue, the sentiment was the same on both sides: Sure, we’re willing, but those folks aren’t interested in talking. As I interviewed one of the few men standing with Women in Black, one of his colleagues rushed over to inform him I was from the "other side." I informed her I wasn’t on either side.
    This is the state of intra-Jewish dialogue here. Of the five young Jews who disrupted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the G.A. in New Orleans last month, two were from the Bay Area. They were part of a team of 14 activists brought to the G.A. by the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that has been vilified for its supposed self-hatred and alleged willingness to consort with Israel’s enemies.
    The situation has become so polarized and inflamed that several individuals informed me they feared for their physical safety. One of the JVP protesters in New Orleans, Rae Abileah, was placed in a headlock by another member of the audience. In May, the Berkeley home of Tikkun magazine editor Rabbi Michael Lerner was vandalized. And last month, in an apparent response to the disruption in New Orleans, several activists with ties to the pro-Israel group Stand With Us interrupted a JVP meeting in Berkeley (they insisted they were acting on their own). One of the activists deployed pepper spray against a JVP member, though the exact circumstances of the action are in dispute. More ▸