(IsraelNN.com) The first anniversary marking Operation Cast Lead, this week saw a surge of anti-Israel demonstrations – often billed as “Gaza Freedom Marches” – taking place throughout the Arab and Western worlds. But one rally in San Francisco, a city infamous for political activism hostile to the Jewish state, was met with an unexpectedly assertive Zionist counter-protest.
San Francisco Voice for Israel, a local pro-Israel group affiliated with the StandWithUs organization, has since 2004 been publically confronting what the group terms “anti-Israel hate speech” in the California Bay Area. Taking no position on Israel’s borders or on the fate of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, SFV4I attempts to present Israel as a Western democracy closely allied to the United States. To that end, the group holds regular counter demonstrations – often featuring American flags alongside Israeli ones – across from more belligerent and sometimes violent anti-Israel forces.
Opposite SFV4I this week at San Francisco’s crowded Union Square were Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!), International Solidarity Movement (ISM) of Northern California, Code Pink, Women in Black and a number or other organizations hostile to Jewish statehood that normally succeed in broadcasting their message of “Israeli atrocities and racism” much louder and more aggressively than the StandWithUs affiliate.
But this week the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA) of Northern California, a new factor in the Bay Area Jewish scene with a much younger membership than other pro-Israel groups, joined SFV4I and for the first time succeeded in turning the tables on the anti-Israel demonstrators. Rather than talk about Israeli democracy, the Alliance assertively pushed a message of Jewish national rights to all territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Caught off balance by the unapologetic and forceful Zionist message, anti-Israel activists, although employing their familiar tactic of presenting Israeli policies in a negative light, found themselves unable to challenge the assertion of Jewish rights.
ZFA’s message was not only directed against the anti-Israel protestors across the square but also against the Barack Obama administration in Washington and its pressure on Israel to freeze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. And while many of SFV4I’s members were visibly appreciative of the fresh and proudly Zionist message put forward by the younger ZFA activists, the organization’s leadership was initially apprehensive about working together.
“Our position is simple,” said Michael Harris of SFV4I. “We stand in support of a Jewish democratic state of Israel. We take no position on issues such as settlements, various peace proposals including final borders, et cetera, as those are for the elected government of Israel to decide... [However] some of ZFA’s positions are in direct opposition to the policies of all of the recent governments of Israel and that can confuse people who don't understand the issue very well.”
The more conservative SFV4I organizers were initially concerned that the Alliance was going to “hijack” their event and told Israel National News that they will not allow their “events [to be] taken over by those who want to push a particular political agenda.” But once it became clear how effective ZFA activists were in cowing their anti-Israel opponents while at the same time educating passersby to the justice of Jewish rights, SFV4I became more appreciative and welcoming to the new group.
ZFA leader Yehuda Katz, who reportedly also organized his activists to act as security guards to the older SFV4I demonstrators, told INN that when he learned that the anti-Israel event would be taking place in a part of the city with heavy pedestrian traffic and slow moving cars, his team quickly prepared materials and organized their activists for a counter-protest. “The Zionist Freedom Alliance opposes all forms of racism and bigotry, whether directed against Arabs, Jews or anyone else. Right now we see two forms of discrimination directed against our people so we go out and protest. On a local level here in San Francisco, people who call themselves progressive are constantly trying to delegitimize the rights of the Jewish people to sovereignty in our homeland. And on a larger scale, the government of this country is pressuring the government of Israel to prevent Jews from building in Israel’s heartland simply because they’re Jews. We can’t sit still in the face of injustice so we go out and give a voice to the voiceless Jews of Judea and Samaria.”
When asked how they connect their message of Jewish national rights to the anti-Israel protestors’ specific focus on last year’s war in Gaza, Katz said that if not for the expulsion of Jews from the Gaza region there would have been no need for a war. “The war was a direct result of the forced expulsion of Jews from their homes in Gush Katif. If not for that tragic crime, both Jews and Arabs would be living better lives in Gaza right now.”