Israel in the Gardens 2008

San Francisco, June 1, 2008

"Israel in the Gardens" in an annual festival held in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens to commemorate Israel's independence day. It draws tens of thousands of visitors every year -- and is always a magnet for anti-Israel protests as well. This year's event marked Israel's 60th anniversary, so I decided to see for myself how it all would play out.

The festival was more crowded than even I expected. Thousands of people milled around, visited the numerous Israel- and Jewish-themed booths, had picnics on the lawn, ate Middle Eastern food, and watched an all-day concert of music, dance and comedy.

What's not to like?

Well, a lot, according to these people who had stationed themselves across the street. Members of the International Solidarity Movement and various Palestinian activist groups waved Palestinian and Lebanese flags, chanted anti-Israel chants, and asked the rhetorical question, "How can you celebrate?" (something as horrible as Israel, that is).

The leader of the anti-Israel protest (the bald guy seen here) negotiated with the police about what the protesters were and were not allowed to do. I had heard earlier reports that their original plan was to enter the festival itself, but the police advised this group to stay across the street, to prevent any "problems." The festival entrance can be seen in the background.

The police were wise to keep the bald guy and his followers a safe distance away, because (as this video by a contributor shows) they spent most of the day calling for Israel's destruction and praising the Intifada. Watch the video to hear one of their many anti-Israel chants; Here's an exact transcript:
Israel is a racist state!
Israel is a racist state!
Israel is a genocidal state!
Israel is a genocidal state!
Free free Palestine!
Free free Palestine!
Free free Palestine!
Free free Palestine!
Long live the Intifada!
Long live the Intifada!
Long live the Intifada!
Long live the Intifada!
Intifada Intifada!
Intifada Intifada!
Intifada Intifada!
Intifada Intifada!
After hearing that, ask yourself: Can there be any doubt about their desire to destroy Israel?

But that group of protesters was only half the story. Another coalition of anti-Israel groups was allowed to protest directly in front of the festival entrance itself, including Bay Area Women in Black, Jews for "Peace" and "Justice," "Jewish" "Voice" "for" "Peace," and similar far-left organizations. The difference between the two halves of the protest was this: If you overtly and aggressively called for Israel to be destroyed and for the Jews to be pushed into the sea, the rule was you had to stay across the street; but if you pretended to want the "peace" of the innocuous-sounding "one-state solution," and assumed the mantle of naivité (as if you didn't know full well that your "solution" was just a euphemism for the Palestinian takeover of Israel), well, then you were allowed to get closer, because you obviously must be harmless.

The Women in Black then unleashed their most fearsome weapon: giant humanoid puppets.

[photo by Dan K.]
But plenty of counter-protesters were there to greet them. My favorite was this young child who shadowed the leader of the parade, negating her sign with one of his own that said "Women in Black Distort the Facts."

[photo by Dan K.]
Some of their signs didn't even pretend to be political, and instead were specifically anti-Jewish or at least anti-Judaic, such as this one disparaging the uniqueness of the "chosen people" and denying any historical or religious connection between the Hebrews and Israel.

Here's a short video of peaceniks and puppets parading in a circle at the entrance to the festival. See how harmless they seem without the bloodthirsty chants? Much more subtle, much more effective.

But just in case, the police stood by and made sure none of them tried to sneak in.

The more melodramatic protesters across the street drew attention with two gigantic red balloons which floated aloft carrying a banner that read "No Peace in 60 Yrs of Israeli Apartheid." I think the original plan was to have this float directly over the festival, but the city nixed that idea.

[photo by Dan K.]
This guy's sign was actually pretty inflammatory if you paused to think about it, but I'm not entirely sure he even knew what he was advocating.

Eventually one of the more confrontational Palestinians violated protocol and crossed over to the festival side of the street, carrying a Palestinian flag and wearing a fashionable scarf of absolutely no political significance.

He walked back and forth in front of the Israel supporters, who had formed a long line to defend the festival from interlopers.

In general, the police allowed certain anti-Israel protesters to demonstrate directly in front of their opponents on the festival side of the street, but forbade the pro-Israel protesters from doing the reverse -- crossing to the other side of the street to directly protest against the Israel-deniers. Not sure what justification the police offered for this lopsided policy. These two videos from the protest documenting this policy were posted by YouTube user "bluetruth36."

The Jews also had to contend with a Christian street evangelist who stood there all day asking them to accept Jesus and become Christians. If it's not one thing, it's another.

So, what was going on inside the "Israel in the Gardens" festival that elicited such vitriol? Let's take a look.

Various kiosks and booths touted Israel's artistic, cultural and technological achievements, inlcuding the very effective "BlueStarPR" tent which had (among many others) this placard about Israel's solar power projects.

The vast majority of booths and tents at the festival were benign and altruistic: summer camps for kids, senior centers, charitable organizations, and so forth. But a few were the exact kind of thing that would have gotten the anti-Israel activists' blood boiling. Here are some examples...

A "Friends of the IDF" booth where people happily lent their financial and moral support to the genocidal Nazi death machine known as the Israel Defense Forces.

Flags, t-shirts, pins and brochures were eagerly snapped up.

Another bête noire of the left, AIPAC, were also on hand to announce triumphantly that they control the American government with their diabolical tentacles, since they are nothing but a front group for the Learned Elders of Zion.

The group that started the whole movement, the Zionist Organization of America (the first pro-Zionism group in the U.S., which spent decades in the first half of the 20th century successfully advocating for the creation of Israel) had one of the most popular tents.

Kids even wandered around with ZOA balloons.

Interestingly, StandWithUs, an umbrella organization of local in-the-trenches Israel advocacy groups, actually had a booth of their own, something I had never seen at any protest or event before.

Their local affiliate, San Francisco Voice for Israel, displayed a photo montage of scenes from earlier anti-Israel protests; to my astonishment, some of the photos (such as the two at either end of the bottom row in this picture) looked exceedingly familiar. Since members of San Francisco Voice for Israel were at that moment just a few yards away actively counter-protesting in front of the festival, perhaps one of the photos you see on this very page will end up displayed in next year's montage.

I think I'm starting to feel dizzy.

This was far and away my favorite t-shirt of the day. It's enough to make a left-wing peacenik have an apoplectic fit!

And the final, unbearable outrage: youngsters dancing to "Hava Nagila"! Can't you feel the hate just emanating from the stage?

Meanwhile, back out on the street, the anti-festival crowd displayed a sign (unfortunately blocked by a car) that simply said "Genocide."

"How can you celebrate?" indeed. Stop having fun, you Zionists! Stop being so positive!

And ever onward the giant puppets glided, silent, morose.

Please tell me I'm dreaming. No, it's real: for the third time in three consecutive protests, the same woman from Queers for Palestine showed up, as if haunting me. This time around she's preparing a faux Israeli military uniform, to go with the cardboard machine gun (seen on the ground) for an upcoming slanderous street theater which I fortunately missed.

Looks like some additional Q4P members must have been on hand as well to hold up their banner.

Look at the next three photos in a row: As you may have noticed from some of the earlier photos, many of the "harmless" protesters bore an unnerving resemblance to each other: sixty-ish women, short grey hair, pinched faces, oval glasses...

..and a malevolent look.

Was it just a coincidence? Or is there some anthropological explanation for why the members of a hate-fueled activist group all look the same?

[photo by Dan K.]
This ISM member had a crazed look about him, as ISM members usually do.

But even he couldn't compete against ISM leader Paul Larudee, who always seems to be smiling inappropriately, no matter what the situation. Notice the completely non-political fashion scarf he's wearing around his head as protection from the sun. It has no significance whatsoever.

Something about this guy just gives me the willies. I mean, aside from the fact that he provides material and logistical support to terrorists.

Yet more nearly-identical Bay Area Women in Black replicants: the same hair, the same glasses, the same face. I'm sorry, it's just weird.

After a while, some pro-Israel counter-protesters took to the sidewalks to neutralize the anti-Israel message. The girl in front apparently tried to talk some sense into the Israel-bashers -- with little success, I imagine.

Even when the "peaceniks" took a break, the face-off between the two opposing sides across the street from each other continued all afternoon.

Duelling narratives.

[photo by Dan K.]
Even the Deputy Consul General of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco, Ishmael Khaldi (who's a Bedouin Muslim), showed up to lend his support to the counter-protesters defending the festival. He's frowning to show his disapproval of the "Apartheid" sign behind him, which he has said in interviews is an untrue characterization of the situation in Israel.

This being Sunday, St. Patrick's Church directly behind the Palestinian protesters was holding services while all this was going on, and when the Catholic mass was over the congregants poured out, leading to an unexpected monotheistic convergence as Christians, Muslims and Jews all briefly mingled together.

[photo by Dan K.]
Prior to the festival, the protesters had spraypainted anti-Israel graffiti all around Yerba Buena. This one, for example, depicted Palestinian hijacker/communist/politician Leila Khaled.

[photo by Dan K.]
But this only ended up causing more problems for city clean-up crews, who had to work overtime on a Sunday to scrub away all the paint.

Even after I left Yerba Buena Gardens and re-entered the "real world," my anti-Israel experience was still not over. I hopped a train to take me home and even there I found myself right next to someone wearing a pro-Palestinian t-shirt featuring the famous "right of return" cartoon figure.

But wait! It's still not over. Directly behind that person was yet another passenger wearing a kaffiyeh and (not very visible here) a "Queers for Palestine" shirt.

Is there no escape?

At the New York Israel Day Parade also on June 1, the anti-Semitism was much more overt.

For the exact inverse of today's events, see my previous report on the Nakba-60 Palestinian Festival in San Francisco on May 10, 2008.

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