Saturday, August 12, 2006

Palestine, Lebanon and Max's Opera Cafe

My father decided to come with me to the counterdemo against International ANSWER's anti-Israel extravaganza in San Francisco today. There were political reasons--Mr. Bluejeans has always loved Israel--but also gastronomic ones--the demo was taking place not far from Max's Opera Cafe, one of my dad's favorite places on earth.

Anyway, this morning I pulled on my nice gray-and-blue "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace" t-shirt, and took BART to Civic Center. Then I walked up to Max's, where I had agreed to meet my dad, even though Max's was not, at ten-fifteen in the morning, open.

First, the Near Error:

On my way, I had to cross Civic Center Plaza, where the ANSWER demo was to take place. I spotted a sound stage already up, also signs for Mumia (natch), and a coalition to save Bayview and Hunter's Point (not directly related to the Middle East, as far as I know). I spotted a few familiar figures roaming around getting organized on the far side of the street. And nearby, I spotted a woman at one of the jungle gyms in the little playgrounds that dot the plaza. She was wearing a scarf tied over her hair and knotted behind her neck. Over the scarf was a summer hat. She wore long sleeves and a long denim jumper. On the bench near her was a man wearing a pale, knitted kippa, reading a book. On the jungle gym was a small boy, also in pale knitted kippa. I was on the verge of going over, wishing them a good Shabbat, and promising to see them at the demo.

Then I paused. On second inspection, the kippot were sliiiiiightly too big. I paused again. I observed. I decided to wait.

Later, spotting them again in the thick of the Palestinian flags across the street, I would be glad I waited. It would have been incredibly embarassing, otherwise.

I found the dad, and we found our counterdemo. Equipped with borrowed signs (mine read "Peace With Security"), we took up positions along the police barricades.

Some Notes:

1. The dad was disturbed by some of the signs on display by our fellow protesters, particularly those attacking Islam. He attempted to deal with one such sign by getting a larger sign, and attempting to obscure it, then by talking to one of the security guys, and ultimately had to be talked (by me) out of trying to pay the guy to put it away.

2. One of the earliest speakers at the ANSWER demo announced, as part of her rant against Israeli aggression, that women and homosexuals were being denied basic rights. I confess to being baffled. On so many levels.

3. I have more in common with the ANSWER people than I had thought. For example, at one point, the speaker started a chant that went "U.S.! Israel!" I think there was a response the crowd yelled, but we couldn't hear it. Delighted, all the pro-Israeli crowd began to scream back happily "U.S.! Israel!"

4. In addition, at one point, a speaker announced bitterly, in some context I missed, that while you always hear about the 6 Million, the Belgian colonial imperialists had killed twelve million people in the Congo. I am pleased to announce that I (as a happy reader of the liberal romance novel that is _The Poisonwood Bible_) am entirely against Belgian atrocities in the Congo, even if they were a bit before my time. I will even spare a tear for poor old Patrice Lumumba. I hope I can form a warm relationship with the ANSWER people on the basis of this common concern.

5. I was briefly interviewed by Channel 4, and also asked by a random stranger if I was 'angry' with the people across the street. Let me speak for the record. Yes. I'm quite mad at the people across the street.

Anyway, the speakers kept speaking, and I kept running into old family friends, and at some point, my father, who is getting a bit low blood-sugar, starts to get rather slap-happy, and also urgent about getting to Max's.

At some point he lost it, and started his own counterpoint to the chant:

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "I'd like to get to lunch on time."

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "I'd also like a glass of wine."

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "A glass of Chardonnay'd be fine."

Anyway, FINALLY, they started streaming toward downtown, and we went to Max's, where the Balabusta had a tomato salad, and Mr. Bluejeans ate a patty melt.

I thought we'd head home after that, but my dad came up with a new idea, which was to infiltrate the ANSWER crowd. He even had a plain white t-shirt to spare, so I could take off my Israel one. I should explain. I can't explain. We're Irish. Deal with it.

So we infiltrated. We even dressed up a bit, since I found a Free Palestine pin, which my dad decided to put on his hat. We walked all around the ANSWER side of things, and looked around:

Some Notes:

1. The Greens showed up. Tack-o-rama.

2. I was briefly interested in a booth selling Palestinian olive oil. The ex-husband of my former Hebrew teacher (they were married at the time), when I stayed for dinner, used to bring out this incredible olive oil he got from a friend in the West Bank who got it from Arab neighbors who kept olives. (Grew olives? You know. Were oliviers. Whatever.) It was so good you could have drunk it from the bottle, and was the color they call 'olive' in, like, floor tiles. Deep, murky green. It came in empty soda bottles, and other random containers. I wasn't, however, going to give fifteen dollars to anti-Semites for olive oil with a Palestinian flag on it, and besides, it was probably Carapelli siphoned into politically correct bottles.

3. There were some funny anti-Bush t-shirts on sale, but I refrained.

4. Other than that, about what you would have expected.

5. Further, though, I did note that there was very little in the ongoing rhetoric from the stage to suggest that a two-state solution is still considered viable.

The dad, emboldened by his success in threading through the Code Pink protestors, and the young Arab moms, and the scruffy socialists, and so on, decided that he would like to see what our demonstration looked like from the other side. We were winding through the dense tangle of Palestinian teenagers closer to the barricade, when I noticed that, about ten feet up and over, someone had set fire to an Israeli flag and was waving it overhead.

I announced it was time to leave, so we left, and moved back to our rightful side of the street, where we remained until we went home.

Well, sort of went home. As we were waiting for the bus, the dad decided to engage a woman who was driving an SUV around and around the block, with her sunroof open, and her small daughter holding a Palestinian flag and a big green sign saying "Palestine Will Be Free, From The River To The Sea" through it.

My dad began to talk to her about a two-state solution, which she rejected on the grounds that Israelis don't want it, and are killing Palestinians. My dad's not easily put off, he kept talking, and reengaging her each time the SUV pulled up to our corner.

In the third round of this, some of the guys with the unpleasant signs showed up, and started to shout at her about teaching her kids to chop people's heads off. (Decapitation was something of a preoccupation for these guys.) The dad yelled at them. They yelled back, about not negotiating with terrorists. They got on the bus. We decided we needed drinks, and went back to Max's.

On the whole, I had a great day, even with the slightly pink nose I came home with. But I'm not sure I see a whole lot of hope for a good resolution to either the current mess, or the ongoing mess.

I think the Jewish community needs to get organized around this. We need more people. We need a sound system. We need chant leaders.

I think we should also be doing coalition-building. ANSWER's got Filipino activists talking about the oppression of Muslim, er, freedom fighters, in the Philippines. We should have Filipino activists as well. (I like this idea, because the reciprocal demos would include some causes I feel quite strongly about.) We should connect with the Indian community. ANSWER's getting Latino activists involved by pretending to care about immigration. We should get Latino activists. We DO care about immigration. Lots of them are evangelicals. They should like Israel.

And also, we should get Fred. Fred the Sign Guy keeps gravitating to the Palestinian side of the street, I think because there are more of them. We should extend an invitation to Fred. If twelve galaxies are imperiled to a zygnatronic universe, and we need to impeach Ford, that's fine. He can do it with us.

I think we need a sound system, oh, and food. The ice cream guy went to them too. My dad's got a suggestion about that too, involving neutral falafel, but it can wait for its own post...


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the protest was a decent outing. I particulary like the Dada-ist approach to counter-demonstrating. Chanting irrelevancies in the face of idiots is a sure fire way to take the wind out of their sails.

Helene in Los Altos said...

Balabusta, there is a Jewish/India coalition! It's called Democracies against Terror, here in the Bay Area. There are a lot of Indian and Indian-American people here in Silicon Valley and they've joined forces with the Pro-Israel crowd here in opposition to radical Islam. Afterall, India has Pakistan sitting on its border. OUr local JCRC is indeed building coalitions with other groups. You're part of the same JCRC that I've been affiliated with for over 25 yrs. Get involved and get active!

Anonymous said...

Err, sorry, but I doubt that the viability of a two state solution can be assesed in Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Or hopes for coexistence in the Middle East. Or the intelligence of the residents of the West Bank and/or the Gaza Strip and/or southern Lebanon.

The back of the hill said...

I love your dad's counter chants!

Anonymous said...

From the Balabusta:

Helene, biting back some comments about the JCRC, and past attempts of mine to 'get involved and get active' with them, (I have been active in the SF Jewish community for over 20 years, and my experience with JCRC has been consistently lousy) my point is that we did not have a visible presence from any non-Jewish ethnic community at the counterdemo, or at the pro-Israel rally some weeks ago. If further into Silicon Valley that changes, great, but in SF and the East Bay we need to build it.

Anonymous, I didn't actually say a two-state solution wasn't viable. It had better be, cause we're running out of options fast. And I said nothing at all about the intelligence of anyone not at this particular demo, let alone everyone in Gaza, the WB, and Southern Lebanon. I was commenting on the rhetoric coming from the stage.

RR said...

Hey there... I really enjoyed reading your summary of the events and especially the infiltration by you and your father. Wish I could have been there! And Max's sounds great, I'll have to give it a try.

I gave you a link in my blog, I think you'll like my write-up even though I couldn't be there. But there is a next time!