A physical altercation broke out on Sunday between right-wing and left-wing Israel activists in Berkeley, California, The Jewish Chronicle reported.
The incident took place during a meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace at the South Berkeley Senior Center. Activists from San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs arrived at the meeting and began to heckle the Jewish Voice for Peace speakers. The incident escalated and resulted in pepper spray being used by a StandWithUs member against two Jewish Voice for Peace members.
Berkeley Police and paramedics were called to the scene; however, no arrests were made.
The two sides offered differing accounts of what had occurred. StandWithUs activist Robin Dubner, who used the pepper spray, said she was sprayed after being physically attacked. The Jewish Voice for Peace, on the other hand, claimed the spraying was unprovoked.
Michael Harris, a leader with San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs, told JWeekly.com that his group had never disrupted a Jewish Voice for Peace meeting before, but they felt they had to do so this time since participating in the meeting were Rae Abileah and Matthew Taylor, two of the five Jewish Voice for Peace protesters who heckled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his speech at last week’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.
Harris said Jewish Voice for Peace was “having this celebration of heckling Netanyahu. Since they decided this was acceptable political discourse, we decided to do the same thing.”
Harris stressed that he and his nine fellow protesters acted as individuals and not as part of an organized Stand With Us action.
According to the report in JWeekly.com, Dubner filmed the assembly with a video camera, and was asked to stop filming but when she did not, JVP members Glen Hauer and Alexei Folger confronted her and blocked her view of the meeting while asking her to turn off her camera. According to a JVP press release, both “were careful to make no physical contact with [Dubner] or her camera.”
Dubner, however, claimed that 20 minutes into the meeting she was surrounded by JVP members, who pressed her against a wall and knocked her camera out of her hand. “They were banging me against a wall,” she said. “They totally manhandled me and attacked me. Then I pulled out my pepper spray and showed it to them.”
JVP national board chair Dana Bergen told JWeekly.com that following the incident JVP will take security measures more seriously in the future. “I understand people have very strong feelings about this issue, but there has to be a basic level of respect for each other’s humanity,” she said.
The Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization which, according to its website, “works to achieve a lasting peace that recognizes the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination,” was recently included on the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) list of the ten most influential and active anti-Israel groups in the United States.
The group boasts of offices in New York and California, 100,000 online activists, chapters across the country and an Advisory Board comprised of numerous prominent Jewish thinkers and artists. Some of its activities, according to the website, include conducting global campaigns to defend and free Israeli and Arab human rights activists, supporting the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement through divestment from companies that profit from what they call “the occupation”, and even supporting “alternative Jewish rituals that include Palestinian narratives.”
StandWithUs released a statement following the incident in which it clarified that it was not involved in any way in the brawl. “StandWithUs denies that it sanctioned or somehow was involved with the actions of individuals attending the event,” reads the statement. “Any statements implying otherwise are merely attempts to damage StandWithUs and its reputation. If JVP is a responsible player, once it reviews the facts, StandWithUs expects to receive a published retraction and an apology from the JVP.”
StandWithUs is an international, non-profit Israel education organization, which ensures that Israel's side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and schools through brochures, speakers, conferences, missions to Israel, as well as through the internet.
The organization is based in Los Angeles and has offices across the U.S. as well as in the UK and Israel.