The Jewish community in northern California has decided to ramp down its annual “celebrate Israel” festivities with a 90-minute downtown ceremony, on Yom HaAtzma’ut.
The gathering will be a sharp step down from previous years, when Jews from around the Bay Area met in the scenic Yerba Buena Gardens on the first Sunday in June for a daylong event to mark Israel’s independence. That event has traditionally attracted up to 15,000 of revellers from the Bay Area and around northern California.
Jewish Federation spokespeople announced on March 7 that the community would be taking a “shmita year” — to rethink and re-imagine this significant community event, but stressed that the event would be a landmark celebration of Israel in the heart of San Francisco.
“This event represents the coming together of local Jews, expatriate Israelis, and many others who feel passionate about Israel… (it will)mark a happy occasion for Israel and our Bay Area Jewish community,” said Donny Inbar, Associate Director for Arts and Culture at the Israel Center, a project of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma.
Speaking to the Northern California Jewish Bulletin, Inbar said the event would be a non-political way to say “we love you, Israel.”
Inbar did not say whether the decision to minimize the Yom HaAtzma’ut celebration was a response to pressure from anti-Israel groups operating in the area.
But it is significant to note that northern California is one of the most liberal areas in the United States, and a hotbed of anti-Israel activity: Palestinian activists routinely picket the Israeli consulate in the city, often outnumbering pro-Israel counter-protesters by more than ten to one. In past years, participants in pro-Israel events have been heckled, and posters condemning Israeli “apartheid” are commonplace around the city.
In addition, for years Jewish students at universities in San Francisco, Berkeley and around northern California have reported that they routinely feel threatened by Palestinian protesters on and off campus. One Jewish student at the University of California, Berkeley, was attacked by a Palestinian with a shopping cart after expressing pro-Israel views. Across San Francisco Bay, at California State University, San Francisco, campus security forces had to rescue Jewish students from Palestinian wearing shirts that said “My heroes have always killed colonizers.” There are more examples.
In class, too, Jewish students have reported that history and political science professors routinely make clear that pro-Israel views are not to be considered a legitimate part of their classroom debate.