Jewish groups clash in South Berkeley

Two people were pepper-sprayed and police were summoned when pro-Israel activists crashed the meeting of a Jewish peace organization last night in Berkeley.

Jewish Voice for Peace says several dozen of its members were meeting in the South Berkeley Senior Center when up to a dozen members of StandWithUs/San Francisco Voice For Israel arrived to disrupt and videotape the gathering.

But, predictably, this is quickly becoming a they-said, she-said. Lots more after the jump…

From JVP’s news release:

Wrapped in an Israeli flag, San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs (SFVI/SWU) member Robin Dubner, an Oakland based attorney, pepper-sprayed two JVP members in the eyes and face after they attempted to nonviolently block her ability to aggressively videotape the faces of JVP meeting attendees against their will. The members, Alexei Folger and Glen Hauer, were careful to make no physical contact with her or her camera prior to the attack.

Folger said, “I did not see it coming and all of a sudden there was gooey stuff all over my head and hand. I have never been pepper-sprayed before, my whole head felt like it was on fire.”

JVP had earlier this year filed a police report about a June SFVI/SWU protest at which JVP and (peace group) Women in Black members were intimidatingly videotaped (http://bit.ly/SWUThreats) and threatened by a StandWithUs supporter after being taunted with chants like “Nazi, Nazi, Nazi” or “Kapo,Kapo,Kapo”. Caught on a widely seen videotape was a SFVI/SWU supporter pointing his camera to the faces of silent peace vigil participants while saying “You’re all being identified, every last one of you…we will find out where you live. We’re going to make your lives difficult. We will disrupt your families…”

For that reason, JVP members were particularly concerned about protecting the safety of meeting attendees and preventing the videotaping.

Hauer, a retired attorney and member of San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’har Zahav who was treated for pepper spray explained, “When one of the intruders [Dubner] continued standing and filming people despite the facilitator and facility manager repeatedly telling her that she could not, I first asked her politely to please put away the video camera, then several times told her to put away the camera, and then tried nonviolently to stay in front of the camera with my body. I could have taken the camera but decided instead to talk to the woman and to try to be the only person she photographed.”


Despite repeated requests from the JVP meeting facilitator and other JVP activists to desist from recording and put away their videocameras, the SFVI/SWU activists – who had spread themselves throughout the room – continued to record and launch lengthy monologues while the presenters attempted to speak.

They were explicitly invited by the JVP facilitator to stay in the meeting and participate without videotaping but they refused. They also refused offers for floor time by the presenters. The manager of the facility asked the SFVI/SWU members to abide by JVP’s rules or face the police, and when SFVI/SWU refused to comply with JVP’s protocol, the police were called.

At one point, JVP members and presenters worked to restore calm and de-escalate by singing the Hebrew peace song, Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Peace will come to us) while waiting for the police to arrive. Most meeting attendees did not know until later that 2 people had been attacked with pepper spray.

JVP also directed the media to a blog where a member and an ally posted eyewitness accounts of the fracas.

Dubner e-mailed a statement saying that’s not what happened at all:

On November 14, 2010 I attended a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) meeting at the Berkeley Senior Center. I attended the meeting as an individual and not as a member of any organization. The meeting started at about 6:45 p.m. It was advertised as open to the public. The meeting was held by JVP to honor several of their anti-Israel activists who loudly disrupted PM Netanyahu’s speech in New Orleans last week. JVP was celebrating the denial of the free speech rights of PM Netanyahu.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, after the New Orleans activists introduced themselves, a woman who is not from JVP began to talk about her support for Israel. I aimed my camera at her and tried to videotape her. Almost immediately, several JVP members surrounded me and tried to grab my camera from me. Then they attacked me. They took hold of my arms and would not let go. They also pushed their chests into me many times and knocked me against a wall. I yelled at them 20 to 30 times to let go of me. They refused to let go of my wrists and forearms and continued to bang their bodies into me. They banged me into the wall over a dozen times. Their faces were red from hatred and exertion. As a result of their violence, my wrists and arms are still sore and I am currently suffering serious pain in my lower back. I am unable to work this afternoon and I must take medication for pain relief.

I am a large woman but I am physically frail because I am disabled. I see a pain management physician regularly for chronic back pain. I am unable to move without severe back pain. I have had major surgery on my back. I am unable to stand for more than a couple of minutes without back pain and sciatica pain. I also have had nine surgeries on my knees which are another main source of pain. I have asthma, and I use inhaled steroids daily; the anti-Israel activists’ attack on me exacerbated my asthma and I had to take medicine while at the senior center. I also have a serious blood disorder that weakens me. I am currently under treatment by a hematologist/oncologist, and I am on daily chemotherapy.

The people who attacked me were physically fit and at least 20 years younger than I; I am 58 years old. I have a Disabled Person’s license plate for my car. I am physically incapable of overpowering or attacking anybody.

While pleading with the attackers to let me go, I tried to get away but they followed me and kept grabbing my arms. At one point they knocked my camera out of my hand. I bent down to pick it up and tried to walk away. They followed me and continued to grab my arms and shove me into the wall. They isolated me from the rest of the crowd. Because they were beating me up and because I am disabled and could not defend myself otherwise, I sprayed pepper spray into one woman’s face. As soon as I did that, they all backed off from me and let me go. I resorted to the pepper spray because I feared for my safety and my life. I believe that had I not used pepper spray I would be in the hospital today from their relentless beating.

JVP’s release said that “(w)hen police arrived, Dubner was temporarily placed in handcuffs while other members of San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs remained inside the meeting blowing loud whistles, using videocameras to intimidate meeting attendees. Dubner refused repeated requests by JVP members or the police to identify the substance she sprayed. A police officer later identified it as pepper spray and paramedics were called to help treat the victims of the attack.”

Dubner, interviewed by phone this afternoon, insisted that although she went to the meeting with a video camera and an Israeli flag – one of several pro-Israel activists who she said didn’t represent any particular group and hadn’t coordinated their attendance – she nonetheless didn’t intend to disrupt the JVP meeting.

Although the meeting chair’s had warned another pro-Israel activist, and the rest of the room, earlier in the evening that videotaping wasn’t permitted, Dubner argues she was within her rights to do so anyway.

“I think it’s important to videotape what’s going on, I happen to be a supporter of Israel and these people want to make Israel the 22nd Arab country. It’s very important for me to document things,” she said, acknowledging the meeting’s chair warned her against using her camera. “She said there’s no videotaping allowed because this is a private meeting, and I said to her it’s not a private meeting, its’ a public meeting, it’s in a public building and I’m allowed to videotape.”

Dubner said she didn’t don the Israeli flag until after she had been attacked, had pepper-sprayed the two JVP members, and was trying to leave. She said she’d brought the flag “to make a statement, ‘Here I am, I’m not on your side,’ but I did not pull my flag out while anybody was talking, I disrupted nobody.”

“These people are lying like crazy and I would sign my declaration under penalty of perjury,” she said.

In fact she did sign a written statement taken by the Berkeley Police officers who responded to the fracas, as did Folger and Hauer; all of them declined to press charges, so nobody was arrested or cited. Dubner said officers handcuffed her and sat her in the back of a police car for 15 to 20 minutes while they sorted things out.

UPDATE @ 7:13 P.M.: Sgt. Kusmiss reports some Berkeley Police officials are getting “spammed” with messages related to an online petition urging that Dubner be charged.

“BPD is not responsible for charging, that is determined by the District Attorney after review of cases,” Kusmiss said. “Our responsibility is investigation, documentation and arrest if legally appropriate. Since this was a crime not committed in our (police) presence, we must rely on investigation and ultimately a private person’s arrest by one of the parties in this type of instance.”

And because none of the parties chose to press charges, that’s it, done, finito, folks.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • As someone who was present at the meeting, I can say that the description of what happened by Ms. Dubner is total fantasy. Nothing like what she describes took place yesterday evening. If you are to watch the video which is embedded in the article, you will see that Ms. Dubner is standing in the middle of the room wearing the Israeli flag, speaking in a very loud voice preventing the meeting for continuing. There is no one near her. Later on, she can be seen leaving the Senior Center, walking by one of the people she has pepper sprayed (confirmed by Berkeley medics who were called)and waving while refusing to tell us what she sprayed on two JVP members.

    Despite her insistence that she was there by herself, she was there in conjunction with at least 8 other people whose sole purpose was to disrupt our meeting.

  • Rita Anderson

    Jewish Voice for Peace members Alexei Folger and Glen Hauer cornered then attacked the victim, violently shaking her hand until her camera dropped. The woman, probably twice their age was helpless and screamed leave me alone a dozen times and no one came to her aid.
    It was a frightening thing to watch. I was also there, and I heard the victim scream “Leave me alone” about a dozen times- with no one coming to her aid

  • Art M.

    Missing information: This JVP meeting was advertised as honoring the people that DISRUPTED a recent speech by Netanyahu.

    Just to be clear: These folks are complaining that their meeting was disrupted.

    But the purpose of the meeting was to honor and hear speech by the folks that DISRUPTED a speech by the Prime Minister of Israel.

    The organizers of this event specifically ENDORSE DISRUPTION as a tactic. They celebrate it. They honor it.

    JVP has a pattern of using partial information in order to create false impressions.

  • To see Ms. Dubner walking without any obvious pain, and waiving at the camera @1:55 in the video:


    “Because they were beating me up…”

    She doesn’t appear to have been beaten in any way when she walks past the camera and out of the building.

  • Sam

    Wait a second. the Zionists harassed people by taking videos, but the only videos we have are taken by the other side? Does any one else think this doesn’t ring true? Jewish Voice for peace has a problematic reputation, anyway. Aren’t they all just aging Trotskites, again?

  • Robert Matthews

    I was at the meeting. Ms. Dubner was attacked by multiple persons and used the pepper spray in self-defense. The stories of the JVP are untrue, while Ms. Dubner’s story is true and accurate.

  • elijah

    Why do you lie? Do you not understand the Law?

  • Maria

    The organization JVP appears to have a personal vendetta against this woman- looking for more information on this , I see they have spammed tweeted petitioned and blogged this story in a stalking campaign worthy of Disney or Coca Cola. This was all in 24 hours. There is something going on here more than is written. This is a well orchestrated campaign of harrassment by Jewish Voice for peace against a dissenting voice, in an effort to silence her

  • Joel Frangquist

    I was at the meeting, and sitting very close to Ms. Dubner. Her story is false in all the important points. No one grabbed her wrists or forearms, or slammed her into any wall. If she lost her camera (not something I remember seeing or hearing) it was because she dropped it.

    The video above was taken AFTER Dubner pepper sprayed Glen and Alexei. If Dubner was so physically frail as she describes, it doesn’t show in the video.

    Glen Hauer is not 20 years younger than Dubner. He is about the same age, and smaller. Alexei is in her forties, also not 20 years younger, and much smaller. These facts are readily verifiable, and serve as evidence of the lack of credibility of the SWU/SF Voice for Israel testimonies.

    @ Sam: I will be happy to see the video taken by Dubner and the other anti-JVP disruptors at the meeting, especially uncut. They will have nothing to prove Dubner’s story true. Maybe that’s why they haven’t released anything yet.

  • Dewayne Poers

    Jewish voice for peace and its allied groups in the rea will not tolerate any dissent from pro-Israel activists. Apparently, these groups have a long history together. The annimosity is so strong that the plice were called on the Israel activists when a rabbi and his congregation singing and plaing guitar happened on an anti-Israel rally.

    JVP is using the olice powers of the state to manipulate and silence voices of disagreement. Its a cynical and facist technique, and its an embarrassment to true peace activists everywhere

  • Wallace Smith

    The JVP seems to feel specially privileged to use force to prevent others from filming their events or from expressing their right to free speech,. It is also rather obvious that the JVP is inflating a relatively minor incident into a narrative of “victimhood”, purely for public relations purposes. I suspect that the JVP began the exageration with their first call to the police, or why else would SO MANY police cars have arrived? They must have used awfully strong language, perhaps even the word “riot” to con the police into sending so many cars. Like others of the fascist ilk, the JVP seems to have no compunctions about using the police powers of the state, via manipulation, in order to intimidate others and silence their free speech, much in the same way that they chose to distort the truth so as to manipulate others. The JVP’s own statement admits to the use of whats referred on the street to as “cop calling”, to silence dissenting groups.

  • LaShaniqua

    If the incident had actually occurred the way the JVP propaganda press release states, then they would have posted the FULL film of the incident. Its clear that they only released their own carefully edited clips that don’t show JVP people acting out. That’s yet another reason that there were no arrests. They ganged up on this woman while photographing and now they are ganging up on her on the internet. First bullying, now cyber bullying.

  • Anna Wesser

    I was seated near Ms. Dubner and I saw everything that happened to her. Her account is correct. Two JVP members attacked her by grabbing her arms and trying to wrestle her camera out of her hands, which by the way is an attempted robbery. They body-slammed her against a wall several times while Ms. Dubner kept yelling at them to let go of her. The JVPers are lying. If Ms. Dubner had not used her pepper spray, she would most likely be in the hospital, injured by the “peaceful” JVPers.

  • Golda

    I’m another JVP member who was at the meeting Sunday night. Robin’s account is not true. You can believe your eyes and what the video shows or you can believe what Robin and her friends purport here.

  • Peter

    There are comments here posted by several people who say they were at the meeting, and some of them confirm Robin Dubner’s account. I’d like to ask Rita Anderson, Robert Matthews, and Anna Wesser: Is the video fake? Obviously the video leaves out a lot, but:
    “Dubner said she didn’t don the Israeli flag until after she had been attacked, had pepper-sprayed the two JVP members, and was trying to leave.”
    Yet the video shows her wearing the flag while standing in the middle of the room, reading her text, with nobody else within 10 feet of her, for at least 45 seconds. She doesn’t appear to be trying to leave, or to have been harmed. Something is inconsistent here.

    Did the reporter ask for video from Ms. Dubner or from any of the “SFVI/SWU activists” who we are told were recording this event? It looks fishy that we get to see a video from only one side while we’re also told that people on the other side were also recording videos.

    Wallace Smith writes, “I suspect that the JVP began the exageration with their first call to the police, or why else would SO MANY police cars have arrived?” I don’t think the JVP caller had much say in that, judging from my own personal experience living in South Berkeley. Last month someone was mugged outside my building: one victim, two assailants. We called 911, and within a few minutes, I counted six (yes, six) squad cars on the scene as well as a fire truck and a paramedic truck.

  • Josh Richman

    Ms. Dubner told me her camera, which she had borrowed from someone else, malfunctioned and so she has no video of the event; she said she was carrying a separate audio recorder which made a complete record of the evening, however.

    Also, no video from that evening has been posted to the SFVoice4Israel YouTube channel.

  • Peter

    Rita Anderson: “It was a frightening thing to watch. I was also there, and I heard the victim scream “Leave me alone” about a dozen times- with no one coming to her aid”

    Robert Matthews: “I was at the meeting. Ms. Dubner was attacked by multiple persons”

    Anna Wesser: “I was seated near Ms. Dubner and I saw everything that happened to her. Her account is correct. Two JVP members attacked her by grabbing her arms and trying to wrestle her camera out of her hands, which by the way is an attempted robbery.”

    This does sound frightening. So why did none of you come to her aid or call for help?

  • Robert Jenkins

    You are all very confused. The video clip showing Robin draped with a Israeli flag was AFTER she had gotten her assailants off of her. JVP didn’t post any clips that actually show anything important, they must have edited those parts out. Like bullies every where, if you stand up to them, they back off. When the JVP bullies decided that if they said ,”no photos”, that was an ORDER and that everyone had to jump to. When this person didn’t obey the JVP commands, the JVP’er decided that they were privileged to try to use force to take away this person’s camera. When their victim resisted, they went to their next level, lying to the police. I bet that when they called the cops, they didn’t too much of an excited response,so they must have used the word “riot” to get that many police there that fast. It seemed to me that the one called,”Cecelie” was the “shot caller.”

  • Elwood

    Who cares?

  • not exactly a peace group

    Why didn’t anyone intercede is a good question.
    Why didn’t the 50 or so Jewish voice for peace members stop this fight? Maybe they aren’t so much for peace after all?
    Did they think it was amusing to watch a 58 year old woman man-handled and accosted in this fashion? Or was it simply ok, because she was on the other side of them, politically?

  • RfaelMoshe

    Far more revealing about the nature of the “Jewish Voice for Peace”, has been their internet campaign mis-characterizing and “spinning” the incident while libeling the victim. It seems that with full awareness of their guilt over what they had done ( suppressed a persons first amendment rights, attacked a middle aged, disabled women, and acting hypocritically about being disrupted when celebrating the JVP disruption of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, etc), the “Jewish Voice for Peace” immediately must have decided that the “best defense is an good offense.” As the Berkeley Police responded with half a dozen police cars, it would not be surprising if the campaign of deception began with the JVP’s fist call to the police, wildly exaggerating the magnitude of the incident. Within hours, the internet was full of the JVP’s carefully “spun” but deceptive description of the incident, along their own carefully selected video clips which did not depict anything relevant to the incident. All of this arises from an apparent deeply held desire on the part of the “ Jewish Voice for Peace”not to be photographed in combination with an arrogant belief that the JVP is specially privileged not only to disrupt others without ever being disrupted themselves but also apparent belief that they can tell others what to do, and, then to punish dissenters on the internet if they don’t comply.