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.