An attendee of San Francisco’s Israel in the Gardens points both of his middle fingers at activists protesting the hasbara event. (Photo: Mordechai Tarnovsky/Facebook)
This summer San Francisco has hasbara in the air with three major pro-Israel events ripping across the windy city: Israel in the Gardens, Frameline Film Festival (an official SF Pride event), and the flagship Israel China Cultural Festival, which includes a film festival, book fair, lecture series, and cultural events.
Israel in the Gardens
Kicking off the hasbara upswing earlier this month on June 10, 2012, the Jewish Community Federation hosted “Israel in the Gardens.” After passing through the metal detectors, festival-goers were offered opportunities to join the Israeli military and make aliyah (emigrate to Israel) at booths from Friends of the IDF, the World Zionist Organization and Nfesh B’Nefesh . And the 15,000 attendees were entertained by all-Jewish musical groups and a flock of ceremoniously released doves flying to their “old new home in Israel.”
Advocacy groups—AIPAC, Stand With Us and J Street—were also present with tables full of pro-Israel take-aways. Stand With Us passed out their Captain Israel comic, a cartoon of a hasbara super-hero who fights “the venomous BDS”– a bloodthirsty, swastika-wielding snake that represents BDS supporters.
Not surprisingly, J Street was the only organization at the entire festival with materials critical of Israel’s occupation. For this, some attendees offered drive-by insults, “self-hating Jews,” to the volunteers. Also critical of Israel’s occupation, outside of the gardens, 20 people from Jewish Voices for Peace and Women in Black protested against the amalgamation of pinkwashing, greenwashing and bluewashing. Dave Holsey, a local pro-Israel agitator, filmed the event and demonstration. Holsey can be heard on camera calling the protesters “scumbags,” and “mentally deficient Jews.”
Re-cap of Israel in the Gardens. (Video: Dave Holsey)
Frameline Film Festival
From June 14 to June 24, the Bay Area is home to the Israeli Consulate-sponsored Frameline Film Festival. Since 2010, Palestine Solidarity and queer groups have called to get “Israel out of our festival,” by protesting outside of screenings and re-branding the promotional posters. This year’s film festival theme is “find your story,” and activists have already augmented the advertisement to read: “my story tells the truth about pinkwashing or profiting from Israeli Apartheid. Shame on Frameline for taking blood money!!” [emphasis in original]
Activists protesting Frameline have also launched a social media campaign to highlight the Israeli Consulate’s sponsorship of the festival as part of the “brand Israel campaign”:
The Israeli Consulate’s sponsorship of Frameline is not an isolated case of generosity. In 2005, several Israeli government departments launched a multimillion-dollar “Brand Israel” marketing campaign to gain international support by making the country seem more “relevant and modern.” Both the San Francisco Bay Area and the LGBT community have been specifically named as target populations in subsequent reports, and Israel frequently enlists cultural institutions to try to improve its image. In this light, the Consulate’s financial support forces Frameline into a divisive position that is especially alienating to queer Palestinian and Middle Eastern communities. This is far from altruistic.
To read leaked emails between event organizers and the Israeli Consulate from previous years, showing how the Israeli government worked with Frameline to squash protest against the festival, read our post from earlier this year.
Israel China Cultural Festival
Reaching out with hasbara to San Francisco’s Chinese community, mainstream Jewish institutions have teamed up with the Israeli consulate and Chinese cultural groups to host a two-month “Israel China Cultural Festival” event series. Celebrating 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the list of activities includes a film festival, book fair with publications on the Holocaust translated to Mandarin, and dance performances. The event’s website explains:
Despite the differences in size of population and geographical area, the Chinese people and the Jewish people share many similarities. Both are from the most ancient, continuous civilizations in the world; both place a high value on family and tradition, education and scholarship, persistence and hard work. Each is very aware of its rich historical heritage and both strive to contribute to the development of humankind.
Stand With Us pro-Israel summer BART ads
New Stand With Us BART ad in the Bay Area, in transport stations from June 18-July 7, 2012. (Image: Stand With Us)
In addition to the public programs, over the next three weeks Stand With Us has advertisements in San Francisco’s transportation system promoting Israeli technological advances in the fields of health and sciences. The posters are less controversial than last years, which were taken down early by the municipality for racist content.
Stand With Us ad removed due to racist content in Downtown Berkeley BART, 2011. (Photo: Jaime Omar Yassin)