While most Democratic leaders in San Francisco have been quick to rally behind Israel and condemn Saturday's deadly terrorist attacks by Hamas militants, one city supervisor stood out among the rest for putting out a statement that seemed to solely express support for Palestinians.
The latest outbreak of violence in the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict has again elicited both broad sympathy and support for Israelis, as well as sympathy from the American Left for the plight of the Palestinian people. That sympathy for Palestinians has taken the form of talk of "resistance," and conflated the plight of the people with the atrocious violence committed by Hamas — and once again in this conflict as with others in earlier years, statements from American progressives are being interpreted by many as antisemitic, especially when they fail to condemn the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians.
SF Supervisor Dean Preston was one of those, when he put out an official statement Monday that expressed how he was "heartbroken by the recent violence and mourn the hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians killed this weekend," but went on to call Israel's military response "unconscionable," and said, "I continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom and an end to the occupation."
As the Chronicle reports, that statement was met with widespread criticism, particularly among local Jewish leaders, because it failed to expressly condemn the terroristic acts of Hamas — though Preston generally called the targeting of non-military targets "clear violations of international law."
Preston has now issued a second, follow-up statement "to provide some additional clarity on my views on the violence escalating in the Middle East" — making sure to be clearer about that condemnation.
"I condemn the recent Hamas attack on Israeli civilians," Preston begins. "I’m heartbroken as I read the news, and talk to people with friends and relatives in the region... I fear for the hostages and wish for their safe return. As a Jew whose father and grandparents were holocaust survivors, and whose great grandmother was killed in a concentration camp, I understand how traumatized, angry, and vulnerable Jews around the world feel right now seeing these attacks."
But, he adds, he "condemn[s] the Israeli government’s response."
"Bombing residential apartment buildings, cutting off food and power, and other violence against Palestinian civilians is completely unacceptable and these actions are causing catastrophic damage," Preston writes. "Each day now, I wake up to heartbreaking images on the news of buildings flattened in Gaza. The destruction being inflicted on Palestinian civilians is an offense to any notion of human decency."
Preston continues, "I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I continue to believe that the Hamas attack on civilians was wrong, the Israeli government’s response and the ongoing violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people is wrong, a ceasefire is needed, and the occupation needs to end to have any path to meaningful and lasting peace. These positions are not mutually exclusive, nor are they contradictory in my opinion."
Social media has been filled for the last three days with various statements from celebrities and pundits that have tried to walk a similar line. Some, including comedian Amy Schumer, have gone further to condemn American liberals for erring on the side of Palestinian sympathy.
Schumer also reposted a statement from singer-songwriter Jack Dishel, which you can see below. "It's time for American liberals to wake up and see what's happening," Dishel writes. "To all of you who consider yourselves human rights and social justice advocates... the bloody massacre you just witnessed is called a pogrom... What you just witnessed was a highly coordinated extermination of Jewish life."
Preston's Democratic Socialist Party, though, is doubling down today, with the SF branch putting out a statement Wednesday that state Senator Scott Wiener says in a tweet "uses this horrific moment to call for an end to Israel."
"Socialists support the Palestinian people's, and all people's, right to resist and fight for their own liberation," DSA San Francisco writes. "This weekend's events are no different. Decolonization is the only path toward peace."
The group then employed a phrase that many Jews and Israelis take as a dogwhistle for the idea that Israel should cease to exist, saying, "We call on all those who share our vision of global working-class emancipation to join the fight to end the occupation and decolonize Palestine — from the river to the sea."
"That the DSA’s statements and Dean’s statements refused to condemn terror is completely beyond the pale of appropriate civic discourse in any political situation," says Tyler Gregory, CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, in a statement to the Chronicle. Gregory adds, "the Jewish community is not going to forget when someone is celebrating this kind of rhetoric and refuses to condemn the death of innocent Jewish kids, grandparents and families."
Gregory offered a followup response to Preston's followup statement, saying, "The only thing we would object to is putting the onus of this on the Israeli government. Israelis should not have to live in fear that this happens again. And so, in the same way, we would expect our government after 9/11 to eliminate the terrorist threats that led to the World Trade Center coming down, so too, should the Israeli government have the ability to eliminate the threat of this ever happening again."