Queers for Palestine :: What Do They Stand For?
On Christmas Eve, 2012, representatives from QUIT Palestine (Queers Undermining Israeli Terror) entered Cliff’s Variety, a family owned hardware and housewares store in San Francisco’s predominately gay Castro district. The store first opened its doors in 1932.
"They did not identify themselves when they entered the store," Cliff’s manager Martha Jasten said to SFGN. "We felt ambushed. I had no idea what they’re after."
After singing a mock Christmas Carol, the protesters loudly announced that the store was supporting the allegedly apartheid and genocidal policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people. Store employees and security guards took the protesters by their arms and physically escorted them off the premises. Cliff’s protester Peter Menchini videotaped this incident. That same evening, Menchini posted the video on Maya Meditated, his YouTube account.
On January 3, 2013, Menchini was interviewed on camera by San Francisco journalist Carol Harvey regarding the Cliff’s Variety incident. The video, titled "Peter Menchini Puts Eye on Cliff’s Variety," was posted on Harvey’s YouTube page. During the nine-minute interview, Menchini claims that he and other protesters, whom he describes as elderly women, were assaulted. Menchini showed a tiny scab wound to Harvey’s camera, which he claims was inflicted by a store employee. Menchini stated that he turned his own video of the incident over to the San Francisco Police Department, but expected them to take no action.
But what exactly does QUIT stand for? Well according to their website it states: "As queers, we are part of an international movement for human rights that encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation, and all other liberation movements. Since 2000, QUIT! has been one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most active and consistent voices for boycott, divestment & sanctions against Israel. We are also part of a growing international queer movement to stop "pinkwashing" by the Israeli government and its supporters. Pinkwashing is a part of the Brand Israel public relations campaign which attempts to hijack the queer movement to promote ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people."
Can the queer movement though align itself to the Palestinian liberation movement?
QUIT Palestine, which was joined at Cliff’s by the women’s anti-war activist group Code Pink, was protesting SodaStream, an Israeli-produced machine which carbonates drinking water. SodaStream has a plant on land that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are laying claim to. The protesters further claim that SodaStream exploits Palestinian workers, paying them low wages and forcing them to work in inhumane conditions.
SFGN reached out to SodaStream, but was unable to get a comment as of press time.
In the protest video posted by Peter Menchini, store employees could clearly be seen grabbing protesters by the arms and pushing them out the door. Employees could also clearly be heard saying "Get out of the store." No protester was struck. There were several sharp jump cuts in the video. When questioned by SFGN regarding those cuts, Menchini responded by screaming expletives.
Cliff’s Variety has been a vocal supporter of LGBT equality since the 1970s, according to Jasten.
"The weekend after Black Friday is set aside as a fundraiser for the Harvey Milk Academy," she said. "We also donate to the AIDS Emergency Fund." The Milk Academy is a high school for LGBT youth located a few blocks from the store. The AIDS Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to low-income people with AIDS.
Since this incident, there have been several "Buy-ins" at Cliff’s Variety. These events were hosted by Stand With Us, a Bay Area pro-Israel group.
SFGN contacted Stand With Us representative Faith Steinberg Meltzer, who has also been quite vocal in her support of LGBT equality.
"In the Jewish tradition, the only way to dispel darkness is to increase the light," Meltzer stated. "That’s the beauty of the ’buycott’ tactic. We wanted to show Cliff’s Variety that the community supported their decision to stand firm against the bullies, and I feel we succeeded. Cliff’s isn’t alone in this struggle." Meltzer provided SFGN with a video of a pro-Palestinian rally in front of San Francisco’s Israeli consulate.
In the video, dated November 16, 2012, a protester demands to not be videotaped. When the request is declined, the protester repeatedly screams "Fuck you, Jew!"
Meltzer also shared a May 22, 2013 posting from the Facebook page of jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, who supports the Palestinian liberation movement. In the posting, Atzmon refers to Meltzer as "the wildest Zionist bitch in the Bay Area."
(Kate Raphael, a Jewish lesbian, is a co-founder of QUIT Palestine. The group’s website does not currently provide a founding date. At Raphael’s page at www.discoverthenetworks.org she is reported to have taken part in anti-Israel activism dating back to 2002. QUIT’s website describes the group as "an international movement for human rights that encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation and all other liberation movements." At QUIT’s About page, Raphael offers this statement: "It is the right of any occupied people to fight for their freedom, in fact it is their duty. Historically every freedom struggle has been accompanied by acts of terrorism from the oppressed.")
The statement is accompanied by a photo of Burka-clad women standing in front of a destroyed home. The date and location of the photo is not specified.
"There was no duplicity. Let me also mention that we had been tabling and leafleting outside Cliff’s for nine months by the time this happened," Raphael told SFGN regarding the Cliff’s protest in question. "We had attempted to meet with the manager to discuss our demand that they stop selling SodaStream, and every single time we came to hand out leaflets, they called the police and tried to get them to deny us our legal right to stand on the sidewalk and educate our community. Every time the police informed them that we were within our rights."
"We called the police once or twice to verify they had the right to be there," said Martha Jasten. "Most of the time we closed the door and ignored them."
"Legally people have the right to protest," stated Officer Albie Esparza, Public Information Officer for the SFPD. "As long as they don’t interfere with the business, block doors, block sidewalks, etc."
Raphael said that Jasten and the rest of the employees at Cliff’s had no reason to feel ambushed.
"We were disruptive, yes, but in no way threatening. Our singing was good-humored, we had a liaison whose job was to mediate any conflict with the store or police," Raphael said. "If she had listened to her for one second, she would have explained that we would only be in there for a few minutes. Instead, the liaison herself was shoved and screamed at."
According to a 2010 report published by The International Lesbian and Gay Association (www.ilga.org), homosexuality is illegal in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip, and is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
(On April 8, 2012, The International Middle East Media Center reported that Hamas executed three Palestinians for a variety of crimes including murder, treason, and homosexuality. The story claims that the families of the executed men were in favor of killing them.)
"If any Palestinian queers asked us to support any campaign around LGBT rights in Palestine, I expect we would be glad to do so," said Raphael. "We have never been approached by any group or Palestinian individual doing any such thing. We have been willing to criticize the Palestinian Authority for the death penalty and for any legitimate and proven acts of anti-gay oppression."
(Raphael stated that QUIT takes no position on marriage equality. An April 17, 2013 posting at her Facebook page begins with the words "we’re here, we’re Queer, and we don’t want marriage equality.")
In June 2012, QUIT protested screenings of the Israeli produced documentary Invisible Men, which shines a light on the harsh anti-gay repressions faced by Palestinian gay men who reside in the occupied territories. These showings were sponsored by Frameline, San Francisco’s annual LGBT film festival.
"Our protest was not aimed at Invisible Men," Raphael said. "Our demand to Frameline has always been to stop partnering with the Israeli government, and the reason we chose to do an action at that film is because it was sponsored by the (Israeli) consulate." (On June 23, 2012, SF Bay Area Independent Media Center (www.indybay.org) posted "Will QUIT Silence Palestinian Queer Voices?" The piece, credited to PIBB, posed this question: "Will Quit firmly establish itself as a hate group by silencing the already marginalized voices of Palestinian Queers? Or will they choose to open their hearts and minds and actually listen to the stories of those they claim to support?")
When contacted by SFGN, Frameline director K.C. Price declined to discuss the incident.
Quit Palestine: www.cliffsvariety.comwww.cliffsvariety.com.