Swastika of David

Radical rhetoric: Violence in the Middle East spilled over into angry conflict on the streets of Sacramento and Davis during several street protests last week. The rhetoric now is mostly hateful and uncompromising, with violent death wished upon both Israeli leader Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“Both sides are using very extreme language,” observed David Mandel, a Sacramento attorney, as a couple of hundred pro-Palestinian protesters circled him in front of the Capitol last Thursday, holding signs equating the Nazi swastika with the Jewish Star of David, and calling for “Victory to Palestine” and for Sharon to be tried for genocide.

In such a supercharged climate, Bites was drawn by Mandel’s simple sign: “Occupation is the Source of Violence. A Jewish Voice for Peace.” There were other non-Palestinians there that day, and organizers took pains to convey that the protest was against occupation, not the existence of the Jewish state.

But with such palpable anger directed at all things Israeli, it seemed bold for Mandel—who holds dual Israeli and U.S. citizenship and lived in Israel for 12 years—to stand up and proclaim himself a Jew. He also seemed the best person to comment on the irony of signs such as “Sharon=Hitler,” and the equation of Zionism with Nazism.

“Using the swastika is provocative and polarizing and it doesn’t help,” said Mandel, and Bites could sense this man’s indignation rising, torn between allegiance to his people and his sense of justice, because Mandel believes “there has to be an independently governed Palestinian state next to Israel.” He sees no other way.

Mandel is a member of the Middle East Peace Project, along with his friend Akef Shihabi, a Palestinian transplant to Sacramento who was also at the rally, carrying another simple sign: “Peace with Justice,” spelled out in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Perhaps enlivened by the crowd, Shihabi displayed more anger, saying “occupation is the worst kind of violence” and chalking the swastika equals Star of David stuff up to “an emotional reaction.”

Yet still, despite his anger, Shihabi doesn’t want Israel destroyed. Like Mandel, he believes peaceful co-existence is possible, and Bites left the rally believing that if a political settlement is possible at this point, it will be reached by men like Mandel and Shihabi.

Gray gets black-and-white: It was front-page news when Governor Gray Davis last week came out against the powerful California Teachers Association’s attempt to allow textbook selection to be part of contract negotiations over salaries and benefits. But most papers never said where Davis made his controversial stand.

It was at Sacramento’s Hart Senior Center, at a staged press conference designed to remind seniors that they can claim a prescription drug benefit. Or, as the journalists in attendance grumbled, to use an old law as an excuse for a photo op that reached out to elderly voters.

As is his custom, Davis was late, leaving the seniors who would serve as backdrops lined up on stage waiting. Then he gave his spiel, repeating his non-news over and over, and then took a few questions. It was when someone asked about the CTA bill that Davis broke with his customary obfuscation and gave a definitive, newsworthy answer.

“Wow, he actually took a stand,” said KCRA’s Kevin Riggs, as the big band music got cued up and Davis began dancing with the old women on stage. Lemme tell ya, it was a strange scene. And that’s the story behind the story.

Fast and furious: After getting a 15-day reprieve, homeless families in the seasonal emergency shelter at Cal Expo will soon be on the streets. At least, that’s what will happen unless homeless advocates—including those on a part-time protest fast—can coax one more vote on the Board of Supervisors to stop the April 30 closure.

“We will fast until one more supervisor realizes that this moral obligation doesn’t stop when it stops raining,” a hungry Don Brown of Trinity Cathedral said last week.

Good point. Somebody get that man a sandwich.