Police arrested 17 people who had linked arms and blocked Montgomery Street, choking off Financial District traffic at midday. The protesters were cited for traffic violations and released later in the day.
Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace helped organize the rally, along with Jews for a Free Palestine and the Break the Silence Mural and Arts Project. JVP director Mitchell Plitnick said "Israel bears an enormous amount of responsibility for escalation in Gaza and Lebanon."
He believes Israel has more reason to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon than Hamas in Gaza,
because although both have attacked Israel and abducted Israeli soldiers Hamas is "acting as an arm of an occupied people. ... They are allowed to resist." Even in Lebanon, however, Israel's reaction has been disproportionate, targeting civilians and infrastructure rather than just Hezbollah strongholds, he said.
"I'm heartbroken about what's happening, heartbroken and furious," said protester Kali Grosberg, 69, of Oakland. "It feels to me like it's leading to a major conflagration in the Middle East and could spread to all parts of the world. ... Anything done by any side to inflame rather than negotiate is a travesty of human existence."
Leila, 26, of San Francisco, who wouldn't give her last name, wore a "Proud to be Lebanese" T-shirt and said she was protesting to support her native country. She said she has been unable to call her family in Tripoli, hit by Israeli airstrikes.
Jewish groups organized the event, but the crowd also included people waving Palestinian flags and shouting anti-Israel slogans. After most of the Jewish organizers had left, some in this latter group were heard calling for continuation of violent intifadah, or uprising, against Israelis.
Israeli Deputy Consul General Omer Caspi said the protesters "should demonstrate in front of the Lebanese Embassy or the Palestinian Authority offices in Washington. ... They hold the solution to the problems."
He said more than two million residents of northern Israel are "being held hostage by Hezbollah" while Lebanon ignores a United Nations mandate to deploy troops to help disarm and dismantle Hezbollah.
A pro-Israel counter-demonstration across the street Monday attracted roughly a third as many people. "I just wanted to support Israel and their right to defend themselves," said David Marinoff, 53, of Oakland, noting that Israel withdrew troops from Gaza and Lebanon only to see those lands used as bases for more attacks. "Hezbollah is a cancer, and if we don't get rid of it, it'll just come back."
But Ceanna Stephens, 29, of Oakland among those arrested issued a statement later Monday through Global Exchange, the human-rights watchdog group for which she works, saying "We do not condone any sort of violence, whether it comes from Hezbollah or the state of Israel.
"Israel's reaction to current events has been unbelievably cruel, and has caused intense suffering and death among many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have done nothing wrong," she said.
"This is a humanitarian crisis, and it is my obligation as a Jewish person for peace to speak out."
Contact Josh Richman at email@example.com.