Opinion | May 27th, 2024

District 4 Needs a Candidate Who Will Stand Up To Anti-Democratic Forces In Berkeley

By: Rabbi Cat Zavis, Otto Pippenger, and Jeff Kahn  

We were greatly disappointed to see the recent Berkeleyside Op-Ed on the morning of the 22nd, which alleged that Elana Auerbach, candidate for Berkeley City Council District 4, was unsuited for office on the basis of “insensitivity to one of the populations she would represent”- her population. They claim this was allegedly substantiated by her “disruptiveness” to the City Council for demonstrating and calling for a “distorted and one-sided cease-fire resolution.”


At no point does the Op-Ed mention that Auerbach is herself a Jewish woman, deeply connected to the Jewish community around her. It also does not mention that Auerbach called for dialogue last fall within the Berkeley Jewish community to try and bridge the divide and cultivate understanding and connection. Auerbach was told that it wasn’t wanted and to go find another place to dialogue.


Auerbach has been consistent in saying that she is a recovering Zionist, having believed for decades the framing of the conflict she had grown up with. Her positions have shifted based on what she has learned, a trait we should all value in our elected representatives. It must be said that to imply she would fail to represent or permit violence against her community, including her family and children is a deliberate misrepresentation of the most offensive and distorted kind.


It is undeniably true that on the issue of the war in Palestine, our City Council has ground to a halt. The reason for this, however, is both simple and disturbing: that our mayor and his allies on the council have refused to hear the public comment of demonstrators, or bring the resolution to a vote. This undemocratic approach has been enabled in part by an Agenda Committee stacked with the Council’s most vocally pro-Israel members: Mayor Arreguin and council members Hahn and Wengraf.


In short, rather than hear enshrined free speech from the public, or bring an issue they dislike to a vote, the leaders of our city have simply suspended the process of democracy and public involvement by dramatically limiting the number and length of non-agenda public comments, not allowing signs to be displayed at council meetings, and an agenda committee that regularly suppresses the people’s voice. They have hidden behind the false notion that not putting a Ceasefire Resolution on the agenda is somehow staying neutral, forgetting the powerful words of Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Weisel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”  


Polls suggest that 60% of Democrats in California support a ceasefire. Our mayor on the other hand, has chosen to accept a significant amount of donations from Israeli interest organizations, accepted two paid trips to Israel, proclaimed his absolute support at recent JCRC events, and has acted to use his position to not only support Israel in the conflict, but more importantly, to freeze civic, democratic processes.


Auerbach’s decision to participate in protest of this de facto veto, a filibuster not by a speaker but by our city government as a whole, makes her the only candidate who is acting in defense of democracy.


When our constitutional and civic rights are suspended, we should have a representative who does not accept affronts to our constitutional framework, but confronts them. Right now, as a citizen, protest is the avenue available to her, and we are grateful for it.


As the authors of the Berkeleyside hit piece note, their criticisms are irrespective of one’s position on the issue. So too are ours – our elected officials have a responsibility to allow public speech, even critical speech. They also have an obligation to bring proposed resolutions to the system; even if they are vetoed, voted down, sent to committee indefinitely, or rejected on bureaucratic grounds. But to freeze hearing on an issue leadership opposes, is an outrage to democracy.


Berkeley as a city is honored around the country and the world, as the site of historical protest against injustice. The students who demonstrated against the Vietnam War did so by all means available, and subjected themselves to the kind of fear mongering we have just seen printed in Berkeleyside. Some died or were disabled for life from police action or counter activists.


Our recently deceased former mayor, Gus Newport, ensured that Berkeley was the first city to divest from South African Apartheid; this spread around the country, and outside of the courageous ANC’s actions, this boycott was the most effective action in ending a regime of outrageous cruelty. Those demonstrators too, did not confine themselves to polite disagreement, or give up when doors were closed to them.


Auerbach has been called dangerous, and implied to be antisemitic for participating in protest to allow a call for peace to be heard, in the finest traditions of our city. Anyone running for leadership of Berkeley should be prepared to give political resistance to the suppression of democracy. Around the country, students and private citizens are having their lives ruined by targeted, well funded, professional smears by organizations like Canary Mission.


If an Op-Ed implying Auerbach hates her own people and that her protesting the suspension of the rules of democracy is anti-democratic, such is the cost of her convictions, and a small one to pay. We hasten to add that such an accusation could only be penned by ideology-driven people who don’t know Elana or the thoughtfulness of her big heart. Elana has shown she is dedicated to reaching out, across the aisle, to engage with people who don’t agree with her, an approach desperately out of vogue with the current City Council. It’s no surprise to those of us who know her that Elana has repeatedly called out bad behavior she’s witnessed at City Council meetings from both pro- and anti-Ceasefire folks because that’s who Elana is, not some myopic ideologue but a person of integrity who knows what’s right.  


We value this integrity in our leaders, and are so grateful that there is someone in this race like Elana Auerbach for us to support. 



Otto Pippenger is a campaign manager for Jovanka Beckles for State Senate who lives in District 4; Rabbi Cat Zavis is a long-time resident of Berkeley and leads mediation trainings; Jeff Kahn is an activist who lives in District 4.


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