I’ve participated in several vigils at Reem’s Bakery in Oakland, and would like to take this opportunity to clear up some inaccuracies in Carol Sanders’ August 11 opinion piece.

The vigils at Reem’s Bakery in Oakland are not about Israelis vs. Palestinians. They are not about Jews vs. Muslims, or even about the left vs. the right.

The vigils protest the symbol that Reem Assil has chosen for her bakery, a symbol that should be offensive to anyone whose life has been touched by violence. Thousands of Native American activists have protested the Washington Redskins logo because it is offensive to their heritage. African Americans have protested the confederate flag- a potent symbol of slavery and supremacy. The vigils are continuing because symbols, like words, have power.

Rolling vigils have been held at Reem’s for several weeks, protesting a mural that features a convicted terrorist, Rasmea Odeh. Odeh confessed to the bombing of the British consulate and a grocery store after one day in custody. The trial was supervised by the International Red Cross, which agreed that it was fair. Bomb making equipment was found in her home. Two young men, Leon Kanner and Edward Joffee, were killed and nine others injured in the attacks. In an Arabic language documentary, widely available online, the organizers of the bombings can be heard proudly boasting of their roles.

Participants in the vigils at Reem’s include animal justice advocates, a local labor leader, LGBTQ activists and a former Bernie Sanders delegate, hardly the “right wing” brigade described by Sanders in her op-ed.

At the July 8 vigil a wheelchair bound participant and a 78-year-old survivor of the Warsaw ghetto were viciously attacked by patrons and employees of Reem’s. They were not “blocking the entrances.” They were standing silently with signs that stated, “Honor the Victims. Not their Killer.” Police reports were filed. This incident was documented in the local Jewish paper, The J Weekly, and by photos and videos taken by bystanders at the scene. The attackers strutted around with the signs they ripped out of people’s hands.

Reem’s has repeatedly used the Oakland Police Department to  silence the voices of those in peaceful protest. At the August 8 vigil, two squad cars and four police officers were dispatched to deal with seven protesters in an effort to deprive them not only of their right to free assembly, but their right to free expression. Apparently any political expression that goes against the dominant narrative is simply not permitted.

In a community devastated by violence, why is Reem’s Bakery glorifying Rasmea Odeh, an unrepentant murderer? Why has she chosen to decorate her shop with a portrait of someone who targeted innocent civilians in a grocery store?

In spite of the attacks and attempts to harass and intimidate our community members, these vigils will continue, because as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said,   “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. ”

Faith Meltzer is a long time Bay area resident and social justice advocate.
Faith Meltzer is a long time Bay area resident and social justice advocate.