Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Wednesday, May 29, 2002
SF State University Blogburst

The following column by John Podhoretz appeared originally in the
New York Post.

May 14, 2002 -- The San Francisco Bay area is the new France - and that's not a compliment.

There's been a great deal of attention paid in recent weeks to the horrifying outbreak of anti-Semitism in France. Far less attention has been paid to an outbreak of anti-Semitism in Northern California that seems to be spreading like the awful spiritual disease it is.

Since the start of the year, there have been 50 documented cases of anti-Semitic acts in and around the Bay Area. That is more than three times as many as in all of 2001, according to Jonathan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League. He also reports that his office is the only one of the ADL's 30 regional bureaus to note an increase in anti-Jewish incidents.

There have been serious arson attempts on two synagogues. One temple, in Berkeley, would have been destroyed had a neighbor not spotted the fire on the roof. Another, in San Francisco, was pelted with Molotov cocktails.

It's worse at the universities. A man wearing a Jewish ritual skullcap was severely beaten on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Students and faculty attending religious services at the Berkeley Hillel, the Jewish meeting house, were pelted with rotten eggs.

The Hillel house itself has been defaced with graffiti.

The comparison with France, where leading politicians have made public statements that stop just short of anti-Semitism and private statments that don't stop, feels to me, as a lifelong Bay Area resident, like a cheap shot.

It doesn't reflect what life through most of the area is like, and it doesn't seem to be based on close study of the facts - the arson incident that Podhoretz places in Berkeley actually took place in Oakland, and press reports I have seen don't mention Molotov cocktails in acounts of either incident.

In fact, the level of tension seems to me and nearly all the Jews I know to be lower than Podhoretz suggests. Even in the notorious People's Republic of Berkeley, the newly-elected president of the ASUC, the highest position in student government, is Jesse Gabriel, a Jew and an active Zionist.

I do not wish to trivialize the incidents that have occured, or imply that there is some 'acceptable' level of anti-Semitic violence that hasn't yet been exceeded. I just mean that the article, which almost sounds as if Jews in the Bay Area can no longer walk down the street without looking over their shoulders, is somewhat overheated.

The worst incident happened last week at San Francisco State University, where there is clearly no division between anti-Israel political sentiment and naked anti-Semitism. Demonstrations against Israel have been a daily occurrence there for months, and the rhetoric on campus has taken a literally medieval anti-Semitic turn.

Laurie Zoloth, a professor at San Francisco State University, put it bluntly and powerfully in a widely circulated e-mail: "I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled 'canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites.' "

That's the explicit return of the "blood libel," the foul accusation leveled against the Jews of England in the 12th century that they were killing Gentile babies and using their blood in religious rituals.

The poster in question can be found here. It is assuredly true that such blatant racism directed at another ethnic minority (and financed in part through University funds) would never be tolerated.

It is worth noting that none of the groups which issued this repulsive poster have since apologized, with the exception of a pseudo-apology from the Muslim Students Association which essentially states:"We previously announced that Jews are inhuman monsters who murder Arab babies and drink their blood as a religious rite. We have since discovered that they do this for strictly secular reasons. We regret any error, however trivial."

When such expressions of infamy are not challenged, fought and defeated, those who voice them will only get more virulent. And that's what happened on May 8.

In an account confirmed by other witnesses, Laurie Zoloth described the disgusting denouement following a "Peace in the Middle East" rally sponsored by the SFSU Hillel.

A group of students, numbering around 50, had remained to chant afternoon prayers. At that moment, "Counter demonstrators poured into the plaza, screaming at the Jews to 'Get out or we will kill you' and 'Hitler did not finish the job.' I turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone . . .

"The police could do nothing more than surround the Jewish students and community members who were now trapped in a corner of the plaza, grouped under the flags of Israel, while an angry, out of control mob, literally chanting for our deaths, surrounded us. . . . There was no safe way out of the Plaza. We had to be marched back to the Hillel House under armed S.F. police guard, and we had to have a police guard remain outside Hillel."

I can't really comment directly on the demonstration, which I wasn't at. Along with Podhoretz's version of Laurie Zoloth's account, at least one other first person account is included in the blogburst.

It seeks clear from the accounts both of the demonstration and the aftermatn that the SFSU administration has tried to maintain a scrupulously even approach throughout. The moral vacuity of attempting to be 'even-handed' when faced with a conflict between a peaceful demonstration supporting legitimately controversial positions and a counter-demonstration/riot screaming for genocide has been superbly dissected by the Armed Liberal.

Yesterday, following almost a week of silence, SFSU President Robert Corrigan issued a statement about the incident. "A small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom were not SFSU students, abandoned themselves to intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat," Corrigan wrote. "That encounter puts at risk all that we value and represent as a university community."

That's true, but it's insufficient. Had Corrigan more directly addressed the rise of anti-Semitism on his campus in the months preceding the riot, it might have been forestalled altogether. "Despite the claims of some," wrote Corrigan in an obvious effort to criticize Laurie Zoloth, "this is not an anti-Semitic campus."

Jews and especially Zionists facing a degree of hostility on left-leaning campuses is hardly new. There has been much discussion recently of a course taught at UC Berkeley which openly discouraged any students who were insufficiently committed to the cause from enrolling. The same thing happened almost 25 years ago when I was a student at Santa Cruz. A course in beginning Arabic was advertised in flyers with the statement "Anti-Arab racists need not apply." The obvious reference was to the UN resolution that "Zionism is a form of racism."

For some time now, such attacks at SF State have been considerably harsher.

In fairness to University President Robert Corrigan, who has not been looked on favorably in the blogosphere, it should be noted that the major local Jewish publication recently published an editorial asserting that he has been unfairly blamed for the situation. But I found myself unconvinced by the editorial; it mainly persuaded me
that anti-Semitism has been a strong force on his campus for many years and, with I'm sure the best intentions, he has been unable or unwilling to do anything meaningful about it.

That's cold comfort to those Jewish students who have to endure being told on a daily basis that Hitler didn't finish the job. "The students are so brave," Laurie Zoloth told me, sighing. "But they shouldn't have to be brave."

This blog can only comment on one or two facets of the travesty at SFSU. Other dimensions of this incident and the alarming trends it represents are detailed in the full SFSU Blog Burst Index at Winds of Change.