Skip to comments.The shame of SFSU (Anti-Semitism in Bay Area)
Posted on 05/13/2002 1:59:05 PM PDT by jalisco555
The shame of SFSU
This is a message from Laurie Zoloth, the director of the Jewish Studies program at San Francisco State University. These are her thoughts after participating in the demonstration on campus last week.
Things like this don't just make me sick. They make me afraid to be a Jew. Americans need to wake up and stop this kind of hatred.
Today, all day, I have been listening to the reactions of students, parents, and community members who were on campus yesterday. I have received email from around the country, and phone calls, worried for both my personal safety on the campus, and for the entire intellectual project of having a Jewish Studies program, and recruiting students to a campus that in the last month has become a venue for hate speech and anti-Semitism. After nearly 7 years as director of Jewish Studies, and after nearly two decades of life here as a student, faculty member and wife of the Hillel rabbi, after years of patient work and difficult civic discourse, I am saddened to see SFSU return to its notoriety as a place that teaches anti-Semitism, hatred for America, and hatred, above all else, for the Jewish State of Israel, a state that I cherish.
I cannot fully express what it feels like to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, 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 under American license," past poster after poster calling out "Zionism=racism, and Jews=Nazis." This is not civic discourse, this is not free speech, and this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control. This is the casual introduction of the medieval blood libel and virulent hatred smeared around our campus in a manner so ordinary that it hardly excites concern--except if you are a Jew, and you understand that hateful words have always led to hateful deeds.
Yesterday, the hatred coalesced in a hate mob. Yesterday's Peace In The Middle East Rally was completely organized by the Hillel students, mostly 18 and 19 years old. They spoke about their lives at SFSU and of their support for Israel, and they sang of peace. They wore new Hillel t-shirts that said "peace" in English, Hebrew and Arabic. A Russian immigrant, in his new English, spoke of loving his new country, a haven from anti-Semitism. A sophomore spoke about being here only one year, and about the support and community she found at the Hillel House. Both spoke of how hard it was to live as a Jew on this campus how isolating, how terrifying. A surfer guy, spoke of his love of Jesus, and his support for Israel, and a young freshman earnestly asked for a moment of silence, and all the Jews stood still, listening as the shouted hate of the counter demonstrators filled the air with abuse.
As soon as the community supporters left, the 50 students who remained praying in a minyan for the traditional afternoon prayers, or chatting, or cleaning up after the rally, talking -- were surrounded by a large, angry crowd of Palestinians and their supporters. But they were not calling for peace. They screamed at us to "go back to Russia" and they screamed that they would kill us all, and other terrible things.
They surrounded the praying students, and the elderly women who are our elder college participants, who survived the Shoah, who helped shape the Bay Area peace movement, only to watch as a threatening crowd shoved the Hillel students against the wall of the plaza. I had invited members of my Orthodox community to join us, members of my Board of Visitors, and we stood there in despair. Let me remind you that in building the SFSU Jewish Studies program, we asked the same people for their support and that our Jewish community, who pay for the program once as taxpayers and again as Jews, generously supports our program. Let me remind you that ours is arguably one of the Jewish Studies programs in the country most devoted to peace, justice and diversity since our inception.
As the 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, and that if they did, "it would start a riot." I told them that it already was a riot. Finally, Fred Astren, the Northern California Hillel Director and I went up directly to speak with Dean Saffold, who was watching from her post a flight above us. She told us she would call in the SF police. But 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. Dr. Astren and I went to stand with our students.
This was neither free speech nor discourse, but raw, physical assault.
Was I afraid? No, really more sad that I could not protect my students. Not one administrator came to stand with us. I knew that if a crowd of Palestinian or Black students had been there, surrounded by a crowd of white racists screaming racist threats, shielded by police, the faculty and staff would have no trouble deciding which side to stand on. In fact, the scene recalled for me many moments in the Civil Rights movement, or the United Farm Workers movement, when, as a student, I stood with Black and Latino colleagues, surrounded by hateful mobs. Then, as now, I sang peace songs, and then, as now, the hateful crowd screamed at me, "Go back to Russia, Jew." How ironic that it all took place under the picture of Cesar Chavez, who led the very demonstrations that I took part in as a student.
There was no safe way out of the Plaza. We had to be marched back to the Hillel House under armed SF police guard, and we had to have a police guard remain outside Hillel. I was very proud of the students, who did not flinch and who did not, even one time, resort to violence or anger in retaliation. Several community members who were swept up in the situation simply could not believe what they saw. One young student told me, "I have read about anti-Semitism in books, but this is the first time I have seen real anti-Semites, people who just hate me without knowing me, just because I am a Jew." She lives in the dorms. Her mother calls and urges her to transfer to a safer campus.
Today is advising day. For me, the question is an open one: what do I advise the Jewish students to do?
Director, Jewish Studies Program
I received an email from Laurie confirming that the above is her letter.
And she added this:
It should also always be mentioned that until the last half hour, the campus and community held the largest rally for peace and for Israel in many years, and that it was a huge success was due to the wonderful Hillel leadership and students. It was a proud moment for our campus--but the way it ended was well over the line of civic discourse.
Pogrom is appropriate:
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a Pogrom is
(Russian: devastation, or riot), a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority. The term is usually applied to attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Since the dictionary definition I saw (Webster's) said, "massacre," I didn't, at the time, think the usage was quite right. Also, as you see in the link, after clicking on FreeperinRATcage's link at the top of his/her thread, "Pogrom" was not even in the original title - it was "Program." So, I was just trying to clarify.
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May 13, 2002
Dear Campus Colleagues:
In my 14 years as president of this university, I have never been as deeply distressed and angered by something that happened on this campus as I am by the events of last week. On Tuesday, a pro-Israel peace rally, thoughtfully organized and carefully carried out by SFSU Hillel members, drawing some 400 participants from both campus and community, evoked strong opinions and strong speech -- some from the free speech platform, much from the nearby pro-Palestinian counter-demonstration. But strong, even provocative, speech is not the problem, nor are strongly held opinions on highly-charged topics. Rather, it was the lack of civility and decency on the part of a very few demonstrators at points during the rally, and much more markedly after it, when rhetoric and behavior escalated beyond what this campus will tolerate.
For the most part, the most objectionable behavior occurred after the rally's organizers brought it to a formal close and a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who, in keeping with our student event policy, had been held back by barricades and campus police, moved onto the event site, where a few dozen organizers remained. There, some of the demonstrators behaved in a manner that completely violated the values of this institution and of most of you who are reading this message. Thankfully, I am not speaking about physical violence. The monitoring by University staff throughout the event and the significant police presence we had arranged to have on hand ensured the safety of all involved. Unfortunately, we were not equally able to ensure civil discourse and maintain the sense of security to which every member of this campus is entitled. 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. This group became so threatening in gesture and hostile in language that we interposed a police line between the groups and eventually escorted the Hillel students, and the faculty with them, from the plaza. No one was physically assaulted, but that encounter puts at risk all that we value and represent as a university community.
The demonstrators' behavior is not passing unchallenged. The University's code of student discipline and event policy allow for individual and group sanctions ranging from warning to suspension to expulsion for certain violations, and some of what took place on Tuesday may well fall within that area. Our videotaped record of the event is being reviewed now by SFSU Public Safety to note violations and identify violators so that the University's disciplinary procedures can begin. In one instance, that of a protestor who seized and stamped on an Israeli flag, the case has already gone forward. I fully expect to see other cases presented. If we identify violations of public law, we will refer cases to the District Attorney, with our strong recommendation for full prosecution. We have requested that the District Attorney assign a member of the hate crime unit to work with us, and our Department of Public Safety is contacting individuals who have reported behavior at the rally which would warrant legal action on our part.
I hope you will agree that no love of homeland, no fear or grief for loved ones in the actual area of Middle East conflict, excuses the behavior that has been reported. This is not a war zone. It is a campus, a place where all must feel physically protected even as we engage in the disputation that is part of a teaching and learning environment. But when disputation degenerates into bigotry and hate, we must -- and do -- act. We did so in the case of the "blood libel" flier (as I reported several weeks ago), and we are doing so now. The anguish and fear that the May 7th events have caused for members of our community can only intensify our active commitment to making this campus a hate-free zone.
We have reviewed, and will continue to review, the policies and procedures that guided our responses during the May 7 event. We may well adjust them. Certainly, we will take steps to ensure that encounters like those I have described will not recur. Nothing justifies such acts of overt hostility, or even the implied threat of physical assault. Such behavior is not an expression of free speech.
The vast majority of this campus community would condemn the hateful speech and threatening behavior we saw last Tuesday. It is a very few individuals who are fomenting this discord. Yet, as we see, their impact can be profound -- if we allow it to be. Despite the claims of some, this is not an anti-Semitic campus. But as history shows us, silence and passivity can at times of crisis be very little different from complicity. All of us -- and I would say especially members of the faculty, who have the greatest opportunity to educate and influence our students -- have a responsibility to help maintain this as a safe and sustaining environment for the expression and exploration of opposing views.
Many of our best faculty are doing exactly that, consciously and powerfully, every day. We need now to find ways to bring good colleagues together to shape a collective effort. The CUSP II strategic planning process offers us one opportunity; I am looking for others and welcome your thoughts. We need to make what has happened on our campus an occasion for learning, for reflection, for growth.
As you know, since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, I have sent frequent messages to the entire University community calling for peace and tolerance and many of you have responded marvelously, both in words and action; I take great pride in the hundreds of very positive e-mail and letters I have received. But now, as the actions of a small band of bigots threaten to tarnish the reputation of the University as a whole and to discredit all our students, I ask you to join me in speaking out for this University's true values. Show in actions well as words that you believe not only that "Love is Stronger than Hate" but that hateful actions, threats of violence, outrageous slurs and bigoted statements are rejected and contemned by our entire campus community.
Robert A. Corrigan
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