Letters for the week of June 9-15

Anneli Rufus' story on anti-Semitism generated more letters than any story in years; here are a few.

“Berkeley Intifada,” Feature, 5/19

Selective memory
Anneli Rufus’ article completely mischaracterizes the state of pro-Palestinian activism at UC Berkeley, which she bases entirely on the actions of two infamous and slightly deranged protesters. She fails to condemn Daniel Pipes’ intolerance and the many racial epithets hurled at Moslem students by pro-Israeli attendees the night of the speech, which I, a UC Berkeley junior, attended. Does Rufus remember the frequent Berkeley attacks on women wearing headscarves (during which their hijabs were forcibly removed), the assaults on Sikh students mistaken for Muslims or, most importantly, the graffiti at the RSF sports complex stating that “All people named Mohammed must die”? Perhaps Rufus has selective memory in addition to selective liberalism.

Mehammed Mack, Berkeley

Free speech is alive
I’d like to comment on the article about intolerance at UC Berkeley in relation to Middle East issues. I decline from contending whether there is or is not a climate of anti-Semitism on campus because I only know my own experiences. No individual could claim that racism doesn’t exist because they don’t personally see it.

What I’d like to critique in the article is how a few standout protesters at the Daniel Pipes talk who clearly were not students were pointed to as examples of anti-Semitism, implying that they are representative of campus Palestine groups. The guy dressed as Uncle Sam with swastikas drawn on an Israeli flag, Joe Webb, is a Palo Alto therapist who persistently shows up at nearly every local antiwar event. While one couldn’t write off each racist as an isolated case, this handful of extremist nuts present the more moderate pro-Palestinian students with a catch-22 situation. In order to create a tolerant atmosphere on campus and to save their group’s reputation, should they resort to intolerant methods of censorship or violence to silence these damaging individuals? Disagreement and debate are not going to drive them away. The principles from the Free Speech Movement on campus tend to work against policing of fringe people.
Christine Petersen, Berkeley

Pro-Israeli activists share the blame
While anti-Semitic slurs that condone violence and blame Jews for 9/11 are reprehensible and counterproductive, pro-Israel student activists like Micki Weinberg are not immune to their share of hostility, hatred, and hyperbole.

Nowhere in her eleven-page article does Anneli Rufus ever mention Micki Weinberg’s ill-fated run for the Berkeley City Council in 2002. In that race, Weinberg hurled accusations of anti-Semitism against incumbent Kriss Worthington, despite the fact that Worthington voted against the city council resolution to divest from Israel and had actively commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day for the last 25 years.

The venom spewed from Weinberg in that campaign was hurtful to all of us who have worked closely with Worthington over the years, and know him to be a compassionate champion of all people. According to Weinberg, one cannot be critical of extreme Zionists nor supportive of the civil liberties of pro-Palestine students without being “anti-Semitic.” Even rational attempts by some Cal students to approach Weinberg during the campaign and discuss the Israel/Palestine situation — in a constructive manner that promotes, rather than restricts, free speech — were rebuffed by Weinberg’s childish rants that you must be anti-Semitic.

Our community should condemn hyperbole and epithets from both sides of the debate — whether they come from pro-Israel or pro-Palestine activists. Rufus’ article was extremely one-sided, wholly subjective, and uncritically biased.
Paul Hogarth, Berkeley Rent Board commissioner, Berkeley

Out of context
In the article “Berkeley Intifada,” there is one glaring omission in terms of context that I believe warrants a correction.

Toward the end of the article, I am quoted as stating “Why don’t you go to Iran; I hear it is nice this time of year.” This quote makes me out to be a bigot and racist, which I am not. In context, per our interview, I described to the writer my conversation with a man outside the Pipes lecture and told him that he was lucky to be in a country where he had the right to dissent and protest as he was doing. I then proceeded to tell him that if he were in a place such as Iran, he would not have this luxury. I further told him that I thought he should be careful who and what he chooses to defend because if he hates America so much, and loves Iran, then maybe he should just go there. That is what I said. I am taking a lot of heat for a comment that was printed out of context.
Daniel Frankenstein, Berkeley

See their Experience
Kudos to Anneli Rufus for writing the story no one has dared to tell. It’s the story I’ve been wanting to see since the day I stepped onto Cal’s campus two years ago. In the name of liberalism and left thinking, this place is the most closed-minded, judgmental school and city I’ve seen. It’s a shame this story didn’t run until after school was out, and I can’t help but wonder why this was the case. For those who will have the knee-jerk response to dismiss or attack the piece, I hope you can maybe, just maybe, allow yourselves to absorb the other side’s experience, even if only for a moment.

J.R., Berkeley

What happened to tolerance?
Yes, UC Berkeley has lost its tolerance. Last time I walked on campus with a Palestinian flag on my T-shirt, I was screamed at, “You fucking anti-Semite,” “whore,” and spit at. I have been told, “The problem is, we haven’t killed enough of you terrorists.” I have been threatened with death and blowing up my family. Which is exactly what Israel does every day to Palestinians — it’s called “ethnic cleansing,” and it’s why I will wear my T-shirt with a Palestinian flag. What happened to tolerance in the Express?

Karen Maleski, San Jose

Thanks
What an excellent piece of journalism “Berkeley Intifada” was. Having been to many of the events mentioned, I was elated to read the same events I witnessed so eloquently presented. This writer caught everything in her article. Thank you for telling it like it is.

Lee Kohl, Sonoma

In fifteen years here, I’ve never seen it
The article by Anneli Rufus is a shockingly bad example of deceptive journalism.

The article, from the subheadlines on down (and even the headline on the cover), purports to document an alleged upsurge of anti-Semitism in Berkeley. “At UC Berkeley, which owes as much of its allure to radical rhetoric as to academic excellence, it thrives.” While some evidence is cited for anti-Semitism in Berkeley at large (Yes, Virginia, there is anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in Berkeley too), virtually no evidence is provided in the article for the presence of anti-Semitism on the UC Berkeley campus and certainly none that anti-Semitism is characteristic of certain departments (as alleged by Professor Mel Gordon) nor that it is socially acceptable (as alleged by AIPAC representative on campus, Daniel Frankenstein). While the documentation of every false and misleading point in the article would produce a letter that would be too long for me to write or for you to print, I shall choose some examples.

It is remarkable that in the whole article only one Berkeley professor is cited. Although one other is represented as having declined to comment, at last count there were a couple of thousand professors, hundreds of them Jewish, including several experts on Jewish culture and history. Have they been assaulted at Berkeley with that alleged “relic from the history books” — some of which they wrote — “anti-Semitism”?

Had this Israeli professor been asked, I would have answered that in fifteen years of teaching Talmud at Berkeley and walking on the campus day after day with a yarmulke on my head, I have never once been subjected to an instance of anti-Semitism directed at me. It seems in general a remarkable fact that the only people at Berkeley who perceive anti-Semitism on the campus are right-wing Zionists. Assuming good faith on the part of these anti-Semitism detectors, this would suggest that the attacks that they have experienced were indeed a function of their political positions and not of their being Jewish. Thus, when Daniel Frankenstein ran for student-body president, it is hardly surprising that his rightist Zionist political connections became a public issue. To be sure, the rhetoric of student politics is frequently enough these days ad hominem and vulgar, but surely some alleged nasty comment (anti-Semitic in tone for sure) by a particular student does not add up to anti-Semitism being socially acceptable on the campus. (Did the so-called reporter seek any incidents of anti-Arab rhetoric on campus? It wouldn’t be all that difficult to find.)

In point of fact, Rufus does cite an example of anti-Muslim “hate speech”; she just seems incapable of understanding it. At the congregation outside of Daniel Pipes’ Hillel-sponsored lecture on February 10, two “male students, like college guys anywhere, eyed a group of young women whose hair was hidden under the hijab,” but — like college guys anywhere? — these two young men chose to make racist comments: “I wonder how all these women who are supporting the Arabs would feel about being clitorecticized.” Were Rufus following her own practices of reasoning as exhibited throughout the article, she should surely have concluded that among right-wing students, anti-Arabism or anti-Muslimism is “socially acceptable” and “thriving.”

On that same incident, Rufus notes that one militantly Christian protester against Pipes (obviously not a student or a Berkeley faculty member, as she could easily have told us) was holding a large and viciously anti-Semitic poster. What she chooses not to tell us, intrepid reporter that she is, is that other protesters against Pipes were vigorously arguing with that man and calling him an anti-Semite. One of the real dangers of confusing political discourse that is anti-Israel oppression with anti-Semitism is that it makes it just that much harder to combat the real anti-Semites.

The only other incident of genuine anti-Semitism reported by Rufus has to do with, once again, an obviously off-campus non-Arab speaker, who seems to have been (on Rufus’ own account) deeply embarrassing to Muslims who were at the event.

As evidence of her irresponsible reporting, I would adduce Rufus’ dragging up of the unfortunate incident last year of Susanna Klein’s slanderous allegations against a graduate student instructor for having, according to her, brought up The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in class and defended its authenticity. Rufus notes, of course, that the university investigated and found Klein’s allegation baseless (implying slyly that the university is soft on anti-Semitism) but fails to note that the local ADL found so too. So what, I ask, is the point of bringing this up in this article other than to mislead and inflame, perhaps the very definition of yellow journalism?

Finally, Micki Weinberg’s memory of the date of April 9, 2002 as “one of his pinnacles of horror” is not because that is the anniversary of the Jewish massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin. It is rather because the Palestinian students chose that day, the actual anniversary of the massacre, to memorialize and protest it, horrifying Weinberg apparently because it happened to coincide that year with the Holocaust Memorial Day established by the Israeli government. This is surely, à la Weinberg (and Rufus), evidence for anti-Semitism on the campus. Or perhaps what so horrified Mr. Weinberg on that day was that a Jewish activist said Kaddish for the victims of Deir Yassin, thus suggesting the “twisted and sick” proposition that the dead Palestinians are as worthy of remembrance as the dead Jews. Frankenstein, for his part, remembers that on that day someone spat at him, but not that on that day a Jewish student activist was also arrested by campus police for spitting at a Palestinian. He is a politician and an AIPAC representative; his memory is supposed to be selective. Reporters, even for what was once such a fine paper, the Express, are supposed to adhere to other standards.
Daniel Boyarin, Ph.D, Taubman professor of Talmudic culture, UC Berkeley

In Berkeley, I found tolerance
It is one thing to allow for the ranting of an angry journalist in a major publication; it is another thing entirely, however, to publish material that clearly incites hatred and violence toward a member of the American community, in this case Muslim Americans. It is also unbalanced and untrue to present either UC Berkeley or advocates for the Palestinian cause as anti-Semitic.

As an Afghan American with a Muslim name, who grew up on the west side of Los Angeles and also attended UC Berkeley, the perceptions expounded in Ms. Rufus’ article present an explicitly one-sided view of life in California. For many Muslim Americans living in Los Angeles, the fear of having personal and professional mobility stifled at the hands of the prevailing conservative Jewry is an ever-present and real concern. Being depicted in media and corporate culture as the “other” was a constant in my upbringing amid a community that perceives my existence as a threat to Jewish nationhood. Now who is bringing the conflict home? In Berkeley, I found for the first time a community that not only respected my existence, but also embraced it. I also found a peace-loving world that did not want to stand by the wayside as human injustices were being committed, either around the corner or in faraway Palestine.

In addition to provoking hatred toward Muslim Americans, so familiar to my upbringing in West Los Angeles, Ms. Rufus confuses human dignity with her pathetic and degrading understanding of anti-Semitism. The idea that an advocate for the Palestinian cause is either a terrorist or an anti-Semite calls into question the sheer notion of questioning authority, something that the Berkeley community has been doing for over three decades. Often this questioning takes place amid the hysteria and mob rule that envelops our nation from time to time, as was the case in the 1960s. The traditions and history that brought Micki Weinberg to Cal are alive and well; unfortunately Mr. Weinberg cannot experience it through the cloud of his own judgment.

To say I am an advocate for the Palestinian cause does not nullify my sentiments for the millions of Israelis who also live with the atrocities of their government, and the consequences of a terrorized people who lash out. In fact, to stand by the wayside and not be an advocate for the Palestinian people is not so unlike the millions of Poles, Czechs, Danes, Frenchmen, and Germans who witnessed the beginnings of the slaughter of the Jews, Gypsies, gays, etc., and DID NOTHING.

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, I can’t help but think how far removed we are from the values that triumphed over evil then. So many million dead, soldiers and civilians, but so many million survived. What is their lesson: Is it Israel today?
Abdul Sarwari, Oakland

Your story was too one-dimensional
As a Jew and a child of a Holocaust survivor, I am glad that the Express decided that anti-Semitism was an important enough subject on which to do a cover story. Unfortunately, your reporter Anneli Rufus was not up to the challenge of sorting out the complex interactions of anti-Semitism, racism, and Islamophobia currently at play at Cal and in the larger society. Rather than acknowledge that Muslims are also victims of hate crimes, intolerance, and ignorance, Rufus ends up scapegoating and belittling them.

Just as fomenting anti-Semitism will do nothing to help the Palestinian cause, blaming and demeaning Muslims will do nothing to reduce anti-Semitism. Your readers would be better served by a story on groups that are working to promote tolerance and understanding among Muslims, Arabs, and Jews and a peaceful solution in the Middle East, such as the East Bay Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group, Tikkun, Tzedek, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Muslim WakeUp.
Terry Fletcher, Berkeley

Brown-eyed girl
Individual acts of passionate stupidity are awful, and there has been some excess around the issue of Israel’s bloody persecution of Palestinians. But this article is so horrendously full of shit it gives journalism brown eyes.

Frank Scott, San Rafael

UC has changed
Thank you so much for the “Berkeley Intifada” article. The climate of anti-Semitism on campus has been building dramatically in the years since the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it’s very scary to me as a Jew that people equate all Jews with diehard Zionists. I believe the Israelis treat the Palestinians horrifically and that change should happen immediately, but I also believe that Israel has a right to exist, though perhaps within shrunken borders. As a supporter of human rights, Israel’s actions gall me, but they are not a reason to hate all Jews.

During a Berkeley campus rally I attended a couple of years ago, pro-Palestinian speeches started out anti-Israeli but turned anti-Semitic very quickly. The protesters were unwilling or unable to accept that their cause was not about Jews, but about politics and borders. Ironically, this rally was held on Holocaust Memorial Day, and across from the rally a small group of Hillel students read the names of people killed in Nazi concentration camps.

Like Micki Weinberg, I chose Berkeley for its history and the climate of free speech and tolerance. I was sorely disappointed. I think it’s time for Berkeley’s activists to find a way to fight for and educate people about their cause without advocating hate.
Jessica Hilberman, Oakland

“Catch Me If You Can,” Feature, 5/12

We paid for her crimes
My family owned LG Travel. When we let Nimfa go, she rented the front office from Murco (the landlord). We had downsized and later found out Bank of America had opened an account for her under our name. She was never a manager (she must’ve ordered her own cards). My mother was the president and I was the VP of administration, no managers.

I hold the bank responsible for letting her
open an account under our name (it wasn’t even spelled correctly). Either she broke into my mom’s office or copied financial records before she was fired, or the bank opened it wrongfully. I honestly think we should go after the bank. We did report her to the Fremont police, but because she didn’t steal from us they said they couldn’t do anything about it! But my mom was taken to court, mortgaged her home even though Nimfa did work for her. My mom paid for Nimfa stealing the name of her company and had to sell our family home in Fremont. I wish [Nimfa] could do time in a penitentiary instead of the county jail.
Laureen Mesa, Stateline, NV

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