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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Education & Student Activism | Racial Justice
Where is the outrage? Pogrom at SFSU
SFSU Proffesor describes the experience of being caught in anti-Jewish riot at SFSU.
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 have 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 African American student 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 mhave 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
San Francisco State University