College Israel activists explore outreach strategies

The event was sponsored by the Israel Project, the campus division of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation Israel Center.

Workshops and discussions addressed effective strategies for promoting pro-Israel sentiment among various communities on campus. Others looked ahead to the upcoming celebration of Israel's 50th year of independence.

One panel discussion was led by leaders from the lesbian and gay, Latino, Asian and African American communities.

Martha Knutzen, chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, discussed her trip to Israel, where she was inspired by the stories of pioneer Jews. She sees that pioneer spirit echoed in lesbian and gay communities now forging a space for themselves in American society.

Knutzen, who is also former president of the Harvey Milk Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, compared the experience of coming out as lesbian or gay with coming out as Jewish.

"When reaching out to lesbian and gay people," Knutzen advised, "be sure to ask about that part of their identity, just as you would want to be acknowledged as Jewish."

Claudine Cheng, former national president of the Asia Civil Rights Organization, was also on the Israel trip, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. She said her response to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995 was deepened by her experience in Israel. "Whether interpersonal or political, firsthand experience may promote understanding," she said.

Other panelists included Adrianw Bankhead, a student activist representing U.C. Berkeley's African American community, and Fernando Tafoya, a San Francisco attorney representing the Latino community.

Becoming familiar with different communities and finding opportunities to discover common ground, the panelists said, was a crucial component in building trust.

Tafoya, a native of Texas, said he had never known a Jew before he attended Brandeis University as an undergraduate. The term "Jew" had always been an unfamiliar word that he was reluctant to use, thinking it might be offensive. This "fear of insulting someone," often as a result of ignorance, is what "keeps us apart from one another," Tafoya said.

Bankhead said that given the tense relationship between blacks and Jews, linking the two communities in common projects may not be so simple. "Although there is an openness based on similar histories experienced by both communities," affirmative action and concerns about Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan are among the divisive issues that erode the black-Jewish relationship.

In December, many of the attendees will embark on the Student Leadership Study Tour, a three-week seminar held in Israel, also sponsored by the Israel Project.