Berkeleyites mystified by anti-Semitic graffiti at Codys

While anti-Semitic incidents are not common in liberal Berkeley, a recent spate of swastikas, hate fliers and vandalism targeting the Jewish owner of Cody's Books has prompted a community backlash.

"It's not just a Jewish issue, it is a broader issue," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.

The vandalism "really speaks to [a need for] tolerance. Christians, agnostics and others should rally around this," Dean added.

Barbara Bergen, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, also called on the community to "send a message that intolerance is an affront to all people of good will and will not be ignored."

Many, in fact, are doing just that. Telegraph Avenue merchants, city staff, Berkeley police, the ADL and Andy Ross, the owner of Cody's, met Monday to plan a community "Speak-Out," according to Dean. At the Bulletin's press time, the rally was slated for noon yesterday in front of the popular mega-bookstore at 2454 Telegraph Ave.

The Speak-Out may be the first time Berkeley residents learn of the six-month anonymous campaign waged against Ross. The bookseller said he has routinely washed chalk swastikas and Stars of David from store-front windows and sidewalks before business hours.

"Now, I realize you have to speak up. I should have been calling Channel 2" television crews rather than erasing all traces of the acts, Ross said.

In addition to the graffiti, the perpetrator posted fliers depicting Ross as a fascist oppressor of the homeless, broke or carved in at least six windows at the bookstore and wrote a letter calling the owner "Adolf Ross" and a "venomous Jew."

Ross said the acts have created an "atmosphere of terror" for him and his family.

"It's egregious. The images are particularly disturbing because of all the history behind them."

Ross believes that his tough stance against the Telegraph Avenue homeless — who according to Ross congregate in front of Cody's and hassle customers — has raised the ire of his secret enemy.

As part of Telegraph Avenue's merchants association, Ross has complained about the homeless problem to the city council several times this year.

Though the problem is longstanding, the recent complaints have motivated the council to actually do something about it, said Mayor Dean.

As for the Cody's vandalism, Berkeley police have placed extra patrol officers on Telegraph Avenue and an investigation into the matter remains open pending further leads.

Police Captain Bobby Miller said there are no suspects yet.

The ADL also is investigating and plans to offer hate-crime training seminars for the city attorney's staff and Berkeley police.

Telegraph Avenue merchants say they are outraged by the campaign against Ross, but feel they must be careful about their response.

"Communication between the people on the street and the merchants had improved a couple months ago," said Marc Weinstein, owner of Amoeba Music, which is across the street from Cody's.

But those negotiations may have been destroyed by the vandalism to the bookstore, he said.

"It's become the preoccupation of everybody as to who's doing this and why," added Weinstein, who is Jewish.

"I hate to see any kind of sentiment of that happening on Telegraph. It's the last place you would expect to see a hate symbol painted on the wall. Occasionally, there's an overt message that is anti-establishment.

"That's why everyone is treading lightly about this," he said, "so as not to create the impression that this is the kind of thing that goes on around here."

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.