Size, vitriol of anti-Zionist rally surprises SFSU Jews

Jewish students at San Francisco State University were quietly commemorating Yom HaShoah on Tuesday when they were blindsided by a loud and well-attended pro-Palestinian rally on Malcolm X Plaza in which speakers justified suicide bombings, downplayed the Holocaust and claimed Americans "worship Zionists."

Hillel students reported that speaker Imam Abdul Malik Ali, a spiritual leader at Oakland's Masjid Al-Islam mosque, urged the crowd of roughly 500 to 800 to "stop calling them suicide bombers. When a person commits suicide, they are oppressed, without hope, depressed. Palestinian mothers are supporting their children who are suicide bombers, saying, 'Go honey, go!'"

The Golden Gate Xpress, SFSU's online student newspaper, quoted Ali as saying, "That ain't suicide. That's martyrdom."

The Muslim religious leader and SFSU graduate also was quoted by both the school newspaper and Hillel students as calling for a right of return for Palestinians, saying that Israelis ought to return "to Germany, to Poland to Russia. The Germans should hook y'all up. You should go back to Germany."

Seth Brysk, San Francisco Hillel's executive director, said the rally's large size and fiery nature took Jewish campus organizations and students by surprise. A rally on Monday was described as smaller and tamer.

According to Brysk, Ali also called for a one-state solution to the Mideast violence ("You stole it, now give it back!") and repeatedly spoke of the power Zionists hold over America and Zionist efforts to destroy affirmative action.

A pair of pro-Palestinian Jewish speakers left the stage during Ali's speech, making their way over to the Holocaust remembrance table, where they remained throughout the protest, said Brysk. He was uncertain of their identities.

"When [Ali] started saying things about condoning suicide bombers and a one-state solution, I literally saw a look of fear and shock come over them," said Brysk. "They left the area and slowly walked away. They came over and stood with us."

Roughly 50 Jewish students gathered around a table disseminating information about the Holocaust, said SFSU junior Nathaniel Tishman.

Ali blamed the Zionist obsession with dismantling affirmative action on "the rise of the Jewish cracker," according to Brysk, possibly equating Jews with white trash.

"When he said that, I heard a gasp from the crowd, and the crowd had applauded the suicide bomber comments and one-state comments," said Brysk. "Some people did applaud."

SFSU administrators had offered Hillel students 45 minutes to commemorate the Holocaust, also offering 45 minutes for Palestinian student groups. Not wanting a competition between a Holocaust memorial event and a political rally, the Jewish students turned down the offer. Palestinian groups were then given the full 90 minutes on Malcolm X Plaza.

In addition to being concerned over the content of the pro-Palestinian rallies, campus Jews say they were sickened by a poster advertising Monday's event. A portion of the poster depicts a tin resembling a Spam can emblazoned with a photo of a mutilated baby and reading "Sharon Tradmark [sic] Palestinian Children Meat." The fictional product is "Slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."

"This is just blatant anti-Semitism," said Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who was given a copy of the poster by Brysk.

"It's based on the age-old anti-Semitic canard of blood libel. This is the exact same propaganda being promulgated right now in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It was also seen during the Inquisition and in Nazi Germany. I'm not sure how it ended up in San Francisco."

SFSU's Associated Students is listed as one of the poster's sponsors, enraging Jewish students.

"For Jewish students like me, my money is going to support that," said Tishman. "Obviously, I have a problem with that."

The poster has also frightened Jewish students.

"It makes me uncomfortable as a Jewish student on campus," said sophomore Jason Reinin. "I know others feel uncomfortable seeing that poster and walking around with a Magen David around their necks. It's absolutely disgusting."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.