ADL answers critics of S.F. anti-Semitism campaign

"Many people were upset that it wasn't more inclusive," said Jonathan Bernstein, executive director of the ADL's Central Pacific region. They were bothered that the drive didn't also focus on hate crimes against other ethnicities.

They may have missed the point.

"There are a number of more generic anti-hate messages out there right now, and a number of cities that have passed anti-hate resolutions," explained Bernstein. "This campaign was a clear strategy of the ADL to deal directly with the dramatic increase of anti-Semitism in the Bay Area."

More than 60 reported acts of hate against Jewish people and institutions have been reported to the local ADL office since January. That's the highest amount in the country, and almost five times the amount reported the whole of last year, Bernstein said.

That's why elected Bay Area officials and local community and religious leaders joined the ADL at a press conference May 30 to condemn anti-Semitism in the "No Place for Hate" campaign; they, too, recognized that it is "a unique problem that needs to be addressed specifically," he noted.

The campaign includes a full-page ad that ran in the May 30 San Francisco Chronicle and in today's Bulletin (Page 17), featuring the "Covenant to Eradicate Anti-Semitism and Hate in the Bay Area." It is backed by many leaders, including law enforcement officials, mayors, U.S. senators, congressional and state representatives, city and county supervisors, human rights leaders, businesspeople and clergy.

"Their condemnation is a good first step" toward eliminating a climate "conducive to anti-Semitism," said Bernstein. He compared it to the aftermath of Sept. 11, when area leaders condemned the stereotyping of Muslims.

Many people, said Bernstein, don't always take anti-Semitism too seriously because they "buy into the stereotype of Jews being privileged, connected and powerful. They feel a hate crime against Jews doesn't have the same impact it would have on other oppressed minorities."

He also emphasized that "we felt like the Jewish community needed to see that basically — though we have this increase in incidents — this is nothing like the Holocaust, when you had the collaboration of government officials and law enforcement. And this is nothing like France, where politicians are looking the other way. Rather, law enforcement and clergy are condemning and labeling anti-Semitism for what it truly is and trying to work with the Jewish community."

At the May 30 press conference, held at San Francisco City Hall, several community leaders spoke out against the rise of anti-Semitism, including Mayor Willie Brown; the Rev. Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial Church pastor emeritus; and Rita Semel, former Interfaith Council president.

Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean called the incidents — which include arson at Oakland's Beth Jacob Congregation, an attempted arson at San Francisco's Temple Beth Israel-Judea, and assaults on Jews in Berkeley, San Francisco and Sacramento — "a shameful record."

Other incidents include harassing e-mails, phone messages and graffiti directed at synagogues and Jewish institutions throughout the Bay Area; a bomb threat at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco; and the taunting of an East Bay middle school student, who was called 'kike'.

Also at the press conference, the Rev. Penny Nixon of the Metropolitan Community Church, which ministers primarily to San Francisco's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, said, "When you hate a Jew, you hate me."

S.F. Supervisor Mark Leno, who is both gay and Jewish, pointed out: "if we don't stop" anti-Semites in their tracks, "it gives the Buford Furrows of the world permission." Furrow, an avowed white supremacist, received two life sentences in 2001 for a 1999 hate-motivated rampage resulting in the murder of a Filipino-American postman and the wounding of five people at an L.A.-area Jewish community center.

Bernstein said he hopes to see the "No Place for Hate" campaign move beyond words and into action. He said this could happen in many ways, including hate-crime training for law enforcement and educational programs in schools and for city officials.