Swastika stirs new concerns at Washington High School

A smaller, backward version of the Nazi symbol also appeared on her locker — which she shares with a non-Jewish student — earlier this year. But on Friday, Krivoshi said, it was etched "really big, so people kind of saw it."

The San Francisco Police Department is currently investigating the May 31 swastika incident, which Inspector Al Wong of the hate crime unit said, "appears to be a hate crime."

Since school ends today, however, "there's not a big window of opportunity" to locate the perpetrator, said Wong. He continues to follow up on leads but currently has no suspects.

This is the second time in less than a month that Washington High School has been scrutinized by the Jewish community.

On May 9, two Middle Eastern cultural assemblies put on by the school's Middle Eastern Club featured well-known anti-Israel lecturer Hatem Bazian and a rap song that compared Zionists to Nazis, according to some in attendance.

Afterward, the school's principal, Andrew Ishibashi, apologized to those who attended the assemblies, following the advice of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League. In his apology, he explained that "we were not aware this would turn out to be a political rally promoting one side" and that the school "does not endorse, in any way, what was said."

The Middle Eastern Club and some community Arab groups — whom school administrators believe helped organize the assembly — have since taken issue with the way the school handled the incident. They have targeted the school's dean Linda Plack, who stood up during the second assembly, calling it "a one-sided piece of propaganda."

"We have an obligation to understand the issues of the Middle East. But this assembly is not a step towards understanding," she told those in attendance."

In a letter from the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee and the Arab Cultural Center, recently sent to Ishibashi and the San Francisco Unified School District, Plack is accused of fostering an unsafe environment for Arab students as a result of her comments.

Also, at a recent San Francisco Board of Education meeting, similar accusations were made by representatives from those groups and from two students during public comment time.

Group representatives did not return phone calls, but Plack, who is Jewish and has worked at the school since 1983, said the charges are absolutely nonsensical.

And Ishibashi said he supported Plack's right, as an administrator at the school, to speak out, "because I honestly felt she was trying to ease the crowd." As for the claim that Plack was "silencing Arab students," Ishibashi stressed that the Middle Eastern Club had been encouraged to put on another assembly focusing on culture rather than politics.

Ishibashi also said the safety of both Arab and Jewish students on the campus was "a minute issue."

"I've worked at schools where racial tensions between African-Americans and Latinos was high and students from one group or the other wouldn't come to school because the they were afraid of being jumped," he said. "That not what has happened here."

As for last Friday's swastika incident, Ishibashi, who also found a swastika on the wall of the boy's bathroom in December and finds other graffiti swastikas "every now and then," said anti-Semitic graffiti "is not a widespread problem" on the campus.

But while the earlier swastikas were more randomly placed, in this case, "there is reason to suspect the student was specifically targeted," said Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the ADL. For that reason, "it is very important for administrators to respond aggressively to these issues and to treat them very seriously," he said.

Bernstein would not speculate about a possible connection between the swastika and last month's Middle East assembly. But he did describe the incident as "a microcosm of the broader issue" of anti-Semitism.

"You have this heated exchange on the Middle East conflict; it gets out-of-hand. Eventually the criticism towards Israel is allowed to delve into criticism of Jews in general, which leads to blatant anti-Semitism."

Both the JCRC and the ADL said they are continuing to make themselves available as resources to the school.

"Our concern is that schools not become battlegrounds for the conflict in the Middle East," said the JCRC's educational specialist Jackie Berman, who met with the campus Star of David Club following the assemblies to provide support and education on Middle East history.

"We really think what's needed now is for this hostile environment to be turned around."

Berman, representatives from the ADL and others were scheduled to meet today with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to address their concerns.