SFSU student vows to fight suspension for hate speech

A Jewish student called before a judiciary committee at San Francisco State University last week said she demanded an official hearing rather than accept a one-year suspension.

Tatiana Menaker denies using a racial slur during a campus confrontation in May between Jewish and pro-Palestinian students. As a result of the accusation by the university, she faces both criminal and disciplinary charges.

At a meeting of SFSU's judiciary committee on Friday, Menaker said she was told she would be suspended from the university for one year.

But Menaker told the Bulletin she would not accept the suspension, because one of the charges is untrue, and she demanded an official hearing. While she doesn't deny using other defamatory language in addressing the pro-Palestinians, she does refute the most serious accusation SFSU has made against her.

"They said I called someone a 'sand nigger,' which totally surprised me since I never even heard this word before last week," said Menaker, a creative writing student who emigrated from Leningrad to San Francisco in 1985.

"Thank you for improving my English, SFSU, but I don't want to be punished for things I didn't do."

SFSU's public relations director, Ligeia Polidora, said she could not comment on the case or the campus disciplinary process. "Everything is confidential…for the student's own protection," she said, noting that disciplinary actions range from a warning to expulsion.

It is unclear when and if an official hearing will be held.

Menaker's attorney, Alexander Anolik, stood by his client's demand for a hearing. "It's just absolutely untrue that she used this derogatory slang," said Anolik, adding that he was not allowed to attend the judicial meeting because he is an attorney. "I believe it's meant as a way to disparage her in the community."

In a letter to Penny Saffold, SFSU's vice president of student affairs, Anolik called the "sand nigger" accusation an attempt to "assist the university's cover-up of their handling of the hate crimes against Jews over these many years." He also demanded that Saffold retract a letter to the editor published in last week's Bulletin, in which she accused Menaker of using words his client "had never heard until after her arrest."

Menaker was cited by SFSU police in late May for alleged hate speech aimed at pro-Palestinian demonstrators during a May 7 pro-Israel rally on the SFSU campus. The words at issue include the retort: "Go f–k your camel!" and the Arabic word for 'bitch' — both of which the daughter of Holocaust survivors admits saying in response to taunts that "Hitler did not finish the job" and "Go back to Russia."

Two pro-Palestinian students at SFSU also face counts, including a charge of vandalism against one who stomped on an Israeli flag.

All three cases were forwarded to the San Francisco district attorney.

Since then, the Russian Jewish community has rallied behind Menaker, offering to help her in her legal fight and expressing concern that Menaker was being scapegoated and ignored by the American Jewish community.

In response, Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, this week wrote a letter to the leadership of the Russian Jewish community to inform them of the JCRC's involvement in Menaker's case.

"We have been led to believe that it is unlikely that the D.A.'s office will prosecute these cases," wrote Kahn. "Even so, we believe every precaution must be taken to ensure that Tatiana's rights are protected."

Apart from offering to arrange legal counsel for Menaker — which she declined — Kahn described a series of "difficult but possibly important discussions" with the Arab-American community about the SFSU situation. He wrote that these discussions might lead to mediation among campus student groups and a decision by the university administration to drop charges against all three students.

Kahn also cited "the strong commitment on the part of the Jewish Community Relations Council, along with the Jewish Community Federation to fully engage the Russian-speaking community in our activities."