Bad feelings linger in charged Berkeley council race

Micki Weinberg's campaign for Berkeley City Council is over, and he came up short. But the campaign posters bearing his likeness and accusing him of plotting to coerce fellow U.C. Berkeley students into joining the Israel Defense Force are still staring back at him as he walks about the campus.

"When you see something like that, it generates fear. There's my face. How low can you go?" said Weinberg, an 18-year-old Jewish sophomore who ran against incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Weinberg garnered nearly 40 percent of the vote in the Nov. 5 election.

"You can't even take them down. They're wheat-pasted; all you can do is paint over them."

The poster shows Weinberg's face with Mickey Mouse ears dangling on a string from Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean's hand, as if he were her puppet. Among other charges, he's accused of "hoping to send students to war in Israel."

"It's kind of funny they use that quote there. There's never been any insinuation that I want to send anyone to Israel," said Weinberg, who plans to join the IDF after college.

"The reason I find that so disturbing is I believe in a democratic society where people make their own decisions. That's so contrary to what I believe in. Even my friends who are very anti-Israel say [the posters are] inappropriate."

It is not known who created the poster — the sponsor is listed as "Sellouts for Puppet." An easy-to-print version of the poster was put on the Web site and reader postings on the site indicate it was well used.

"He has been seen berating people holding 'Peace in the Middle East' signs at demonstrations," read the Web site post, which has since been removed. "And he publicly organizes to send students to war in Israel."

But Weinberg isn't the only candidate who says he was the victim of a below-the-belt, Jew-baiting attack.

Just before the election, many Berkeley residents found an anti-Worthington letter in their e-mail inboxes accusing the incumbent of having a "history of siding with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel forces." The letter, signed by Noah Alper, Lois Marcus, Uri Alter and Paul Warner, goes on to solicit funds for Weinberg's campaign.

Several of the signatories have said the letter does not resemble the one that they signed. Alter, better known as Robert, a U.C. Berkeley professor, wondered how his Hebrew name found its way onto the letter. And Alper was not sure who sent it.

"There was a lot of miscommunication and e-mail stuff going back and forth, but the letter that was sent out was not the letter I wrote," said Alper. "It was a fast bit of last-minute campaigning and I think some signals were crossed."

Worthington considered the letter a slur, saying, "I was defamed."

"If I didn't have a track record of work on these issues, his tactic would have worked great. But because I've been working on these issues for decades, going back to my involvement with the chavurah back in Summerville, Mass., it's hard to make those charges stick," said Worthington.

"I've been involved with all kinds of Jewish organizations and supporting Israel and the Jewish community since I was a teenager."

Weinberg said Worthington used the letter as an opportunity to paint himself as the "victim of a Jewish conspiracy."

"There's no sense of dialogue in Berkeley, no sense of differing ideas," said Weinberg.

"We don't need all these theatrical, hate-filled rants. We ought to be able to sit down and talk with each other. Berkeley is now Lilliput."

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.