Free speech clashes with anti-Semitism in Santa Rosa

An opinion piece penned by an avowed white separatist declaring Israel "the largest and most dangerous terrorist organization in the world" and accusing Jews of hijacking the nation's government, has infuriated Jews and non-Jews alike.

The op-ed entitled "Is anti-Semitism ever the result of Jewish behavior?" ignited a firestorm at the twice-monthly Santa Rosa Junior College Oak Leaf, which published the piece March 18.

The commentary exhibited "a vicious tone of anti-Semitism," according to Ben Benson, an anthropology professor at SRJC who also is Jewish.

"I was stunned," he said. "I was both surprised this ever got into the paper in the first place and very angry that this 1920s kind of thinking was so sloppily constructed, in a very poor journalistic effort, and placed in the paper."

He added: "It was just ugly. I want to create an environment here where this doesn't happen again."

In his commentary, SRJC student Kevin McGuire wrote what campus Jews later described as an anti-Israel diatribe replete with numerous counts of "classical" anti-Semitism. Some excerpts:

*"Although bound by the same laws as Iraq, Israel is allowed…to possess chemical and genocidal race-specific anti-Arab biological weapons…

*"The Jewish war of genocide is being funded by us the American taxpayer…Each of us contributes directly to the Israeli holocaust waged against the people of Palestine, and we each personally purchase the hatred for America which caused the 9/11 attacks…

*"Not only are we forced to pay a serious amount of money to fund the Jewish holy war which benefits America in no way, but American lives are also being sacrificed in service to Israel."

McGuire additionally quoted Osama bin Laden urging Americans to seek a "government that will look after their interests and not the interests of the Jews." He also claimed the source of genocidal Jewish behavior originates in the Torah, and cited an unabashedly white supremacist and anti-Semitic Web site — –as a "source."

Kristinae Toomians, the Oak Leaf's editor-in-chief, admitted that, following the publication of his piece, 21-year-old McGuire revealed to her that he is a "white separatist" who believes in strict separation of the races, if not the inherent superiority of white Christians.

The Bulletin was unable to contact McGuire.

SRJC administrators, meanwhile, are expressing anger and dismay that McGuire's piece found its way into the paper at all. Toomians told the Bulletin that only she and faculty adviser Richard Mellott read the piece before its publication. Neither of them bothered to check McGuire's several citations, which included the racist National Vanguard, as well as extremely partisan sites such as and

"I didn't want to censor the paper," explained Toomians, 19, of her decision to run the piece. "I don't agree with anything he wrote; I realize he's kind of a hateful person. I don't know, I thought it'd be OK to run as an opinion."

Toomians admitted she didn't know if, as editor-in-chief, she was allowed to reject an op-ed submission, which she has never done. She said McGuire's piece made her uneasy, but she claimed her adviser convinced her to run it.

"I guess I really don't know my rights as editor," she said.

Toomians has since received death threats, and her car was plastered with leaflets reading "Nazi supporter."

Bob Agrella, the college's president, had harsh words for Mellott.

"While the faculty adviser can't really dictate to the Oak Leaf staff what the content of the newspaper is going to be, he has a responsibility to point out to them, and advise them — which is why he's called an adviser and paid to be an adviser — when an article is either defamatory or hateful," he said.

Mellott could not be reached for comment.

As unpleasant as the article was, anthropology Professor Dianne Smith said it has drawn the campus closer together. The Oak Leaf printed nearly two full pages of angry letters in its most recent edition, all but one penned by faculty members.

"The community here at Santa Rosa did the atypical thing. They perceived this anti-Semitic act to be a general act of hate everyone could respond to. Hispanic, black, gay and lesbian instructors took the article and said, 'What if you put my name there?'" said Smith, the president of Santa Rosa's Congregation Shomrei Torah and Benson's wife.

Members of the faculty and the local Jewish community, along with representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Hillel met with Mellott and Oak Leaf staffers on April 9.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, the JCRC's executive director, said the absence of an oversight mechanism to prevent similar pieces from finding their way into the paper, coupled with the lack of contrition from Mellott or the staffers troubled him.

"I asked the editor-in-chief if she would run an article that attacked blacks or gays or lesbians and she said that would depend on the article," he said.

Toomians told the Bulletin she regretted running McGuire's piece so prominently.

"I wouldn't have given him such a big spot on the page," she said. "Let him write a letter to the editor instead."

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.