Hateful politics dont mix with anti-rape groups mission

Imagine receiving the volunteer application for a rape crisis center, beginning to fill it out, and discovering that it asks you to "take a stance against Zionism."

We have witnessed Israel-bashing in unexpected places the past few years, including at a San Francisco public school assembly, where a cultural program became a diatribe against Israel, and at a local store, Rainbow Grocery, where products made in Israel were removed from the shelves.

Now it has happened again, this time at San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR).

In both of these incidents, a trusted forum has been inappropriately used for one-sided political indoctrination. Valuable core missions of offering public education in a hostile-free environment, selling organic vegetarian and environmentally conscious products, and providing support to survivors of rape and sexual assault, have been distorted to include espousing anti-Israel views.

I used to dismiss the argument that this politicization happened because some radical anti-Israel activists cloak latent anti-Semitism with a progressive label. I wanted to believe that the convergence of issues was the result of a game of political telephone among idealistic, albeit ill-informed, activists swapping frustrations about our world. Invariably, the offending organization claimed that while it was taking a stand against Israel, it also, in SFWAR's words, "strives to create a respectful community that challenges privilege, prejudice, and discrimination." Yet their actions constituted discrimination and prejudice against Israel supporters.

Last week SFWAR officially stated it has "come to understand that the current policy of Zionism is racism. We define Zionism, in its current form, as a political, cultural, economic project to remove the indigenous people from their land and to construct the settlers as the authentic people of the land." If it is so important to SFWAR to oppose Zionism, indeed to redefine Zionism for the Jewish people, that the organization is willing to undermine its core mandate, I must reassess if there is truth in the argument of latent anti-Semitism.

There are several unique elements in the case of SFWAR. First, while it became uncomfortable to shop at Rainbow Grocery, no ideological litmus test was applied to shoppers as it is to volunteers of SFWAR.

Secondly, SFWAR's goal is to enable sexual assault survivors by encouraging self-empowerment and independent decision-making. SFWAR can only be effective if this vision is extended to all its constituents. In positioning itself against the movement for Jewish self-determination and Israel's right to exist, SFWAR ceases to be a safe environment for Jews and other Israel supporters. How does SFWAR reconcile its belief in self-empowerment and political choice for assault victims, but not for Jews or its volunteers?

Thirdly, SFWAR has specially designed programs to reach segments of our community that would be outraged by its exclusionary and hateful politics. SFWAR must not understand the diversity of the Jewish community. A client whom they identify as Arabic or Russian speaking, or lesbian, may also be a passionate Zionist who would feel rejected by this otherwise safe haven from assault. Imagine the despair a Russian émigré would feel when, in seeking SFWAR's counsel on an abusive situation, she was haunted with the reminder of a life left behind where she could not freely express political opinions or practice religion.

A final distinction is that SFWAR endorses a particularly hypocritical political agenda. Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East where women can be found in all sectors of society making independent choices and, in fact, are democratically elected to the Knesset along with Jewish and Arab men. Israel is in a region where oppression of women is found in other governments turning a blind eye to honor killings perpetrated against rape victims. If SFWAR wishes to take a stand against rape and oppression of women, it would find value in a country with shared ideals, and promote this common vision of gender equality in the surrounding region.

The Jewish Community Relations Council will continue to work with anti-domestic violence organizations to convey to SFWAR the depth of our community's concern, and to engage SFWAR in reversing its offensive anti-Zionist policies and practices. SFWAR does a disservice to the assault survivors it serves by diluting its message about empowerment and choice with a confused and ill-conceived political statement about one peoples' quest for self-determination.

As of Tuesday, SFWAR's application stated, "We know that because society is racist, sexist, etc., all of us have beliefs, attitudes, and actions that are oppressive." At press time Wednesday, the application had been removed from SFWAR's Web site.

Rather than contribute to the societal belief system that the application represented, SFWAR should work against oppression not through hateful behavior toward one community but through its core mission of helping combat rape and oppression of women.