City sets rules for SFWAR &mdash no anti-Zionist agenda

Publicly funded San Francisco Women Against Rape will be barred from participating in political activities, including taking a stand against Zionism, under a city contract expected to be signed soon.

“I guess it’s really simple for the city,” said Belle Taylor-McGhee, executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, which provides the nonprofit center with $277,990 yearly for rape crisis services.

“It’s the city’s funding, it’s the taxpayers’ funding. In this case, we are saying we will not use the city’s funding and the taxpayers’ money in this way.”

Taylor-McGhee said Wednesday that she expected SFWAR, a 30-year-old agency based in the city’s Mission District, to sign the new agreement in a matter of days. The contract would run for a year, starting last July 1.

SFWAR came under fire in July following the discovery that potential interns and volunteers were asked on online application forms to participate in “political education discussions” that had previously included “taking a stance against Zionism.”

In a July 9 e-mail to this newspaper, Nina Jusuf, the center’s executive director, described SFWAR as “an anti-Zionist organization.”

Taylor-McGhee said that stand is “not part of what we consider SFWAR’s mission. We do not fund them to take a position on Zionism.”

She said the agency risked the loss of its city funding if it had continued to take that position. “It was not negotiable,” Taylor-McGhee said of the new contract language.

“SFWAR is not to participate in political activities and particularly not to participate or advance any kind of agenda around Zionism,” she said.

The agreement was hailed by Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, one of the leading Jewish agencies that had decried SFWAR’s position on Israel. “JCRC is proud that the city has done what’s right,” said Porth.

But Porth remained troubled by SFWAR’s failure to apologize publicly to the local Jewish community or retract the anti-Zionist label.

“SFWAR has created a tremendous breach of trust with the Jewish community,” Porth said. In a Sept. 16 meeting, Jusuf had promised to respond to that breach, Porth said.

“Her lack of responsiveness calls into question her genuine interest in repairing the damage she has led SFWAR to do.”

Jusuf could not be reached for comment by press time on Wednesday.

Housed in the Women’s Building, SFWAR operates a 24-hour hotline and counseling services for women who have been sexually assaulted. Its hotline fielded more than 3,000 domestic violence calls in 2001-02.

Taylor-McGhee said her department would closely monitor the agency’s training programs, literature and other activities.

“We’ll be looking very closely,” she said, adding that SFWAR officials had “agreed upon the language, and the tenor of the language and the spirit of the language” in the new contract.

“We want SFWAR to focus its attention on providing quality services for victims of sexual assault and abuse,” Taylor-McGhee said. “That’s what the city funds them to do and that’s where we expect them to have their focus.”

Taylor-McGhee said she had turned up no instances of women being denied services because of SFWAR’s political positions. However, she said, “we have a responsibility to ensure” that all women seeking the center’s help “are served and no one feels marginalized in any way.

“This is not a free speech issue. It’s a use of money issue. The city has said you cannot use our money in this way.”

The new contract followed extensive meetings with SFWAR staff and board members along with representatives of the JCRC and other Jewish leaders, Taylor-McGhee said.

“The language is pretty clear. We have the right to determine if you’re using our money in a way that we find objectionable,” she said.