Column, anti-Semitic letter raise tempers in Vacaville

A letter to the editor claiming it is the “Jewish nature” to mistreat others induced rage among Vacaville Jews, directed both at the letter-writer and the newspaper that deigned it suitable for print.

“Jewish people have demonstrated great achievements not only as money lenders, but in all the arts and humanities. But — here comes the ‘but’ — my wife and I were always bothered by one observation. Wherever they gathered and especially on vacation, they had a tendency to take over the best sites,” wrote Dixon resident Sig Machlanski to the Vacaville Reporter early last month.

“…I pride myself as being unprejudicial [sic] to one and all. But [sic] have always had a little concern when it came to the Jewish nature.”

Machlanski’s letter came in response to a Reporter op-ed by Vacaville historian Gary Leiser appearing the week before, which claimed Israel to be an apartheid state.

“I used to wonder if the resentment I was feeling was really prejudice,” Machlanski’s letter concludes. Leiser’s “article gives me a sigh of relief. It is not prejudice; it is just their nature.”

Rabbi Steve Vale, the spiritual leader of Solano County’s Conservative Congregation Ha-Makom, grumbled, “Moneylenders and artists. At least he gave us artists, thank God for that!”

Vale, his congregation president, Dr. Joel Fine, and representatives from the Anti-Defamation League sat down with Reporter writers and editors in mid-December, shortly after the op-ed and letter appeared.

The paper has since printed an apology for running an editorial cartoon featuring a prone body lying face-down on the ground, stabbed through the back by a Star of David. The Reporter also noted that “We need to be more vigilant about the letters we publish …”

A pro-Israel editorial penned by Fine and ADL Regional Director Jonathan Bernstein ran in the Dec. 28 Reporter, but Solano County Jewish leaders are still disturbed by Leiser’s initial piece, which they dub intentionally misleading.

In declaring Israel a place where “apartheid is business as usual,” Leiser claimed that Arabs cannot form their own political parties, non-Jews are not permitted to emigrate to Israel, “Orthodox Jewish law is imposed on all citizens” and Jews and non-Jews are not permitted to marry.

“Every paragraph has a lie, then two truths, a lie, then two truths. It can’t be an accident,” said a grumpy Vale.

Vale noted that Arabs can and do form political parties in Israel; that non-Jews, including Christians he has known, can emigrate to Israel; and that “Orthodox Jewish law” applies only to lifecycle events.

“In Israel there are plenty of Jews married to Muslims, Christians married to Jews, Buddhists married to Jews,” Vale said. “Israel recognizes civil marriages, it just doesn’t do them. What most Israelis do is go to Cyprus. OK, it’s a shlep, but you go.”

Vale said he can’t understand why Israel is held to a higher standard than the rest of the world.

“We can differ on Ariel Sharon’s positions or different acts of the Knesset, but to say Israel shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be around because things have been done that aren’t ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’-type stuff, why don’t people do that about China, Iraq or Sudan?” he asked.

“Why print these things about Israel? Why, to non-Jews, does it have to be better than other states?”

Leiser, who has a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies and is the curator of the aviation museum at Travis Air Force Base, said that Israel supporters should stop refusing to acknowledge the nation’s flaws.

“My point is, if one wants to understand the nature of Israel and the consequences of the establishment of that state, one must look at it warts and all,” said Leiser, a former Turkey-based translator for the Department of Defense.

“One must not be selective in examining the nature of the way Israel came into being, and its current policies.”

While Nancy Appel, the regional associate director of the ADL said that “vitriolic articles like Mr. Leiser’s only promote outright anti-Semitism,” Leiser, not surprisingly, disagrees.

“There are some people who are anti-Semitic who are going to seize upon any criticism of Israel for their own purposes,” he said.

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.