Anti-Israel rant, nuke joke in student paper baffle Jews

Foothill Community College has issued an apology and launched an investigation following a profoundly anti-Israel Q&A with a political science professor in the Sentinel student newspaper.

In the Jan. 28 article, Leighton Armitage, an adjunct professor at the Los Altos Hills college, compares Israeli activities to those of the Holocaust, and his interviewer notes, albeit jokingly, that the United States could “resolve this problem” by testing nuclear bombs on the Jewish state.

“If you say that what they’re doing is something akin to the holocaust, what will they say? ‘You’re an anti-Semite … it’s so convenient. It allows them to do exactly what was done to them,” said Armitage in the article, titled “Good fences make good neighbors.”

“And what are they doing with Palestinians every day? They’re killing them. They’re walling them in, they’re essentially doing the same thing that was done to them. Of course they’re not tattooing the numbers into the arm, and they’re not taking their glasses and their gold fillings, and everything else, as far as I know, but they’re still slaughtering these people. Now what’s with that? It’s exactly what Hitler did to the Jews.”

The Holocaust, and its resultant 6 million dead Jews is not exactly “convenient,” answered Karen Stiller, the Peninsula director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, responding to Armitage’s assessment.

“This really goes beyond reasonable criticism of Israeli policies and into hateful rhetoric about Jews,” she added.

Armitage, a professor at both Foothill and the College of San Mateo, also accused AIPAC of funding the opponents of the pro-Israel lobby, adding, “and believe me, they have money to spare. The point is, the Jews have such a perfect position at this point.”

Among other claims, he also accused AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and Israel of “buying our elections, which pisses me off … Israel has a hammer lock on America.”

Sentinel opinion page editor Collin Plehiers, who conducted the interview, compared the Israeli security fence to the Warsaw Ghetto in framing one question, and then casually suggested that the United States should test nuclear bombs by dropping them on Israel.

Following this “joke,” he included the caveat that his nuke comments “WERE NOT made seriously and we apologize if this may have offended you.”

Foothill President Bernadine Fong issued an apology regarding the article on Tuesday, Feb. 3, stating that “It is regrettable that this article appeared in our student newspaper, and I am asking our administration to conduct a review of the process that led to its publication.”

Sentinel editor emeritus Scott Lipsig said he was certain newspaper adviser Paul Starer did not read the piece, and was unsure if it was even copy edited. Plehiers, however, claimed it was read by the paper’s copy editor, editor-in-chief and faculty adviser.

Arlene Miller, executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley, said Foothill’s Jewish club, Jews, Israelis and Friends, has started a letter-writing campaign, and will request meetings with Sentinel editors.

Contacted at the Sentinel office, Plehiers apologized for the content of the article, stating that he didn’t realize the extent to which readers would be offended. He also noted that he had planned to run a pro-Israel Q&A as well but ran out of space.

“See, I’m new at this. I assumed people would read it and say, ‘Oh, this is horrible!’ I didn’t think they’d be so angry about it. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t understand how it feels to be ‘discriminated’ against. I realize now people could be really offended by something like that,” said the 20-year-old junior.

Armitage, who was surprised that people outside the Foothill College community had read the article, said it was intended to “spark people to think. A lot of people are taking this more seriously than I intended.”

Armitage didn’t recall using some of the exact language in the article — he doubted that he employed the term “Israel has a hammer lock on America,” for example — but said he has no beef with Plehiers, who he considers “something of a friend.”

Still, “After some of the attributions given to me, I probably won’t give any more interviews for that paper.”

Plehiers, however, said he taped the entire interview, and sent Armitage a transcript, which the professor approved and even appended.

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.