JCRC accuses rape crisis center of stonewalling

After last week’s last-minute cancellation of a long-planned meeting, the Jewish Community Relations Council accused San Francisco Women Against Rape of eight months of foot-dragging, insolence and utter failure to heal its rift with the Jewish community.

Officially, SFWAR called off the meeting because the two organizations couldn’t agree on a facilitator. Abby Porth, the JCRC’s associate director, said it was hard to come to a consensus when SFWAR kept suggesting anti-Zionists for the job, and didn’t understand the need for a facilitator in the first place.

SFWAR board member Emily Katz-Kishawi said, however, “Each group is entitled to put forward the facilitators they think would be most able. The people we put forward come from strong facilitative backgrounds and are very strong in the anti-violence realm … There are many names on the table.”

In July 2003, a Jewish Bulletin article revealed that SFWAR, a three decades-old rape crisis center, had been asking potential volunteers about their “willingness to take a stance against Zionism.” Executive Director Nina Jusuf, in an e-mail to the Bulletin, confirmed that SFWAR was “an anti-Zionist organization.”

Subsequent testimony from former Jewish board members and volunteers traced the anti-Zionist label to a testy 2002 board meeting. A number of Jews said they subsequently left what had become a hostile environment.

Facing city and state probes, SFWAR quickly dropped the anti-Zionist language from its internal literature and signed a new city contract stipulating it would not espouse an anti-Zionist political position — or any other one. The center receives more than $600,000 in public funds.

Now, eight months later, Porth accused SFWAR of “stonewalling” the JCRC in attempts for dialogue, and reneging on pledges of outreach into the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, two of SFWAR’s recently appointed board-members — Katz-Kishawi and Sara Kershnar — are members of Jews for a Free Palestine, an anti-Zionist group.

“I don’t know what it means to them that they’ve done that,” said Porth of the appointment of the anti-Zionist Jews to SFWAR’s board. “But it doesn’t demonstrate to me a meaningful or genuine interest in repairing the breach of trust that they’ve caused within the Jewish community.”

Naomi Tucker, founding director of the Jewish domestic violence prevention group Shalom Bayit, also criticized SFWAR for cherry-picking the members of the Jewish community with whom it will deal.

“You don’t go up to a community and tell them, ‘We are choosing who will represent you from your group.’ Communities need to represent themselves. That’s a principle of anti-oppression work; if SFWAR is doing anti-oppression work they should know that,” she said.

Tucker called SFWAR’s inability to agree to a meeting “irresponsible and disrespectful … I’ve had conversations with SFWAR and they tell me they want this resolved quickly, but in the same breath, they cancel or postpone meetings with the JCRC.”

Katz-Kishawi refused to answer questions about any subject other than the cancellation of last week’s meeting. Jusuf is out of town and unavailable for comment.

A frustrated Porth also accused SFWAR of instigating a letter-writing campaign against the JCRC — one clumsy letter-writer mistakenly sent her the unaltered template, signed “Respectfully, Name, Title, Organization.”

“These are not acts in concert with the spirit with which we had hoped they had signed a new contract with the city,” Porth said.

“My interest and the JCRC’s interest is in seeing this organization and others like it not have their extremely important, vital efforts hijacked by people with a foreign affairs, political, anti-Israel agenda.”

Tucker, meanwhile, said the JCRC and SFWAR don’t realize how much they’ve offended each other, and need to work harder toward reconciliation.

“Each side feels attacked, and rightly so. There’s been a lot of politicization, so the issue has been pitted as SFWAR versus the Jewish community. And as long as that continues, we’re not going to find a resolution,” she said.

“My suggestion to the general community is we need to stop seeing this as an issue that has sides, and see how we can come together at the table, look at how different people got hurt in this process, and stop that hurt and move forward.”

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.