Outspoken right-wing Israel advocate faces five-year S.F. State suspension

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Unabashed pro-Israel advocate Tatiana Menaker is facing a potential five-year suspension from San Francisco State University after a pattern of “disruptive behavior,” in the words of school officials.

The university accused Menaker — who was forced to serve 40 hours of community service after loudly urging pro-Palestinians to commit unnatural acts with a camel during a May 7, 2002, SFSU quasi-riot — of nine instances of disruptive behavior during the past two years.

Menaker, a Russian-born mother of three and journalist in the San Francisco Russian press and right-wing online publications, claims the university is being used by “anti-Israel factions” to silence contrary voices, and said she is being disciplined “for ideological reasons, not because I did something criminal.”

Acting university spokeswoman Christina Holmes said Menaker loudly and publicly threatened lecturer Deborah Gerson in November, and then flew into a rage and threw objects around the office of student discipline officer Donna Cunningham in a Monday, Feb. 23, meeting that resulted in Menaker being escorted off campus by police.

Calls to Cunningham and other SFSU administrators were deferred to Holmes. Gerson did not return calls and e-mails.

Menaker countered the university’s claims, stating that she calmly told Gerson, a member of A Jewish Voice for Peace, “If you believe when they start killing Jews, you will be spared, you will be killed two hours later.”

Regarding her allegedly threatening behavior, Menaker asked, “Do they think I’m stupid enough to make a death threat in front of five other people? Do they think I’m stupid enough to threaten death to a low-class professor from a low-class university? What for?”

In the Feb. 23 meeting with Cunningham, Menaker claims she was asked to sign a paper waiving her right to a disciplinary hearing and agreeing to a five-year suspension — a document since obtained by j. When she refused to sign the paper, Menaker claims Cunningham summoned campus police and had her walked off the university grounds.

Menaker swore “on the life of my children” that she did not shout at Cunningham or hurl objects around her office.

At the behest of the Jewish Community Relations Council, lawyer Ephraim Margolin took on Menaker as a client, pro bono. He met with SFSU counsel Patty Bartscher on Tuesday, March 2, but declined to discuss the content of that meeting and refused general comment because he “is still preparing the case.”

A meeting between university officials and Menaker and Margolin is tentatively set for Monday, March 15. Any future hearing will be administered by an outside administrative judge.

Both Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC, and Jonathan Bernstein, Anti-Defamation League regional director, met this week with SFSU administrators, with both emerging “cautiously optimistic” that a satisfactory solution could be worked out.

Bernstein had wondered if the university was “overreacting” and “clamping down too hard” prior to the meeting, but he emerged confident that justice will be done.

“I respect the process that is being put into place here. Tatiana is represented and there’s an unbiased, neutral party making this decision. So I don’t have any other suggestion on how this process should be changed,” he said.

“It seems clear to me that the university has been open to hearing the concerns we’ve conveyed about this case and open to the possibility of finding a solution everyone can live with on this matter.”

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.