Foothills proposed changes satisfy Jewish students, groups

Following complaints that the administration of Foothill College was overly tolerant of anti-Israel behavior on campus, Jewish students and representatives of Jewish groups sounded a positive note after a meeting with the school’s president.

“We’ve never been so successful as far as communicating with an administrator as in our meeting with President [Bernadine Chuck] Fong,” said Arlene Miller, executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley.

The meeting followed a Q&A in the Jan. 28 edition of the Foothill Sentinel student newspaper, in which Leighton Armitage, an adjunct professor at the Los Altos Hills college, compared Israeli activities to Nazi atrocities, and accused Jews and Israelis of “buying our elections, which pisses me off … Israel has a hammer lock on America.”

Interviewer Collin Plehiers also noted, albeit jokingly, that the United States could “resolve this problem” by testing nuclear bombs on the Jewish state.

The article outraged members of the Jewish community and led Jewish Foothill students to level claims of the administration ignoring instructors bashing Israel in class, bringing anti-Israel speakers to mandatory forums or engaging in selectively harsh behavior to Jewish students.

Yet, following the late February meeting, members of the college’s Jewish student club said they believe their grievances are being addressed.

“Having a big public blowout — and it could have gotten larger — was not in her or the school’s best interest,” said former club president Eitan Gershenson.

Also at the meeting were representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Hillel.

A confidentiality agreement prevented the Jewish representatives from going into specifics about the meeting. Fong, however, sent j. an e-mail detailing some of her suggestions, including:

• Working with Jewish faculty, staff and students to set up staff development and awareness programs as part of the school’s diversity initiatives.

• Creating a Jewish Heritage Network, similar to the school’s African American, Latino, gay-lesbian and Asian Pacific Islander networks.

• Heightening awareness of the college’s mutual respect policy among students and faculty through a variety of means.

In addition, the writers and editors of The Sentinel were “noticed that they must adhere to their own editorial policies.”

In the Feb. 24 edition of the student paper, Plehiers penned an extensive apology to the Jewish Student Union, Jews in general, the administration and the school.

Armitage, however, refused to apologize for an article he did not write.

“…The uproar it seems to have awakened quite clearly underlines the need in this country and this academic community to take up and examine these issues, and, at the very least, air them out,” he wrote in a letter published in the Feb. 24 paper.

“As a final aside, to the person who labeled me an anti-Semite in one breath, and told me I should take sensitivity training in the next, may I extend an olive branch by proposing that maybe we should take that sensitivity training course together.”

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.