Visceral pro-Israel ad, scathing rebuttal offend many at SFSU

San Francisco State University’s pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities don’t agree on much, but both are currently annoyed with the school’s student newspaper.

Much to the surprise of Golden Gate Xpress writers and editors, when they opened up the Thursday, March 11 edition of the paper, they saw a blaring, viscerally pro-Israel ad penned by right-wing firebrand David Horowitz.

The $1,600 full-page ad, which — contrary to a sheaf of newspaper policies — slipped onto the weekly’s back page unread, was a forceful denunciation of Palestinians, Arabs in general and the international left. Among its claims:

• Palestinians have “sunk to such moral depths as to kill their own children, telling them that if they murder other children along with themselves, they will go to heaven … Not even the Nazis attempted such a perversion of religion or of basic human instinct. Sixty percent of Palestinians are on record as supporting these acts of genocide against Jews.”

• “The left’s mission is to de-legitimize Israel and make its Jews vulnerable to the Arab attack.”

• “Arab intolerance and racism are expressed in their acts and allegiances, including their support for black slavery in Arab and Muslim Sudan …”

A negative reaction ensued on campus, including the pasting of the back-page ad on walls with the words “racist” or, in one case “anti-Semete” (sic) penned across the newsprint.

In the subsequent Xpress edition on Thursday, March 18, editors apologized for running the Horowitz ad, and ran a critical letter penned by Jess Ghannam, a visiting professor at SFSU and the president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“Zionism is a failed colonizing project that seeks to oppress and destroy the connection to the land that indigenous Palestinians have had for centuries,” wrote Ghannam, who also called for the firing of the paper’s advertising staff.

“Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes, villages and lands in 1948 by Jewish fundamentalists in an attempt to create a ‘pure Jewish’ state. This project of ‘purity’ has been trying to destroy the diversity of historic Palestine for 56 years.”

The problem, some Jewish students say, is that Ghannam’s letter — which ran for free — is as hateful as Horowitz’s paid ad.

“This is so disconcerting to me. In one fell swoop [the Xpress] can talk about how it was such a racist ad and how they disagree with it and it was not their point of view and then go ahead and publish such an anti-Semitic letter to the editor,” complained Dennis Dubinsky, a senior and past co-chair of the campus Israel Coalition.

“He [Ghannam] talks about how that ad was racist, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian and goes on to be anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.”

Dubinsky said a number of Jewish students have been discomforted by the notion that the campus feels Horowitz speaks for all SFSU’s Jews. While Dubinsky doesn’t have a problem with campus Jews distancing themselves from Horowitz’s positions, he and Hillel staff refuse to offer an apology for the ad — as some have requested they do — since that would show “we are somehow inadvertently responsible for placing this ad, which we aren’t.”

Christine Yee, the Xpress’ executive editor, said she could understand Dubinsky’s contention about the Ghannam letter, but lamented that, at this point, “there’s nothing we can do to make anyone feel better.

“I’m expecting letters from everybody. From the Arab side, they’re going to say we didn’t address the problem clearly enough and include as much information as they wanted. They wanted us to run a full-page correction on the back, which we decided not to do,” she said.

“People on both sides are offended by Horowitz. The ad not only says horrible things about Palestinians, it also casts an ugly light on people who believe in Israel’s right to exist. I think it made both sides look really bad. It made all Jews look as if they’re hateful toward Palestinians, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s an ugly ad, period.”

Yee added that, contrary to Ghannam’s wishes, advertising executives Bill Brittan and LeBaron King will not be fired.

And that’s good news for Brittan, at least.

“This didn’t flag me as something worthy of burning down the university or having people fired over,” 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.