Bay Area Council receives grant for hate-crime project

It’s not a bad sign when a federal agency asks you to ask it for money. And then, the agency gives you more than you wanted.

If it sounds like an executive director’s dream, it’s Pnina Levermore’s reality.

The head of the S.F.-based Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal late last month was the recipient of a happy surprise, when the council’s Climate of Trust program received

government funding through 2008 — to the tune of a $1.2 million.

“They continue to like what we do,” Levermore said matter-of-factly, about the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has been funding the Bay Area Council since 2003.

And what has the council done? Well, for starters, it introduced the concept of prosecuting hate crime in the former Soviet Union.

Levermore and her American and Russian colleagues have put together a manual for investigators detailing how to investigate hate crimes, leading to the first successful prosecutions of the sort in the region’s history. And, in doing so, the council has earned a reputation as an honest and effective body in a country that has grown increasingly suspicious of Western-financed organizations.

In addition to U.S. money, President Vladimir Putin’s government has offered programmatic support and will send an envoy to a Moscow conference in November that will also be attended by, among others, 18 Russian governors, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.

The Climate of Trust program has brought scores of law enforcement officials from the former Soviet Union to California and vice versa, and the hefty new grants are intended to allow the Bay Area Council to establish a beachhead in one of Russia’s most troubled regions.

The money is earmarked for programming in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Northern Osetia, the site of last year’s Beslan school massacre.

The region is rife with Christian-Muslim tension, with a healthy dose of anti-Chechen and anti-Semitic activity to boot.

As in the past, American and Russian police officers, inspectors, judges, lawyers and administrators will meet and discuss how to effectively identify and combat hate crimes. The end goal, Levermore said, is to establish a regional “tolerance center” in the area.

Several of the council’s Russian employees are currently seeking participants for the first round of programming.

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.