Peace accord: Jewish, Palestinian groups agree on SFSU mural

More than two years of debate, hand-wringing and intense dissection of what exactly a cartoon character holding a key means has ended.

Robert Corrigan, president of San Francisco State University, approved a mural celebrating the late Palestinian activist professor Edward Said last month after an agreement was made to remove elements that campus Jewish groups claimed were symbols of violence and promoted the destruction of Israel.

“I think this is a victory for moderation. The mural as it stands now is a celebration of Palestinian culture and that’s not something we should be objecting to,” said Alon Shalev, the executive director of San Francisco Hillel.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, praised Corrigan for “insisting that blatantly offensive symbols are not included” in the mural.

Representatives of SFSU’s General Union of Palestinian Students did not return calls or emails.

The key — pun intended — of Jewish concern with the mural was the inclusion of the Palestinian cartoon character Handala. The illustrated child, which some claim is a symbol of violent resistance, was holding a key in his hand. Campus Jewish groups claim this was a veiled reference to Palestinians’ right of return to Israel and the destruction of the Jewish state.

The contested mural — and Corrigan’s blocking of it or any other mural gracing SFSU’s main quad in 2006 — had long been a sore point within the pro-Palestinian community.

At a vitriolic anti-Israel confab held on the SFSU campus last summer, speaker Eyad Kishawi said Corrigan had rejected the mural because of the influence exerted by “racist, chauvinist people.”

The Palestinian student union hopes to have the mural up on the Cesar Chavez Student Center by Nov. 2. Corrigan will review the artist’s final rendering prior to the mural’s installation.

Shalev hopes this accord is the first step in improved relations between Jewish and Palestinian campus groups.

“We are cautiously optimistic about that. We feel the moderates within the Palestinian movement are the ones who have won and that’s a good sign for us,” he said.

“The last couple of years, our Israel Coalition has been putting out feelers all the time, inviting them to all the concerts we’ve had on campus. And they’ve been coming, which they hadn’t in the past.”

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.