No Palestinian cultural day for Alameda County

A proclamation to declare June 5 “Palestinian Cultural Day” in Alameda County was pulled off the agenda at the 11th hour this week by Nate Miley, president of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

The move produced a flurry of questions and accusations, including the suggestion from pro-Palestinian forces that “Jewish pressure” was behind the decision.

“There was no pressure from the organized Jewish community,” said Myrna David, East Bay director for the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Seth Kaplan, Miley’s chief of staff, said Miley had not seen the proclamation before it was signed by a staffer. “He wasn’t aware of it until we got emails opposed,” Kaplan said, and then “he asked to pull it because it is a controversial international issue beyond his expertise.” Jewish leaders say the emails were not part of any campaign.

Noting that there are 20,000 Palestinian residents in the county, the proclamation called for a day to recognize their contributions.

At the June 5 board meeting in Oakland, where the agenda was to have included the proclamation, some 20 pro-Palestinian speakers and three pro-Israel activists addressed the supervisors.

Among the latter group was Matt White, campus coordinator for the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs. White said he and the other pro-Israel speakers did not oppose the day itself but wanted one word changed in the proclamation, which noted that Palestinians “profess either a Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith.” White wanted the word “Jewish” omitted.

“Our argument was, have this day, celebrate Palestinian culture, but have it under the correct definition of ‘Palestinian,’ ” White said. “I support their right to celebrate Palestinian culture as long as it does not spill over into anti-Israel propaganda.”

That’s the position the Peninsula JCRC has taken on the Palestinian Cultural Day that’s been held in San Jose for more than 10 years. Karen Stiller, the JCRC’s Peninsula director, says some years it is a celebration of culture, and some years — notably in 2008, following Israel’s incursion into Gaza — “it devolved into a forum to disparage Israel.”

“We’ve never said don’t hold Palestinian Cultural Day, we just want them to put the culture back in it,” she said. “That’s consistently been our message over the years.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].