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Letters for the week of April 21, 2017

Spicer’s Holocaust comment no ‘gaffe’ and no ‘accident’

I don’t believe someone can be this mean by accident. Therefore I am confident that Sean Spicer’s so-called gaffe was not in the least bit a gaffe. It was purposeful and premeditated, uttered on Pesach as a nod to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who helped bring the current administration to power (“Sean Spicer apologizes for Holocaust remarks amid criticism and calls to resign,” April 12).

In addition, his apology means nothing to me. The only worthwhile gesture Spicer could make would be to step down from a position for which he is as egregiously unqualified as our current president is for his — and we can only hope that this stepping down will soon take place as well.

Kenneth Altman,
New York


Szyk’s pro-Irgun posters get left out of narrative

The article by Rob Gloster about the art of Arthur Szyk is misleading (“Szyk collection comes to Magnes,” April 7). One photo accompanying it shows Jews rebelling in the Warsaw Ghetto and the other one caricatures leading Nazis in World War II. These are safe subjects for even the “progressive” Jews of San Francisco.

Rabbi Irvin Ungar, who is to be applauded for his lifelong efforts on behalf of Szyk, is quoted in the article as saying that the artist was an “advocate for humanity at large.” But Ungar goes further in his book on Szyk, in which he describes the artist’s efforts on behalf of the members of the Irgun underground in Palestine who were fighting and killing both English soldiers and their allies, Ben-Gurion’s legions, in their efforts to create a truly free, independent Israel.

Szyk was a follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, who was dismissed as a “fascist” by the Jewish socialists and communists both in Palestine and the United States. He was actually a liberal with strong working-class support, but, like today, opponents of those on the Left have always been anathematized as “fascists.”

I first saw Szyk’s work when I was living in Israel years ago. Some elderly men and women were readying a memorial commemoration and display for their fallen colleagues, assassinated by both the British imperialists and their accomplices, Ben-Gurion’s well-armed socialists and communists. Among the displays were decades-old pro-Irgun posters by Szyk, which they had treasured for decades.

This important aspect of Szyk’s work was similarly ignored a few years ago by San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, which — in contrast — did not hesitate to celebrate the poseur Gertrude Stein, a devoted supporter of the fascist Marshal Pétain, head of Vichy France. The museum also disgraced itself by its reverential display of pedestrian home snapshots of Allen Ginsberg, an anti-Israel Buddhist. Highlighted in its seemingly ubiquitous posters for this show was Jack Kerouac, an anti-Semite. (This is all manifest in the published correspondence between Ginsberg and his father and in Kerouac’s diaries.)

Stephen Karetzky,
San Francisco

Attacks on freedom of speech are not specific to Jews

What begins with the Jews does not end with the Jews. Universities mouth platitudes about protecting freedom of speech, but harassment and intimidation at Jewish-sponsored campus events have long made it impossible for such events to proceed without nasty, appalling disruption.

With that in mind, we were told during the last presidential campaign that we need to break down barriers that hold women back. But the following women were prevented from exercising their right to speak freely on American college campuses: Christine Lagarde, Condoleezza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and now Heather Mac Donald. Do these women really have no place on our college campuses?

Or perhaps administrators are simply too fearful of bad publicity generated by increasingly ugly protests to permit the so-called marketplace of ideas to function as anything other than a soothing fiction.

If administrators had unequivocally condemned disruptions of speakers when this deplorable technique was first employed against speakers seen as pro-Israel, the silencing of free speech would not now be commonplace at American universities.

Lagarde, Rice, Hirsi Ali and Mac Donald and free speech were all expendable — to further whose purposes?

Julia Lutch,

A helpful suggestion for speakers who go on and on

A complaint about many of the Jewish-related talks I’ve attended over the last several years: While the quality of events is usually outstanding and the various staff always helpful and polite, the problem is with the way the speeches are run.

I’m not referring to large and tightly run lectures at the JCC, but to some of the smaller locales, where the person giving the introduction usually fades after introducing the speaker and has no role in what follows. Once in a while they may adjust the microphone, but never seem to tell speakers their time is up or have just a few minutes left.

I realize that nobody wants to be discourteous to speakers, who are often eminent people, but, on the other hand, it’s discourteous to the audience to let the speakers go on and on, especially if they themselves announced that they’ll speak for “only 50 minutes” and then are still talking an hour and a half later. Unfortunately, that happens often.

The solution is simple: Remind speakers how long they are to talk and play a more direct role during the speech.

Manfred Wolf,
San Francisco

‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’

IfNotNow — what a clever name for a group of young Jews who protest AIPAC for their pro-Israel lobbying efforts. This comes from Hillel’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Palestinians have plenty of supporters. Muslims currently have 56 sovereign countries. Jews have one, the size of New Jersey. If there are Muslims who support Israel or who wish to criticize Palestinians in Muslim countries, it is dangerous to say so. And half the tiny population of Jews in the world, such as IfNotNow, put themselves in the category of Israel’s “critics” who rarely, if ever, have anything nice to say about Israel. I ask IfNotNow, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Sheree Roth,
Palo Alto