IfNotNow protesters march down Market Street in San Francisco during 2016 High Holidays. (Photo/from file)
IfNotNow protesters march down Market Street in San Francisco during 2016 High Holidays. (Photo/from file)

Letters for the week of June 9, 2017: Bret Stephens; IfNotNow; 1967 memories

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Op-ed didn’t show ‘tolerance, respect’

Kate Storey-Fisher showed blatant inconsistency in her opinion piece. She said she advocates “tolerance and respect.” That seems to be only for opinions and speakers with whom she agrees.

Because she doesn’t agree with journalist Bret Stephens, she objected to his speaking at Emanu-El. The U.S. value of freedom of speech is for all opinions, agreed or not agreed with. At Emanu-El, Stephens showed great tolerance and respect for the initial demonstration, and for a questioner who didn’t agree with him, even offering to talk to him more after the meeting was concluded.

If Storey-Fisher truly valued tolerance and respect, she would have thanked her temple for inviting such a well known commentator about Israel and the Middle East.

Norman G. Licht,
San Carlos

Hate speech? No way!

Kate Storey-Fisher’s objections in her opinion piece (“Calling out my temple for allowing hate speech,” June 2) to journalist Bret Stephens, who appeared as a guest speaker at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in late May, are mind-boggling and display an astonishing lack of knowledge about the history of the Arab-Israeli relationship. Surely this cannot be the same Stephens whose columns I have admired for their courage, passion and incisive thinking.

I have never heard Stephens “support the occupation” or engage in any form of hateful speech. What I have heard him do is shift the responsibility for the occupation from resting solely on Israel’s shoulders, and insist that we call out the Arab world for its role in perpetuating it and obstructing Israel’s many efforts toward peaceful solutions. Similarly, I have never heard Stephens engage in Islamophobia; what he does do is confront the very real, ugly extremist strains within Islam.

Everyone — including Stephens, AIPAC and StandWithUs — wants the occupation to end. In fact, one could say that Israel has been trying to end the occupation for 50 years, only to be met with consistent Arab rejection. The argument is not whether occupation is good thing but, rather, whether we are willing to face the inconvenient truth that, based on Palestinian Arab behavior, Israel has no reason to trust their intentions.

Privileged American Jews seem to have a hard time seeing beyond their idealism and facing the fact that life is messy, our neighbors do not always wish us well and that danger really does exist. Voices like Stephens’ help shift the conventional thinking, in which blame is directed primarily at Israel — a stance that has not advanced peace one iota — in a more balanced direction.

Malka Weitman,

Tolerance only for own beliefs

It is par for the course that Kate Storey-Fisher — a young, nescient liberal — expects everyone to practice tolerance except for herself, who has no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with her beliefs. She apparently advocates denial of freedom of expression for those with whom she disagrees. When I was Storey-Fisher’s age, I didn’t know much about the world and I knew it. But like many of her brethren today, Storey-Fisher doesn’t know much about the world but thinks she knows everything. The arrogance is striking.

That Storey-Fisher feels that Emanu-El should not have presented a well-respected New York Times columnist — who is decidedly pro-Israel at that — because some of his positions do not agree with her own shows a glaring lack of tolerance and humility.

Hopefully, as she matures, she will look back at this op-ed with sense of embarrassment.

Sloane Citron,
Menlo Park

No need to be ‘condescending’

Kate Storey-Fisher wrote a thoughtful piece describing her dismay and disappointment with Congregation Emanu-El’s decision to invite right-wing Israel apologist Bret Stephens and to eject members of IfNotNow who were peacefully expressing their opposition to his invitation and to the Israeli occupation.

Her op-ed ran next to an incredibly patronizing piece by Dr. Michael Harris of S.F. Voice for Israel (“Advice for IfNotNow protesters: Grow up,” June 2). His message to grow up concluded with “you are very passionately in love with yourselves and with your idealism. I hope that you can eventually add some wisdom and maturity to that.”

I hope you were as disgusted with that line as I was.

A 2013 Pew Research study found that while 79 percent of American Jews age 65 and older feel attached to Israel, that number drops to 60 percent for those in the 18-29 age group. And this percentage is likely dropping with every new assault on democratic forces in Israel.

Harris may talk about the thousands of young people who attend AIPAC conferences, but the statistics contradict his anecdotal evidence. The millennial generation is far less willing to justify the brutality of the occupation than their parents. Political views like Harris’ and condescending attitudes toward younger people who oppose the occupation are both offensive and self-defeating.

Richard Wiener,

Just the facts, ma’am

Kate Storey-Fisher got one thing right in her op-ed of June 2: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, well-known author and media commentator Bret Stephens actually spoke at Congregation Emanu-El on May 25. Oh wait, she left out that he is a Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author and frequent media commentator on multiple networks. Oops.

Ms. Storey-Fisher invented multiple facts to suit her hostile narrative and left out others that provide full context of why he was invited and what he said. Her op-ed distorted and condemned his prior writing with various epithets and slurred his reputation without quoting anything he actually said at Emanu-El.

Very specifically, I would like to respond regarding the honor and integrity of Congregation Emanu-El for its diverse and inclusive speaker series, which she said gave “a platform to hate speech.”

This irresponsible assertion is demonstrably false. A fair-minded listener from left, right or center would’ve been hard-pressed to have heard anything even vaguely “hateful” in Stephen’s speech.

She is wrong about his support for occupation; to the contrary, Stephens said that Israel wants to be “out of the occupation business.” He agreed with that perspective, then asked the important additional question of how and under what terms.

Storey-Fisher also failed to share Stephens’ gracious and lengthy response to the few disruptive protesters who attempted to shut down the communal discussion and also to a subsequent hostile questioner. Storey-Fisher is welcome to her own opinions, but not her own facts.

Ms. Storey-Fisher wrote at great length how she learned important moral values in Sunday school, but evidently she never learned about our American tradition of freedom of speech, the Jewish quest for communal education and intellectual discourse, respect for diversity of opinion, the pursuit of knowledge and mutual understanding.

David J. Blumberg,
San Francisco

IfNotNow corrects op-ed error

IfNotNow Bay Area would like to correct a factual error in Michael Harris’ op-ed about our action May 25 at Congregation Emanu-El.

Harris claims that Bret Stephens explicitly called for the occupation to end, when, in fact, he did not use the word “occupation” at all until an IfNotNow member (who waited in the audience to hear the full talk) brought it up during the Q&A.

Even then, Stephens did not say anything about wanting to see the end of the occupation. He merely said that most Israelis would rather not be occupiers but feel that they have no other choice.

We are dismayed by Harris’ condescension and his desire to exclude us from the Jewish institutions that made us. We urge community members to join us in pursuing freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Katie Simpson,
San Francisco

Memories of the Six-Day War

At the outset of the Six-Day War in 1967, I was serving as an Air Force chaplain in Ankara, Turkey. My responsibility included Air Force, Army, Navy, Department of Defense and Department of State personnel for the entire Middle East.

On June 1 of that year, my wife, Susan, gave birth to our first child. Although we didn’t have a phone, I rushed to my office to patch a call to my parents in San Francisco. My mother had many leadership roles in the San Francisco community and was an ardent Zionist.

After several hours patching through military phones across the globe, I finally reached home to make my announcement. My mother’s response was, “What do you think about what is going on in Israel?” This was after the Egyptian blockade of the Red Sea and bellicose statements from various leaders against Israel. My response was, “Your first grandchild was just born!”

As Jewish chaplain, I had an informal role as the liaison between the Israeli diplomatic mission, the American Jewish community in Ankara and the local Turkish Jewish community. The telephone in my office constantly rang to find out the latest news. As we watched with horror, then excitement, the Turkish Muslim community was cheering on the Israelis (the Turks did not like the Arabs, whom they claimed had stabbed them in the back in World War I).

After east Jerusalem was captured by the Israeli army, the Pope announced that Jerusalem should now be internationalized. I held the rank of captain, but that did not deter me from confronting my Catholic colleague, a lieutenant colonel.

“For 19 years your Pope didn’t say anything, and now you want it internationalized?”

He looked at me and responded, “Never mind, Gordon, you have it now!” It was an amazing time for all of us.

Rabbi Gordon Freeman,
Walnut Creek

Recalling that first walk to the Kotel

When the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, I was an American student studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have two especially vivid memories of the immediate aftermath of that war.

The first is joining thousands of others in the predawn hours of Shavuot, a week after the war’s end, to walk the uncertain path to the Western Wall, which had been shut off to Jews since Jordan had captured it in 1948.

We walked all together — women and men, young and old, Hasids in black coats and soldiers on liberty — laughing, crying, singing … and still not quite believing not only that Israel had survived the war but that we could reach the Kotel. I remember the spiritual high of being carried along in that huge crowd, touching the ancient stones and feeling “home” at last.

My second vivid memory of those first days after the war, after classes at the Hebrew University resumed, is seeing the empty seats of students who did not, and would not, return from the war.

In the weeks and months afterward, we young Jewish students wandered unafraid through the Old City, through Bethlehem and other towns in the West Bank, talking to Arab shopkeepers and others, optimistic that all of us would be able to live together in peace and mutual understanding. Fifty years later, that still eludes us.

Ami Zusman,


Chabon, Waldman book is ‘one-sided’

Sue Fishkoff’s piece about Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon’s new book was nicely written, yet it does not represent Israel reality and life (“Chabon and Waldman invite authors to confront occupation in new collection,” June 2).

A visit to Israel in 2016 by the authors, however thorough, cannot by any stretch of imagination represent objectively the lives of the Israelis and local Arabs there.

These are nothing more than anecdotal tales, however emotional, that aim to promote Mr. Chabon and Ms. Waldman’s social and political agenda and demean the people of Israel.

Also, this book, “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation,” is one-sided storytelling, not factual, based on false narrative rooted in the invented propaganda of the PLO of 1964: about poor, local Arabs being the indigenous people of “Palestine,” which never existed.

The last sovereign nation was the Kingdom of Judea, which was vanquished in 70 C.E. by the Romans. After that, it was under the control of foreign empires: the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, an Islamist Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire and, from 1922 through 1947, Britain’s United Nations mandate.

Then, in the 1948 war, Jordan took control of the area and called it the West Bank. So much for the local Arabs’ (i.e. Palestinians’) claim of ownership.

I further wonder how two naive people, no matter how sincere and educated they are, living in Berkeley, have the audacity to claim that these tales are representative of Israelis’ and Arabs’ lives there.

I believe J.’s readers deserve a more balanced and objective presentation based on facts — or at least a disclaimer by J that it is not responsible for the authenticity of these stories.

Sam Liron,
Foster City


A confusing way to show ‘love of Israel’

I’m scratching my head trying to understand how Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman show their “love of Israel” by compiling anti-Israel essays and then asking their readers all over the world to “think deeply about an uncomfortable topic.”

Who isn’t thinking about and denigrating Israel these days?

As author Tuvia Tenenbom noted when he visited a dying synagogue in a southern American city, “It is the story of American Judaism that I have already seen: people who dedicate their resources to help others and to fight themselves are doomed to succeed on both fronts.”

By the way, Tenenbom’s book, “Catch the Jew!” is a must read for those interested in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Sheree Roth,
Palo Alto


Don’t blame prez for climate of hate

The mind reels at Mark Davidow’s assertion in his June 2 letter to the editor that President Trump is “responsible for unleashing the worst instincts of many Americans. This has resulted in a spate of hate crimes.”

What we are witnessing in America grows out of something increasingly commonplace today and which has its origins in the unchallenged resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide.

Consider that the tactic of murdering children was legitimized by the world’s silence when the dead children were “only” Israelis.” Nowadays invertebrate Europeans toss around candles and teddy bears to cope with the mystery of why “non-Islamic” Muslims explode nail-laced bombs to inflict maximum carnage on young girls or use a huge truck to massacre people on holiday. No wonder confident Islamic supremacism is attracting so many with hearts of utter darkness.

Meanwhile, Mr. Davidow is concerned because someone representing the New Israel Fund, which works to delegitimize Israel and thereby justifies attacks against it, is given a “hard time” when trying to enter Israel.

Humanity’s worst instincts have been given increasingly free rein for some time now, and in no way is this attributable to the current administration. In 2010, Barack Obama told voters that “we’re gonna punish our enemies” was an acceptable political attitude.

Meanwhile, anything Israel does to protect its future and the safety of its people is the focus of Mr. Davidow and others who block out the murderous mayhem that has been loosed pretty much everywhere else on our planet.

Julia Lutch,

It’s the world’s ‘oldest hatred’

Mark Davidow’s letter blaming Donald Trump for the rise of anti-Semitism in Bay Area schools shows a disconnect from the concept of cause and effect.

It doesn’t impress that he positions his argument by posing as a “rational objective observer,” thereby disqualifying any critic of his opinion as irrational, biased and obtuse.

To hammer home his point, he cites the experiences of a “Palestinian-born U.S. citizen” and a Jewish American whom he believes were treated poorly by Israeli border authorities.

Dr. Davidow thereby tars Israel with the same brush he uses to insult Donald Trump.

Dr. Davidow then ironically identifies two “genuine anti-Semitics in the Trump administration” to round out his diagnosis. I have some bad news. There have been anti-Semites around for a very long time and they’re not going away anytime soon.

One of the more famous ones is former President Obama, whose most recent act of bigotry was to support, for all practical purposes, U.N. Resolution 2334, which declared that Israel illegally occupies half of Jerusalem.

Candidly, people who think President Trump causes anti-Semitism are delusional. It’s the oldest hatred in the world, and to blame Trump suggests he is more effective than his critics would dare to acknowledge.

Desmond Tuck,
San Mateo


Six-Day War was forced on Israel

Thank you for your June 2 editorial “Six-Day War was when history shined its light on us.”

It bears emphasis that the war was forced on Israel by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. In May 1967, Nasser, emboldened by Yasser Arafat’s terror attacks from 1965 to 1967 against Israel, demanded that U.N. peacekeepers withdraw from Egypt’s border with Israel.

The United Nations shamefully complied. Nasser then massed 900 tanks and 130,000 troops along that border, while another 100,000 troops from a dozen more Arab countries massed along Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

Egypt also blockaded Israel’s port of Eilat — an act of war under international law. On May 26, Nasser boasted, “The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.”

Once the war began, Israel begged Jordan to stay out. Instead, Jordan attacked — firing 6,000 shells into Israel, killing 20 Israelis, wounding 1,000 and striking Israel’s Knesset building and Hadassah hospital. Only then did Israel respond in self-defense. Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the Temple Mount and Western Wall, from which Jordan had barred Jews since 1948.

Immediately after the war, Israel sought peace, but its offers were spurned. Despite incessant Palestinian terrorism and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel achieved peace with Egypt and Jordan. Israel offered the Palestinians a state during talks in 2000, 2001 and 2008, but the Palestinians rejected peace and responded with more terror.

Israel owes no apology for defending itself from annihilation in 1967, and the Palestinians have only themselves to blame for their failure to obtain a state.

Stephen Silver,
San Francisco