she's holding a sign that says "what does peace and coexistence mean to you?"
S.F. Hillel student president Sasha Presley

No fair shake for Jews, says S.F. Hillel student president

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You can’t ignore freedom of speech

David Spero’s op-ed “Despite claims, it’s Arab students under attack at SFSU” should cause real concern for those who care about civil liberties and the freedoms of speech and assembly.

Mr. Spero, a San Franciscan who lives near San Francisco State University, is certainly free to support the Palestinian cause and to take whatever position he wishes to. In defending the actions of GUPS (General Union of Palestinian Students) protesters at the April 2016 SFSU visit of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, he cites the outside agency investigative report of that incident: “the record demonstrates that the protest was directed at the mayor of Jerusalem based on his politics and not at any of the audience.”

However, Spero fails to note another of the report’s findings: “the protesters chanting and use of amplified sound disrupted the event.” Disrupting a meeting is interfering with both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

How many stories must there be of those with dissenting opinions prevented from speaking at university campuses before we recognize that the political left is engaged in a full assault on these basic freedoms?

Spero is fully entitled to be a supporter of the Palestinian cause. However, he would do well to integrate freedom of speech and assembly into his concerns. After all, they are basic rights in this country.

Steve Astrachan,
Pleasant Hill

Torah lesson on accepting reality

The June 23 Torah column by Rabbi Corey Helfand of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City was a classic example of a rabbinical teaching applied to an everyday life (“On agreeing to disagree, and the importance of minority opinions”).

I wish his column would have been read by our politicians from both parties. Maybe they would be able to recognize themselves in the uncompromising positions and resistance to the reality of crashed dreams.

As Rabbi Helfand instructs, Korach (from last week’s Torah portion) was jealous over the fact that his cousins, Moses and Aaron, had become leaders among Israel. Wanting a similar position for himself, Korach “caused a divide among the people, placing blame with his dissenting opinion,” which “led him and his followers to be swallowed up by the depths of the world.”

The act of accepting reality, however painful, may start with respectful disagreement but end with conflict resolution.

Nowhere else it is more evident than in the Middle East. If only the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular could have accepted Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, there would have been found a viable solution to the seemingly inextricable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Vladimir Kaplan,
San Mateo

‘Deplorable actions’ at SFSU

There was a time not long ago when shouting “long and loud” at an invited guest speaker with whom one disagreed would have been seen as utterly inexcusable. But opinion piece author David Spero (“Despite claims, it’s Arab students under attack at SFSU”) says he is on the San Francisco State campus nearly every day, so perhaps he is not aware that thoughtful, fact-based exchanges are even a possibility.

Mr. Spero attempts to convince us that shouting is acceptable if aimed at a speaker’s politics rather than at anyone in the audience. But consider: Shouts of “Get [the f—] off our campus” are aimed at the speaker personally. That shout most certainly is not related to any specifics of a speaker’s politics.

One also wonders, despite his almost daily presence on campus, if Mr. Spero understands what a shout of “long live the intifada” actually intends to convey. As used by Palestinians with reference to Israelis, the term is associated with violence against civilians rather than any policy particulars.

If all the conclusions of the report that investigated the reception of Mayor Barkat at SFSU are as skewed as “shouting is unobjectionable if aimed at a speaker’s politics rather than at anyone in the audience,” then anyone who relies on such conclusions has both a convenient rationalization and a get-out-of-jail-free card for ideology expressed in deplorable actions.

Julia Lutch,

Iconic photograph comes to life

On Sunday, June 11, the three Israeli paratroopers immortalized in David Rubinger’s iconic photograph taken during the Six-Day War were reunited in San Francisco (“Iconic Israeli paratroopers from Six-Day War to visit Bay Area”).

Rubinger’s image of Zion Karasanti, Dr. Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri standing by the Western Wall remains one of the most inspiring in history. From 1948-1967, Jordan, which occupied eastern Jerusalem, barred all Jews from the Wall — traditionally, the holiest place where Jews could pray — and instead used the Jewish holy site as a dump. On the eve of the war, no one imagined this would ever change. Israel was under siege, seeking merely to survive.

However, on June 7, 1967, Israel’s soldiers reached the hitherto inaccessible Western Wall. The nearly 2,000-year-old Jewish dream of liberating and redeeming the holy site had been miraculously fulfilled.

Rubinger’s photo of the three Israelis beside the Wall, with Yifat cradling his helmet over his heart, gazing up in awe at the ancient stones, encapsulated the sense of amazement and wonder that struck all Israelis and Jews around the world at that moment.

At the reunion, the paratroopers noted that they were originally supposed to go to Egypt; only at the last moment was their mission changed. They lost many friends in the hard-fought battle for Jerusalem.

The paratroopers’ stories also underscored Israel’s humanity. Oshri recalled that as they were making their way through the Old City, a woman approached them and said, in Arabic: “I’m hungry.” Oshri, who was born in Yemen, understood her. Despite the chaos as Arab snipers shot at the Israelis from all directions, Oshri stopped, took off his backpack, removed his ration of a loaf of bread, and shared half of it with the hungry Arab woman.

Stephen A. Silver,
San Francisco

Plain and simple, Hillel got shut out

Does David Spero have no shame? (“Despite claims, it’s Arab students under attack at SFSU”)

When the Hillel chapter complained about not being allowed to participate in a structured event on campus, he dismisses that complaint by noting, “I know that many Hillel students attended the fair because JVP had a table there, and I talked with several of them.”

Are we really to believe that he does not understand the difference between those who attend an event and those who are allowed to participate by having a booth or table? After all, he was at a JVP table, despite his not seeming to be an SFSU student. The fact remains that Hillel was not allowed to participate in the same way that Mr. Spero was, and that difference is discriminatory. Dismissing the complaint in such a blatantly dishonest manner hardly deserves to be allowed in print at all.

Arthur Toporovsky,
New York City

Oakland bakery not a hateful place

I assure you there is no tension at Reem’s of Oakland. It’s a happy, welcoming place, where anyone walking in the front door is greeted with a smile.

Where we have tension now is around a J. opinion piece written by Daniel Frankenstein (“A bakery that dishes out hatred in Oakland”).

In the piece, the author attacks Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh and the owners’ choice of using her to dress the restaurant wall.

Do we have to remind the author that the city of Oakland is covered with powerful images of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King — all deemed terrorists by the United States government? Activism and resistance is in the fabric of this community.

He writes that “Israel’s courts are widely known as a progressive institution that regularly rules in favor of Palestinian rights groups.” Did he actually use “Israel’s courts,” “progressive” and “Palestinian rights” in the same sentence?

Michael Wallman,

No fair shake for Jews at SFSU

I’m writing this on behalf of Jewish students at San Francisco State University in response to Jewish Voice for Peace advocate David Spero’s opinion piece in J. last week (“Despite claims, it’s Arab students under attack at SFSU”).

We noted that one of the main arguments advanced is that Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students’ rights are being stripped away at S.F. State. If that is true, we strongly oppose it. In fact, when the heinous David Horowitz posters went up on campus, we publicly condemned them, and even went to a student government meeting to denounce them.

We ask others on (or near) campus to similarly come together to support Jewish students when we are discriminated against.

Hillel had accepted an invitation to table at the “Know Your Rights! Fair” that Mr. Spero referenced. The organizers (including faculty and university employees) subsequently decided to ban Hillel from tabling.

Why? Because we had invited to campus the mayor of Jerusalem — and, in the same 12-months period, the head of OneVoice Palestine and left-wing Israeli journalist Ari Shavit. In other words, the organizers made the racist assumption that all Jewish students who associate with the Jewish student group on campus unequivocally support the mayor of Jerusalem and should be punished for holding that set of views and banned from tabling.

Without any irony, they made this decision for a “Know Your Rights! Fair” designed to discuss the marginalization of minorities in the United States. No student group has yet come to Jewish students’ defense to share how wrongful this is.

Furthermore, if Mr. Spero, actually spoke to Jewish students on campus, he would find a thriving, positive environment at Hillel where we embrace difference and encourage dialogue.

His assertion that Jews are trying to restrict the free speech of minority students is extremely troubling, because the Palestinian student group he supports, by its own words, refuses to meet us, exchange in dialogue, or even “look [us] in the eyes.”

We want everyone to have the right to speak and be heard on campus, not just the people who reinforce pre-conceived viewpoints. Sadly, this is not a widely held view at S.F. State, by students, faculty or administrators.

Sasha Presley,
S.F. Hillel student president