Two children walk through rubble near a beach in the Gaza Strip in 2017. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)
Two children walk through rubble near a beach in the Gaza Strip in 2017. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Lehmann’s departure from GTU, for and against; UAE deal, for and against; Kamala Harris, for; Hamas, against

Hurrah, Kamala!

The announcement of Sen. Kamala Harris as the vice presidential nominee left many across the country excited, but as a former youth organizer for the senator’s presidential campaign, this news is electrifying (“Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s VP pick — here’s what Jewish voters should know,” Aug. 12).

I remember the weekend when I carpooled on a six-hour drive with my fellow KHive volunteers to the Long Beach Democratic State Convention to join other volunteers in supporting the senator. Some of us had missed school. Others had traveled on their own dime. Although our sacrifices may have been different, our vision was the same: We all believed in this idea of seeing what can be, unburdened by what has been.

And Sen. Harris was the unifying force.

Having a Syrian background and immigrant parents, I see myself and my family in the personal stories she tells. I’ve become close friends with many of her supporters who feel that same personal connection, and I have faith that other voters will feel just as inspired.

As someone who has organized for and attended her various campaign events, I can tell you that the energy and passion in her base of supporters are so invigorating and empowering that her joining Joe Biden on the presidential ticket is a surefire path to victory for the Democrats in November.

Not only is the senator an asset to fundraising for Biden’s campaign, but she is also an unfailing source of courage and leadership that’s needed to energize voters, especially for this critical election in November.

Amanda Safi
San Mateo

SFSU material isn’t ‘stolen’

Reading Jerome Garchik’s letter in J. (“Stolen items in SFSU library?” Aug. 21) regarding Chanan Tigay’s well-deserved award for “The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible,” I was alarmed at the view that the “Yemeni collection” of manuscripts in the Sutro Library at San Francisco State University has a “questionable provenance” and is compared to items looted by the Nazis.

By reading Tigay’s book, a view to be formed by the reader is that the collection came about when, by trickery or force, Moses Wilhelm Shapira obtained manuscripts from Yemeni Jews. As someone who has for many years studied Shapira and the multiple collections containing his manuscripts (I’m the subject of Tigay’s book, chapter 11), I feel I need to correct this view.

Looking at the range of collections containing manuscripts sold by Shapira, as well as the catalogues Shapira wrote by hand to detail the many manuscripts he had for sale, it becomes clear that Shapira obtained manuscripts from a number of places — not only Yemen but also Jerusalem, Syria, present-day Iraq and Egypt.

In the case of the SFSU collection, many of the manuscripts are Yemenite, but many are not. As an example, Tigay’s “smoking gun” Torah scroll, with the lower margin cut off, it is not Yemenite; in fact, most of the Torah scrolls Shapira sold are not Yemenite.

For the portion of the SFSU collection that is Yemenite, the limited sources that portray Shapira in the negative light of having used trickery and force are of doubtful historical value. The sources tell us little about Shapira but rather about peoples’ shame of having, in poverty, sold their holy books.

The collection was legitimately sourced and rightfully should stay at SFSU.

Matthew Hamilton
Sydney, Australia

More on Lehmann-GTU split

As someone who spent much of my adult life (1995-2018) teaching at the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and who directed it for 15 years (2000-15), it pains me to see the institution I cherish mischaracterized (“Was this rabbi too pro-Israel to head GTU?” Aug. 6, and five letters to the editor, Aug. 21).

Rabbi Daniel Lehmann was not the first Zionist at the GTU, nor the first Orthodox Jew in a leadership role. So why was his time there marked by so much rancor?

The GTU has long hosted speakers on all sides of controversial issues, and classroom discussion has not shied away from such topics. The GTU maintained its open and respectful culture by ensuring that these conversations were grounded in rigorous text study, shared meals and a commitment to community-across-difference. Before addressing difficult topics, we have learned from experience to get to know one another first, learning one another’s songs and stories. Listening, it turns out, is as important as speaking.

Sadly, Rabbi Lehmann did not seem to understand this approach, or what was required of him as the representative of all the GTU’s constituents. Even before he arrived, he granted an interview in which he cast suspicions on a neighboring Islamic college, sharing — unprompted — his worries that pro-Palestinian voices might bring a toxic culture to the GTU.

It was not only Muslims and their allies who were taken aback. In the same interview, he spoke of his eagerness to erect the first sukkah at the GTU, and to bring a “traditional” Jewish perspective of someone “with an Orthodox background” to the GTU. It was true that he would be the GTU’s first Jewish president, but many at CJS have come from Orthodox backgrounds. And the CJS sukkah has long been a familiar sight on the GTU campus.

That the GTU administration continues to hold its tongue about Rabbi Lehmann’s tenure is evidence, I suspect, of the ethos I am describing. What we’ve had at the GTU is special, delicate and exceedingly rare. My only hope is that the GTU can recover from a firestorm it did not instigate, and that it wisely resists continuing to fuel.

Naomi Seidman

Zionists ‘are hung out to dry’

Uriah Kim, new president of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, tells us in his recent letter to the editor that Israel supporters are welcome at GTU and, in principle, that may well be true (“GTU: Israel supporters welcome,” Aug. 21).

But principles are very different from what happens in practice.

Rabbi Daniel Lehmann’s toxic experience as president of GTU, and sudden departure, fit an all too familiar pattern — and Mr. Kim has failed to speak to that.

a bald man with a short bear leans on a bookcase
Rabbi Daniel Lehmann at Hebrew College in Boston, the institution he led before his brief tenure at the Graduate Theological Union.

Time after time, on campus after campus, Israel supporters are harassed and targeted. Administrators respond with public relations platitudes about zero tolerance for hate, and insist that they are committed to fostering a climate where differences of opinion can be discussed with mutual respect. But in the end, Jews with Zionist leanings are hung out to dry.

We have yet to hear an honest accounting from GTU about the reality of the hate campaign directed at Rabbi Lehmann and why he felt the need to leave his new position, and what GTU did or did not do to stand up for him.

Malka Weitman

Newsom violates due process

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law AB-1460, which contains a last-minute addition of Arabs to the original four “traditional” groups in the ethnic studies curriculum (“Newsom signs bill requiring ethnic studies in California State University system,” Aug. 18).

This last-minute addition to the curriculum is illegal on several counts.

I quote from the curriculum of a class in education and the law which I took two years ago at SFSU. In the section “Due Process,” it says: “Proper notice and a fair process: Designed to prohibit arbitrary and capricious action by officials. There must be justification for your action. The extent of due process is a function of the seriousness of the deprivation of life liberty and property.

“Federal statutes of significant interest: Civil Rights Acts: The act is particularly germane to the prohibition of discrimination in the educational opportunities for students based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion.” These statutes were instituted to give further force to the concept of personal liberty and equal protection.

There was neither proper notice nor fair process in this last-minute change.

Furthermore, this change is clearly discriminatory to Jewish and Israeli students. There should be an immediate injunction against this last-minute change to the ethnic studies curriculum to prevent these violations of due process and discrimination from going forward.

Ruth Parker
San Francisco

Hamas’ true desires

Muhammad Shehada, in his recent Forward opinion piece reprinted on,, may be correct when he states of Gazans, “We want only a dignified life, and a future for ourselves and our children” (“Violence begets despair begets violence in Gaza’s endless, hopeless loop,” Aug. 25).

While that may be true of civilians there, it’s certainly not correct when it comes to Hamas. Its leaders have been extraordinarily clear about their goals. The riots at the border are not about a better life in Gaza, but rather about invading Israel and killing Jews.

As Hamas leader Yayha Sinwar said, “We will take down the border and we will tear their hearts from their bodies.” Just last month, Hamas acknowledged that it refused $15 billion in development aid, because it was contingent on the terror group agreeing to disarm.

Israel faces difficult choices along the Gaza border. But ultimately, Israel will protect its civilians from armed invasions across the border fence or through terror tunnels, and protect its farms and nature preserves from those who seek only to destroy. And it does so while taking far more precautions to avoid harming Gazan civilians than any country facing similar threats has ever done.

I look forward to the day when leaders in Gaza do seek genuine peace with Israel, instead of demanding its elimination.

Michael Harris
San Rafael

‘Free Gaza from Hamas’

The word count of Muhammad Shehada’s opinion piece on (“Violence begets despair begets violence in Gaza’s endless hopeless loop,” Aug. 25) reveals a lot about who he finds responsible for the Gazans’ hopelessness, despair, inadequate electricity and water, and even their suicides. Out of his 984 words, he mentions Hamas only five times.

Shehada doesn’t mention that Hamas has governed Gaza since 2007, when it seized power from the government led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Shehada acknowledges that Hamas has provoked Gazans to violence against Israel. Arson terrorism — launching “incendiary kites and balloons” filled with explosives at southern Israel from Gaza — has burned thousands of acres of farms, forests and nature reserves. To Shehada, Israel’s response, warplanes and airstrikes, is disproportionate.

Israel or “anyone with a shred of compassion” would “decipher the message of these incendiary objects” as the Gazans’ “desperate desire for a life worth living.”

Shehada does need to state the obvious: Hamas cares more about hurting Israel than caring for Gazans.

From an opinion piece in the New York Times, April 22, 2019: “The countries of the world have attempted to help the people of Gaza repeatedly since 2007.” Donor offers to rebuild the economy and infrastructure are disrupted for years each time Hamas fires rockets into Israel.

Hamas has diverted donors’ earmarked funds. Cement intended for rebuilding houses and schools was diverted to constructing terrorist tunnels to kill Israelis. Pipes for improving water distribution were used to manufacture rockets. Chemicals intended for safe bottling and canning were diverted to create fuel for rockets.

Gazans who dare disapprove of Hamas can expect vicious beatings and torture.

Shehada doesn’t need to state the obvious: Hamas cares more about hurting Israel than helping the people of Gaza.

If the folks who wave “Free Gaza” banners really wanted to help Gaza, they should display flags that shout “Free Gaza from Hamas!”

June Brott
Walnut Creek

Israel-UAE deal a good sign

The more benefits that accrue from the U.S. and Israel as an incentive for normalization with Israel, the quicker other Arab countries will sign on for formalizing relationships (“In a diplomatic breakthrough, Israel normalizes ties with United Arab Emirates and suspends West Bank annexation,” Aug. 13).

Greece and Cyprus already demonstrated through the development of offshore natural gas how Israel and the U.S. can bring benefits through cooperation. The UAE and Israel are the Middle East’s two international economic anchors. Together they benefit each other and the surrounding countries.

This changes regional dynamics and provides better opportunities for all, including the West Bank Palestinians, who are already integrated into the Israeli economy. Contrast that with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, providing few opportunities for their own people. Let’s hope this momentum is sustained.

Jeff Saperstein
Mill Valley

Why no mention of Trump?

Your recent editorial’s emphasis on the importance of the recently announced Israel–United Arab Emirates rapprochement is well justified (“UAE-Israel deal moves peace in the right direction,” Aug. 19).

However, your omission of any reference to President Trump’s substantial role here is not.

By various accounts, the deal was finalized in a secret telephone call between Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and President Trump. However, its origin was in secret discussions between the three parties that began in 2019 and took place in Abu Dhabi, Israel, Warsaw and Washington.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan at the White House, Jan. 28, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Mandel Ngan-AFP via Getty)
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan at the White House, Jan. 28, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Mandel Ngan-AFP via Getty)

Thus, the Israel-UAE deal is a substantial diplomatic achievement by President Trump, and one which furthers the isolation of the ever-threatening, radical theocratic regime in Tehran.

Differing opinions and strong disagreements about national and international issues are normal and appropriate. However, when animosity becomes so intense as to blind one to significant facts regarding vitally important events like the Israel-UAE deal, then it is time to step back, take a breath and reevaluate. My humble suggestion is that many in our community do just that.

Steve Astrachan
Pleasant Hill

Israel gets what in UAE pact?

UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash stated that when a normalization agreement with Israel is signed, “‘Abu Dhabi will have its embassy in Tel Aviv based on international consensus to a two-state solution. The embassy will be in Tel Aviv. This is very clear,” he said.

Asked about achievements reached in the deal, he said, “The most concrete achievement was to stop the annexation of Palestinian lands” and reiterated UAE’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Perhaps we would do well to recall the words of Anwar Sadat: “Poor Menachem, he has his problems. … After all, I got back … the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper.”

There is also this, from an interview with Sadat in the Egyptian newspaper al Anwar on June 22, 1975: “The Zionist conquest to which we are being subjected will not be terminated by the return of the occupied territories. … The effort of our generation is to return to the 1967 borders. Afterward the next generation will carry the responsibility.”

History suggests we might reasonably question whether it is sound policy, in the words of Moshe Phillips of Herut, “to make concrete, and probably irreversible, concessions in exchange for gestures and unenforceable promises.”

Julia Lutch

J. Readers

J. welcomes letters and comments from our readers. To submit a letter, email it to [email protected].