The Maccabees depicted in a page from a 14th-century Italian illuminated manuscript.
The Maccabees depicted in a page from a 14th-century Italian illuminated manuscript.

Hanukkah isn’t ‘woke’; Antifa dangers downplayed; BDS, BDS, BDS; etc.

Antifa’s ‘street thugs’

Your editorial “We need a big-tent antifascist movement” (Dec. 9) properly warned of the potential danger of the Proud Boys, one of whose factions openly calls for the organization to formally become white supremacist and “anti-Zionist.” However, your treatment of antifa, while laudably covering their recent “random acts of vandalism — like smashing the cars of Trump supporters” in Sacramento, seriously understated the danger posed by this anarchist group. The editorial said, “Many members … are peaceful.” A better description would have been a collection of street thugs for whom violence is the norm.

Last spring and summer, antifa and BLM rioters took a terrible toll in American cities. In Seattle, their violence led to at least 12 injured police on July 19 and 55 on July 25. One day later, the Department of Homeland Security reported that in Portland there had been at least 14 injured federal officers over the previous 24-hour period. This appalling pattern of violence should be a deep concern for the Jewish community. It was not Proud Boys but antifa/BLM “protesters” who did so much damage to Jewish-owned property with their violent attacks in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles last May.

The Jewish community should oppose those who would threaten us or anyone with violence without regard to their place on the political spectrum. The best starting point is a close relationship with and support for law enforcement, i.e. the police who have borne the brunt of this violence and have done so much to protect our community over these last two years. Too many have judged the vast majority of dedicated officers by the misdeeds of the few. The unity we should seek is with all who believe in the rule of law.

Steve Astrachan
Pleasant Hill

Deep dive on BDS vote

I was very surprised that there were no printed letters in reaction to Gabriel Greschler’s story “S.F. State student government passes BDS resolution” (Nov. 18). The same issue did include Elior Amar’s guest op-ed in which he discusses the BDS vote five years ago at UC Santa Cruz. But clearly the issues raised by the fact that student leaders at S.F. State voted 17-1 for a measure widely condemned as prima facie antisemitic — following “lengthy and contentious public comment,” strong opposition from SFSU President Lynn Mahoney and San Francisco Hillel’s powerful student petition campaign — deserve more extensive examination and journalistic evaluation.

It is not enough for community spokespeople to imply that the 17 student leaders are antisemitic. J.’s editors should have included links to the referenced U.N. Commission for Human Rights’ Feb.12, 2020 report and list of proposed boycott targets, A/HRC/43/71, which with some digging can be read online.

a big glass building with students walking through a lawn in front
Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University. (Photo/Wikimedia-Briantrejo CC BY-SA 3.0)

Companies are listed in that report if they have been proven to have been involved in any of 10 “listed activities” in what the U.N. deems Palestinian Occupied Territories under International Law. One of those 10 is the demolition of housing and crops. Others are pollution and waste mismanagement, unilateral exploitation of water and land development, and unfair state-sponsored business competition. Such corporate activities would be unlawful if pursued by any firm, U.S. or foreign, in the United States, the EU or any other sovereign nation.

Unfortunately, none of the 17 student leaders who voted in favor of urging SFSU compliance with the UNHRC report and list are reported stating the reasons for their vote in your pages. Clearly, the lopsided vote should raise a serious challenge to J. to fairly report the underlying appeal of the BDS resolution resulting in virtually unanimous support from a broad spectrum of SFSU student leaders. SFSU and its affairs are not footnotes or backwaters of San Francisco’s social, political, cultural, educational or economic realities.

Name withheld by request
San Francisco

Editor’s note: The online version of the referenced story now includes a link to the UNHRC report at

Not ‘allowed’ to call out Israel

First of all, I am and always have been anti-BDS. Recently, reading the article “S.F. State student government approves BDS resolution” (Nov. 18), I had another thought about this ongoing controversy. We Jews in the U.S. are well represented in our anti-right wing politics. It is within our political makeup to support anti-discriminatory actions anywhere and everywhere. And yet, we have seen very clearly that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is clearly as right-wing and discriminatory against Palestinians as is Donald Trump’s White House against Blacks, Latinos, Muslims and most other non-Christian, non-white groups and individuals.

And yet, we American Jews are not “allowed” to call out these blatant forms of discrimination without earning a label of anti-Israel. I am very pro-Israel but very anti-Netanyahu, anti-right wing, anti-discrimination of any group here in the U.S., Israel or anywhere. How can I and others like me voice my/our opinions without being castigated for what has always been the most Jewish of ideals?

We have marched with our Black brothers and sisters, we have been at the forefront of bringing focus to the horrors of Trump separating Latino children from their parents, putting them in cages, etc., but we cannot bring attention to similar horrors in Israel. We have seen the Israeli government cut a Palestinian family property in half, their home on one side of “The Fence” with their only means of income, their orchard, on the other side, repeatedly, but we must not bring attention to that miscarriage of justice for fear of being labeled a traitor.

Susan Hirshfield
Santa Rosa

BDS is not Hitler

Rabbi Dov Greenberg’s message is well-taken (“The Maccabees stood up to the wicked — we need to do the same,” Torah column, Dec. 11),  and I am writing to speak out against his polemical comparison of the regimes of Stalin and Hitler to the BDS movement.

As a Jew who believes that it is morally right to support BDS, I am quite astonished to have language like “wicked” and “evil” applied to a movement that seeks liberation of the oppressed. While one may not support the tactics of BDS specifically — they are certainly not without fault and are very worthy of debate — it is still incredibly harmful to make a generalized equivalence between the movement and antisemitism. Too often the political reality of Israel and the broader question of Jewish identity become conflated, recruiting Jewish identity into the service of a nationalist project. I can be proudly Jewish and still ashamed of the political decisions of the state of Israel, particularly in regard to its treatment of Palestinians.

It is alarming to see the Trump administration’s characterization of BDS as an antisemitic hate group become so naturalized as to not require defense in arguments like Rabbi Greenberg’s — which, problematically, was not presented by J. as an argument. Other articles in J. make the same equivalency between BDS and antisemitism, but they are more appropriately published as opinion pieces.

Distinctions between anti-Zionism and antisemitism need to be made and used to restructure our conversations around the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as the very necessary conversations about the antisemitism that is indeed present on college campuses and beyond. I am a Jew who fully recognizes the harm of antisemitic attitudes and actions, but I do not support the colonial mission of Zionism. As per Rabbi Greenberg’s heeding, I will not stand idly by and let the distinction between the two become erased for political ends.

Katy Rosenthal
Ardmore, Pennsylvania

Remarkable ‘Operation Wedding’

In the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Soviet Jews could not live as Jews. They couldn’t practice their religion or speak their Hebrew language. Antisemitism was rampant all around them.

In June 1970, a small group of Jews created a plan to escape and get to Israel. They would all board a small empty plane dressed up as a family flying to a wedding. One of their members, an ex-military pilot, would fly them to Sweden, after which they would fly to Israel. The KGB arrested them on the tarmac and they were tried in the infamous Leningrad trials.

These trials took place during Hanukkah in 1970. These Jews were our modern Maccabees.

When news of this event was broadcast around the world, there were rallies on their behalf in many global cities. This Leningrad show trial backfired as it shone a spotlight on the antisemitic treatment of Jews in the USSR and on Soviet human-rights violations in general. As a result of this international pressure, the Soviets backed off and commuted the death sentences and reduced the prison terms.

This showed the Soviet Jewry activists around the world that the Soviets were indeed sensitive to Western public opinion and helped catalyze activity on behalf of Soviet Jews. The Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews helped lead the many active programs to free these Jewish Prisoners of Conscience. The BACSJ partnered with the JCRC and the JCF to achieve remarkable results. It was a great example of Jewish unity.

Those who wish to learn more about this remarkable story can visit the Operation Wedding website.

Morey Schapira

Israel’s rebirth a miracle

It’s an utter falsification to describe Hanukkah as a celebration of religious liberty or tolerance (“Alameda City Hall menorah found in pieces on first day of Hanukkah,” Dec. 11). The Maccabees, who liberated and purified the Temple, were upholders of Jewish law and sacred tradition. Their struggle began against fellow Jews who had taken on a Hellenistic worldview, in order to assimilate into the sophisticated Greek civilization that surrounded them. Later Antiochus took sides in what was essentially a civilizational civil war and sought to subjugate the Jewish people by suppressing basic Jewish rites.

Hanukkah is not a universal or “woke” holiday. It is unquestionably particularist and celebrates our people’s desire to maintain its distinctive ways and customs. Hanukkah celebrates our victory over those bent on destroying the Jewish people (part of a long and still active “tradition,” now camouflaged as “anti-Zionism”).

A reborn Israel is a miracle as great as the ancient miracle that preserved our people and that is celebrated by eight days of light.

Julia Lutch

J. Readers

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