A Palestinian man who works in Israel receives the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, March 9, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Amir Levy-Getty Images)
A Palestinian man who works in Israel receives the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, March 9, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Amir Levy-Getty Images)

The winemaker fires back; Palestinians and vaccines; Hate in Alameda; Wrong on ethnic studies; Etc.

The winemaker responds

Cary Fulbright clearly does not understand the nature of “kosher” certification for wine (“Wine film isn’t sour at all,” Letters, March 31).

There is no difference in Israel or America in defining a Sabbath-observant — or “religious” — Jew when it comes to kosher winemaking. And Israel most certainly does not require “religious Jews [to] have payes and dress like haredim,” as Mr. Fulbright stated.

The only requirement for being observant enough to handle kosher wine is to be shomer Shabbat, as defined halachically.

I must also say that Mr. Fulbright’s reference to “‘religious’ schleppers who serve no value-added purpose” in the process of making kosher wine is downright offensive. He buys into the film’s (“Holy Wine”) equally insulting and incorrect assertions. If Mr. Fulbright had done a bit more research, he would realize that it is indeed halachic law — and not just tradition — that requires (in his offensive words) “these redundant workers,” who are given no chance to express themselves in “Holy Wine.”

Mr. Fulbright should note that I have made and sold nearly 1 million bottles of high-quality kosher wine over the last two decades. As such, my opinion is a professional opinion. Amateurs like Mr. Fulbright have every right to their opinions, as well.

Jeff Morgan

Andy Cheng’s lesson for all

I was extremely gratified to see the article about Andy Cheng in J. (“Asian synagogue president leads community during turbulent time,” March 19).
Not surprising, since he is my grandnephew!

But putting that relationship aside, the recognition of his accomplishments deserved the article and made me realize — once again — how important community service is and how each of us has a role to play.

Andy Cheng (left) with his wife and their sons.
Andy Cheng (left) with his wife and their sons.

These are difficult times — nothing new about that — which make community service and speaking out more important than ever.

Rita Semel
San Francisco

The parting of the sea?

Did anyone else find it ironic that a ship gets stuck in a canal in Egypt and is freed by a high tide created by a full moon on Passover? Just asking.

Robert Golomb

Editorial note: Yes. Very much so.

Antisemitism film falls short

The highly touted film trying to explain antisemitism in 11 minutes was poorly done and full of errors (“Antisemitism video explainer from UC Berkeley aims to cool campus debate,” April 2).

The film, “Antisemitism in Our Midst,” claims that antisemitism was begun by early Christians. In truth, it preceded Christianity and was practiced by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It increased throughout the Middle East with the inception of Islam and the widespread, violent colonization by Muslims of lands as far west as Morocco and to the north and east of present day Israel.

Screenshot from “Antisemitism in Our Midst.”
Screenshot from “Antisemitism in Our Midst.”

The rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire did bring yet another source of antisemitism to Europe. Throughout, both the Jews and the Christians suffered under the foot of the Muslims in the lands they controlled.

The narrative and artistic presentation throughout the film is very poor. While the number of Arabs leaving Israel upon its founding in 1948 is given clearly — 750,000 — the total number of Jews thrown out of their ancestral lands by the Muslims — estimated as 800,000 — is not clearly enunciated. Instead, a lot of these latter figures are put on a complex map that the viewer sees for only a few seconds. What a shanda!

It should have been noted that the sole country in the Middle East where Arabs have any freedom of speech and action is Israel. And over the past few years, the other Arab countries have openly expressed their disgust with the irrational and fanatical hatreds of the Palestinians, which constantly put their own survival at risk.

Stephen Karetzky
San Francisco

Palestinians and vaccines

How infuriating it was to read Matan Arad-Neeman’s opinion piece insisting, as the headline stated, “Israel should help all Palestinians get vaccinated — whether legally obligated to or not” (March 24).

There was not one word in the column about the open warfare and terrorist acts against Israel that the PLO continues to plan and execute. Not one word about the PLO kleptocracy that siphons off millions of dollars for its leaders’ private bank accounts. Or, more egregious, the $25,000 per kill that the government pays to families of “martyrs” who managed to kill defenseless Israeli civilians.

This is the money that should have been used by the Palestinian government to secure supplies of the vaccine (as Israel did) and set up a vaccination program for its people.

Israel has a well-documented history of being first on the scene to help countries in need all over the world when crises erupt (Mexico, Nepal and Haiti are just a few on a very long list).

I’m long past any expectation that J Street (Arad-Neeman is a former president of J Street U’s national board) will honestly report such humanitarian efforts on the part of Israel.

David Levine
San Francisco

Acts of hate in Alameda

This is an open letter to Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi of the Alameda Unified School District:

As a Jewish parent and grandparent, I am extremely disturbed at the antisemitism and hate that Alameda High School students expressed against minority students (“Alameda High parents and students call out another round of racist, antisemitic posts,” online, April 6).

You wrote, in an email, the district would direct all “resources and support needed to complete a comprehensive investigation,” and described the social media posts as “images of fascism, hatred, and anti-Semitism.”

I urge you and the school district to do more than investigate. Come up with a comprehensive plan to discourage students who are involved in disseminating threats and making Jewish and other minority students targets of their hateful messaging.

We cannot let this go unchecked, as this kind of intimidation has certainly grown in the last few years and has resulted in physical and mental abuse of our students and others.

Those who engage in online and in-person hateful verbal attacks, acts of vandalism and physical attacks need to be subjected to significant consequences, in the form of punishment, in order to discourage students’ continued indulgence in spreading hate. The severity of their actions in harming others should not in any way be overlooked by the school district.

In order to prevent this from happening again, it is crucial that your district initiate education against antisemitism and other hate directed at minorities. The curriculum should be required for all high school and middle-school age students. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a free curriculum called “Teaching Tolerance,” and the Simon Wiesenthal Center has a curriculum about antisemitism that you can use.

I hope you and your school board will take decisive action and not take these hateful acts lightly. Our students and their families deserve your protection.

Dorothea Dorenz

Bad call on ethnic studies

The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, while a better sample of what could be taught in an ethnic studies class, is a model and not a mandate (“Ethnic studies: A meaningful victory in a complicated fight,” J. editorial, April 1).

This is an important distinction, because it does not mean unequivocally that Jews will be included in any way.  In reality, it means absolutely nothing.

There is no requirement for local school districts to use the ESMC or any of the sample lessons included. Each district will create its own curriculum, from any source, including the the communism-infused, antisemitic curriculum being peddled by the original ESMC authors as “Liberatory Ethnic Studies.”

So to say, as the editorial did, that “it may not tell the Jewish story, but at least it tells a Jewish story” is completely inaccurate.

And given the “Guiding Values and Principles” of the ESMC, which include challenging “imperialist/colonial beliefs and practices on multiple levels,” to think that any story told about Jews is limited to only what’s in this final sample curriculum is naive.

As Jews, the fight begins again at each and every local school district.

As editors, you do your readers a service by fully understanding what’s going on before writing these kinds of proclamations.

Lia Rensin
Los Altos

Curriculum misses on Israel

While California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum should have focused on building bridges of understanding among the ethnic groups it focused on (white oppressors vs. minority victims), shockingly, it initially emphasized that the establishment of Israel in 1948 was a catastrophe (Nakba), and it promoted BDS to weaken or eliminate the state.

It was disappointing that many of the same leaders remained to guide the present and final draft (“Ethnic studies curriculum passes 11-0 after one final day of sparring,” March 18).

The superintendent of education at that time didn’t know what the term Nakba meant. Why was Israel the only country focused on by the ESMC? Why does negative emphasis on any other country belong in ethnic studies?

a middle aged black man in a suit speaks at a podium
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (Photo/Flickr-Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)

It was through the massive effort of many individuals and organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, that the curriculum was improved.
Still, the question remains: Are our high school and grade-school students benefited by this curriculum?

It will depend on the teacher’s presentation to the students.

Still, be aware there are active groups that are approaching school districts to use the original anti-Israel presentation.

Larry Wanetick
Walnut Creek

Antisemitism is not racism

Nope, antisemitism is not racism, although it certainly is bigotry (“Yep, antisemitism is racism,” March 31). In his letter, Jeff Saperstein says most Jews in America are white, which is true. And proclaims that the new California ethnic studies curriculum proves that antisemitism is racism. But how could that be, if most Jews in America are the same race as most non-Jews?

The ethnic studies curriculum was originally conceived to educate students about the marginalized communities in California that bear the brunt of lower incomes, fewer opportunities, police misconduct and general ostracism from the larger, mostly white community. While it was certainly true that Jews were marginalized 100 years ago, along with other white groups like the Irish and the Italians, that is no longer the case today. Now the burden of marginalization falls upon Latinx, Black, Asian and other people of color.

In another letter to the editor published March 31, Julia Lutch says education should unite students, not divide them. I agree with her. But the reality is that we are not all alike. And just pretending that we are by attempting to obscure our differences will not unite us. In order to feel connected to people we have to understand them. We have to know their stories. Isn’t that true on a person-to-person basis? Don’t you draw closer to your friends when you learn more about them? That’s what teaching students about the various “communities” within their larger community is all about. And that’s what ethnic studies programs aim to accomplish.

While Jews are no longer a marginalized group in California, there is still antisemitism, and the California curriculum offers some understanding of that by including a unit on the Holocaust in 10th-grade history. Also, teachers are always free to bring in speakers who can tell their stories, like a Holocaust survivor friend of mine who spoke about her experiences at many Sonoma County schools, and another friend who is invited to share her experience as a refugee from the Palestinian Nakba.

Lois Perlman

CA role in Mideast peace

Those who follow California progressive politics have seen significant polarization around the Israel-Arab conflict. The state’s Democrats have spent more time on Israel and Palestine in certain committees of the California Democratic Party (CDP) than on any other issue. Progressive Zionists of California has worked hard for a narrative that includes Jews and Palestinians in the CDP body politic. We’ve had successes, but we know there is much work ahead of us at the virtual convention on April 29–May 2 and beyond.

It’s perhaps not hyperbolic to say the situation is much bleaker between Israelis and Palestinians in the region. Distressingly, an October 2018 PULSE poll found that 90 percent of Palestinians did not trust Israeli Jews, and 79 percent of Israeli Jews did not trust Palestinians. The kids are not all right — and neither are their parents.

Hope is nonetheless present. Several international organizations have come together to advocate for the International Fund for Peace. Based on the International Fund for Ireland and Nita M. Lowey’s 2020 Middle East Partnership for Peace Act,  we are advocating for the CDP to support the vision of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace at the 2021 convention. Lowey’s law brought Democrats and Republicans together, and the International Fund brings Israelis, Palestinians, the U.S., the UK and others together. This can be a model for overcoming our differences and finding a better way forward.

Progressive Zionists of California organizers Matthew Finkelstein and Susan George of Vallejo.
Progressive Zionists of California organizers Matthew Finkelstein and Susan George of Vallejo.

Reducing polarization and coming together doesn’t mean we gloss over our real disagreements or empower clearly harmful ideologies. It does, however, mean we build relationships and let ourselves be changed by the interactions. We won’t be the brokers of peace in the California Democratic Party,  but we can encourage peace-building initiatives that honor both Israelis and Palestinians — that promote genuine coexistence and don’t replicate the broken strategies of the past.

Peace comes piece by piece — let’s build the bricks, one at a time. Build it with us!

Susan George
Executive director, Progressive Zionists of California

Antisemitism ill-defined

It’s disappointing that prominent local Jewish academics are among those who have endorsed a declaration aimed at legitimizing anti-Israel bigotry (“Over 200 scholars create new antisemitism definition that excludes backing Israel boycotts,” April 2).

The so-called “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” was crafted to undermine the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s widely accepted definition of antisemitism. The JDA’s core definition of antisemitism — “discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)” — is unobjectionable. But its real agenda is its guidelines clarifying that attacking Israel is not antisemitic.

A common (and invariably disingenuous) refrain among Israel’s critics is that Zionists cast all criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
The IHRA definition, however, does no such thing. In fact, it expressly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

What it does condemn as antisemitic are: denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; calling Israel a racist endeavor; applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; and equating Israel’s policies with the Nazis.

The JDA definition omits these examples.

Instead, it declares that opposing the right of a predominantly Jewish state to exist in the ancestral Jewish homeland isn’t antisemitic. It condones false, demonizing slurs like “settler-colonialism” and “apartheid.” It insists that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — whose goal, according to co-founder Omar Barghouti, is “a unitary state where, by definition, Jews will be a minority” — isn’t antisemitic. And it argues that political speech attacking Israel “does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered or reasonable,” and that criticism that is excessive or applies a double standard to Israel isn’t antisemitic.

The JDA is semantic antisemitism. Those who have endorsed it have betrayed the Jewish community.

Stephen Silver
San Francisco

Pitiful compromise in Iowa

I am writing regarding a recent article on Jweekly.com (“How students quietly quelled a debate over Judaism and Zionism at University of Iowa,” April 8).

Removing the example that says “calling Israel a racist endeavor constitutes antisemitism” is hardly a reasonable compromise, considering how frequently attacks on Israel are veering into territory not directed at any other country.

I recommend readers listen to the podcast from the Shalom Hartman Institute with Stacy Burdett in conversation with Yehuda Kurtzer.

Burdett explains the origins of the IHRA definition: “IHRA was a product of a period right after the Durban Conference which was a very frightening experience, not just for Jews who were there like I was, but to the whole Jewish community, about how alive antisemitism really is … In 2002, right around the second intifada, there was an explosion of antisemitic violence, all across Europe, particularly in France where many Jews live …

“European Monitoring Center, today called the Fundamental Rights Agency, commissioned a report from an excellent group of scholars based in Berlin, at the Berlin Technical Institute. They did not publish the report. They were holding it back … this monitoring center and European officials were not willing to release the report because it found things that, at the time, were very uncomfortable. And that was, that in addition to antisemitic incidents coming from traditional right-wing extremists, Muslim immigrants were the perpetrators … where the attacker invoked anger at Israel …”

I fail to see how compromising on the IHRA definition of antisemitism can be seen as a victory.

Sheree Roth
Palo Alto

J. Readers

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