This billboard at 52nd St. and Telegraph Ave. in Oakland paid for by JewBelong originally said, "You don't need to go to law school to know anti-Zionism is antisemitism," but was vandalized by an anonymous group of Jewish activists to read, "You don't need to go to law school to know anti-Zionism is anti-racism."  (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
This billboard at 52nd St. and Telegraph Ave. in Oakland paid for by JewBelong originally said, "You don't need to go to law school to know anti-Zionism is antisemitism," but was vandalized by an anonymous group of Jewish activists to read, "You don't need to go to law school to know anti-Zionism is anti-racism." (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

Defining antisemitism; Billboards ‘deserve to be defaced’; Etc.

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How to define antisemitism

I wish to thank Israeli Consul General Marco Sermoneta for his op-ed pointing out that California should join other states in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism (“California should join other states in adopting IHRA definition of antisemitism,” Jan. 11).

I agree, and I especially urge our professional Jewish organizations, who claim to represent us, do so as well.

Why should California adopt the definition if the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council hasn’t done so?

The hang-up is the examples listed alongside the definition that have to do with Israel —namely “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The claim that the definition is a tool to censor Palestinian rights is simply not true.

The IHRA includes this line alongside its definition: “[C]riticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

In reality, those worried about their right to bash Israel only need to do so fairly in order to not be labeled an antisemite.

Sheree Roth
Palo Alto


Criticism of Israel is OK

Seth Morrison was incorrect to state “The IHRA wrongly equates fair criticism of Israel with antisemitism” in his Feb. 1 letter to the editor (“Censorship in antisemitism definition”).

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s legally nonbinding working definition of antisemitism specifically states that criticism of Israel that is never applied to other countries is antisemitic — and not that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

Opposition to the implementation of the IHRA definition comes from people and organizations associated with the Palestinian victimhood project who want no restraints placed on their anti-Israel accusations.

Larry Shapiro
Calgary, Alberta


‘Deserve to be defaced’

The abhorrent JewBelong billboards equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism are very dangerous, as they conflate two quite separate issues (“Anti-Zionist Jewish activists claim credit for latest billboard defacement,” Feb. 1).

They deserve to be defaced!

The wider community does not understand the nuances within the Jewish community, especially among proud diaspora Jews.

Instead of subjecting us to her very incendiary views, JewBelong founder Archie Gottesman should use her obviously considerable resources to do good in the world, rather than spread shameful misinformation!

Caroline Lehman
Albany


Shunning anti-Zionist Jews

“We exist for Jewish people, for people who aren’t Jewish but are part of a Jewish community, for anyone who has felt like a Jewish outsider,” JewBelong says on its website.

It is a worthy mission which sadly is contradicted by the organization’s recent billboards attacking anti-Zionists (“Anti-Zionist Jewish activists claim credit for latest billboard defacement,” Feb 1).

As an anti-Zionist Jew who has been blackballed from involvement in many Jewish institutions because of my beliefs regarding Israel, I know the pain that message sends to committed Jews who are not Zionist.

The Pew Research Center’s study “Jewish Americans in 2020” reported that 27% of their sample claimed to be “Jews of no religion,” and among young people 18-29, only 60% report being “Jews by religion.”

While there are likely many reasons for this apparent decreasing trend in Jewish identity of young adults, there is no doubt in my mind that efforts to shun anti-Zionist Jews are a strong contributing factor.

As a volunteer leader in Jewish Voice for Peace, I have met many Jews, especially younger Jews, who feel unwelcome in most Jewish institutions.

The recent Jewish Community Relations Council survey of Jews in our area reports that 25% of them support the call to boycott, sanction and divest (BDS) from the State of Israel. That is a significant percentage of Jews who are not likely to be included in Jewish communal life.

Seth Morrison
El Cerrito


Israeli civics 101

In her Jan. 20 letter, Julia Lutch wrote approvingly of newly minted Minister of Justice Yariv Levin’s package of proposed legislation that would eviscerate the power of Israel’s Supreme Court (“Let’s let Israel work it out”).

She stated that this legislation will “check the decades-long gradual subordination of the Knesset to a Supreme Court, with concentrated, virtually untouchable power in the hands of a few unelected individuals.”

Fortunately, the next page of the same print issue featured an opinion piece by Alex Lederman that includes an excellent explanation of the dangers of Levin’s program (“Israeli democracy may not survive a ‘reform’ of its judiciary”).

Levin has explained that the Supreme Court’s power is not “untouchable,” but rather rests in its responsibility to strike down legislation that contravenes Israel’s basic laws, just as our Supreme Court strikes down legislation that contravenes our Constitution.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut presides over the high court in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Olivier Fitoussi-Flash90)
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut presides over the high court in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Olivier Fitoussi-Flash90)

Lutch described Israel’s 15 Supreme Court justices as unelected, but so are ours. Is she suggesting that judges, like politicians, should be elected by the entire electorate?

Most importantly, the U.S. system of checks and balances rests on the distribution of power between the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) — affording the stability of the three-legged governmental stool.

Parliamentary democracies like Israel’s already lack the executive branch. The prime minister is not elected by voters, but rather is simply the leader of a party that can muster a coalition of a majority of voting Knesset members.

But human beings can keep their balance on just two legs, so two branches of government can be stable.

What Levin’s program will do is completely subordinate the Supreme Court to the Knesset, thus reducing Israel’s government to a single powerful branch. How long can you stand on one leg?

Todd Silverstein
San Rafael


Jew-hatred is back in vogue

I am writing to draw attention to a rise in antisemitic attacks here and nationwide — and to underline the need to speak out against this (“Shooting rattles Russian Jewish center in San Francisco,” Feb. 2).

On Feb. 4, I visited the Schneerson Center in San Francisco — where a Nazi sympathizer had terrorized congregants at a religious gathering three days earlier — to deliver a message of solidarity on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party.

Earlier in the week, a swastika was painted in a play yard used by students at a nearby Jewish school. At UC Berkeley, student clubs at the law school have put into their bylaws a ban on speakers who support Israel’s right to exist. This is an attack on free speech, targeting a majority of Jewish people.

Working people in this country face a grinding economic crisis. History teaches us that as this crisis deepens and workers fight back, the capitalist rulers turn to Jew-hatred, seeking to blame Jewish people for the economic and social problems workers face.

All working people and our unions need to speak out against antisemitism and acts of Jew-hatred taking place.

Carole Lesnick
Oakland


Joys of Moldaw-Hausner program

I very much enjoyed reading the Feb. 3 article about the buddy program between Moldaw Residences and Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School (“Buddy program between Hausner teens, Moldaw seniors is a ‘win-win’”). I’m a Moldaw resident, and my late husband, Alfred Kuhn, was an enthusiastic participant in that program. At some point in 2018 or 2019, Alfred was paired with student Alon Knaan, and Alon treated Alfred like he was his grandfather. It was a beautiful friendship between individuals from different generations.

(From left) Josef Paldus-Farmwald with his Moldaw buddies, Manny and Bee Cherkas, Jan. 18, 2023. (Photo/Sarah Sherwood)
(From left) Josef Paldus-Farmwald with his Moldaw buddies, Manny and Bee Cherkas, Jan. 18, 2023. (Photo/Sarah Sherwood)

Alon and his family moved to Israel in July 2020, but that didn’t end their friendship. They continued to stay in touch every week via email, and Alon would describe in detail his new life in his new country. Through these exchanges, Alfred (and I) were introduced to the other members of Alon’s family.

Sadly, their connection came to end in July 2021 when Alfred passed away. But I am so happy to see that this program is continuing successfully and producing new inter-generational friendships.

Liliane Kuhn
Palo Alto

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