Letters for the week of June 23-29, 2004 

Thoughts about the El Cerrito mural, Boots Riley sets the record straight, victims of traffic court compare notes, and more on anti-Semitism at Cal.

"Portrait of the Times," Feature, 5/26

White + oppressive = right on
It's both disingenuous and silly to suggest that Mr. Cruz made a mistake in calling Victor Castro an "oppressive white man." Brenda Gaspar's suggestion that he was not an oppressive white man because he was "Hispanic" sounds wildly confused, especially following the statement that Castro's parents were both born in Spain. He was a rich, powerful Mexican of full Spanish descent who enslaved Native Americans. We should cut him slack because he's "Hispanic"? The confusion is not all Gaspar's fault; it's in the culture. We Anglo-Americans have always had trouble figuring out what, exactly, we meant by the word "Hispanic" (or its more PC synonym, "Latino"). Is it a race, a geographical origin, a culture, or what? Obviously not a race, since we apply the term equally to people of mostly European (like Castro), mostly indigenous American, or mostly African descent. If it purports to describe a culture, do we really believe that Argentina, Cuba, and northern Mexico share a single culture? If it describes a geographical origin, then does a one-generation stopover in a "Hispanic" country make you Hispanic, and how many generations do you spend in the US before you cease to be so?

Any way you define it, the concept doesn't hang together very well, and we'd probably abandon it entirely if not for our cultural obsession with fitting everyone into a single pseudoracial category. I suspect the word was coined by Anglos who wanted some way of describing anyone with light brown skin and/or Spanish-accented English, without having to think about the complexities of where the person actually came from. As a friend of mine said, tongue partly in cheek, "I didn't know I was Latina until I came to the US - I always thought I was Argentine."

Define Hispanic however you want to, and put Victor Castro in or out of that category as you like. But to claim that he was not an "oppressive white man" is utter nonsense. Two European parents = white. Enslaving Native Americans = oppressive. Looks like Mr. Cruz' first impression was right on target.
Jonathan Richardson, Oakland

Pleasing a poseur
As a resident of El Cerrito, I find Cesar Cruz incorrect and offensive. The mural in question is none of his business, as he does not live in El Cerrito. Mr. Cruz is well known for his activities, as well as his politics. His support for MEChA, a repulsive, racist organization, is damning enough. For him to stick his unwanted butt into our affairs is particularly annoying. I, and my neighbors, will fight vigorously any attempt to rewrite the history of our town to please a poseur flake like Cruz.
Scott Dillard, El Cerrito

Panic in El Cerrito
Of greater concern than the possible loss of the mural is that there's a teacher in the East Bay who doesn't seem to have the educational background or experience to be able to contextualize the mural's iffy content and use it as a teaching tool with his and other students, i.e. make a perceived negative into a positive.

Too, it is still not clear to me whether Mr. Cruz is upset because the indigenous people in the mural are portrayed as playing second fiddle to everyone else or because Castro (a Hispanic "Californio") was made to look white - or both and more?

That Mr. Cruz could so easily panic assorted officials and community leaders in El Cerrito is pretty scary as well.
Tim Troy, children's librarian, SF Public Library, Albany

"Generation Vexed," Feature, 6/9

Thought about it 2
In Eric K. Arnold's article, I was misquoted and paraphrased in a way that may be misunderstood. The article says, "Boots revealed that the night was originally booked as a simple Coup performance - groups including MoveOn.org had jumped on the bandwagon, much to his displeasure." As far as I know, I have nothing against this organization in particular, know very little about them, and did not know until reading this article that they were involved in the event. What I was referring to was the fact that many of these hip-hop-the-vote-type groups use the Coup's image - knowingly without my knowledge - to put forward a political agenda, disregarding whatever political ideas or agenda I may have as unimportant or at best merely circumstantial (One example: Bands Against Bush advertised the Coup as headlining a concert that they had never spoken to me about, positing me as some "anybody but Bush" guy, who thinks the Democrats will pull the troops out). So, my problem was not that those organizations had jumped on the bandwagon, but how they jumped on the bandwagon without asking my permission.

The article also states that I'm "against voting." I went through pains to make clear to Mr. Arnold that I supported voting on things like propositions (I was involved in the campaign against Prop. 21) and initiatives, but felt that campaigns around electing politicians worked against creating and mobilizing a politically active and aware community base which could make real material reforms. But it is easier to say "Vote, dammit!" if the other side is simply saying "Don't vote."

After a quote where I alluded to the civil rights movement, and large uprisings and direct actions of the ‘50s and ‘60s as being cases where more progressive legislation and policy were enacted not from voting, but from politicians and the ruling class being scared into compromise, I was quoted as saying, "So that's what I've done." Maybe the music in the club was too loud and something I said sounded like that, maybe it was taken out of context from a longer sentence, but I didn't say that - and it makes me sound arrogant and out of touch with reality. Much like the Photoshopped big-headed caricature of me on your cover might have sounded.

Thank you in advance for printing my corrections.
Boots Riley, Oakland

Riley's attitudes toward voting and the Coup's involvement in get-out-the-vote activities were indeed misrepresented by changes made during the editing process.

"Adding Insult to Injury," Cityside 5/26

At least I'm not alone
I received a moving violation from the OPD two months ago, and am having similar problems in trying to get it entered into the system so that I can resolve it. I have not been arrested or jailed yet, but I cannot get anyone from the city of Oakland to bother to look for it (I have not received a courtesy notice, nor has it even been entered into the system). I was told by the Oakland Traffic Division that it was my responsibility to call to follow up on the citation at least every two weeks for a minimum of one year. If I never receive a courtesy notice, I was told that that was not their (Oakland's) problem. I was further told that if I stopped calling (i.e., gave up), and no courtesy notice was ever issued, I would be penalized to the full extent of the law if and when the citation is entered. Aides to the mayor could care less. It's good to know that I am not the only one.
Karin Seritis, Oakland

Insult to injury, indeed
The Hayward courthouse is a far greater disaster than Berkeley. Here, a citizen must arrive at 7:30 a.m. to try to be one of sixty people allowed to do business with the court that day, in spite of the fact that about three hundred people have been instructed to appear. The citizen is thusly coerced into just paying the fine and forgetting any hope of a hearing, or returning at an earlier and more inconvenient hour to try the lottery again. A simple citation might take twelve or eighteen hours out of your life, and meanwhile the legal machinery continues to add severe penalties for noncompliance. When the court fails to serve the citizens, it has failed: period.

Amuse yourself by trying to complain about this situation to the chief clerk, or presiding judge, or administrator; or call your state assemblyman or -woman, or senator, but don't hold your breath waiting for a prompt reply, because there won't be one. If you have ever been badly served yourself, I urge you to take a minute to call, e-mail, or write ALL of your representatives and the court administrator. Not likely to change anything, but you'll feel better.
Mike Lee, San Leandro

Fed up
I was ticketed by Berkeley police on March 6. My date to appear was April 10, and despite two personal visits, many calls, and several online inquiries, there was no information available. I eventually spoke to a human who informed me that "it's not in the system and therefore it doesn't exist." I thought "Hallelujah, I got lucky for once!" and assumed they lost my ticket. Chapter two: I received a courtesy notice in late April and it said I was now in the system as of April 23 and my new date to appear was May 24. Huge bummer. I went online and there it was. I applied for the extension period to see if there was any other recourse. Then I read Kara's article and the experiences of the other people she recounted were just that, or worse. Is there a good lawyer out there who wants to lead this class-action lawsuit with me? If not, I guess I'll just pay the fine and begin planning my move out of California. I've had it.
Javier Lopez, Point Richmond

"Berkeley Intifada," Feature, 5/19

A movement's ugly side
I am a 23-year-old red-blooded American Jew, indoctrinated throughout my upbringing on the importance and significance of Israel to me personally and to the Jewish people. I am also a 23-year-old political progressive who has been active in antiwar, anticorporate globalization, and antiracist activism. I consider my politics to be left-leaning in almost all aspects, but I find myself frustrated time and again by the closed-mindedness of supposedly forward-thinking activist communities when it comes to Israel and Palestine. Rufus' article dispels the myth of the paranoia of anti-Semitism. Despite the claim by many pro-Palestine activists that "anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism," Rufus blatantly describes the indisputable rise of anti-Semitic activity. It is printed in black and white why I end up feeling isolated from a community that is unwilling to even acknowledge that a cinderblock thrown through the Hillel window saying "Fuck Jews" is anti-Semitic and disturbing. Just as I try to challenge my family to be critical of Israel, I would like to challenge self-righteous activists to be thoughtful and critical of anti-Israel rhetoric, which can easily slip into anti-Semitism. Cheers to Rufus for exposing an ugly side of a supposedly noble movement.
Rebecca Poretsky, Oakland

Free speech isn't pretty
More than a taint of suspicion attaches to your reasons for publishing "The Bitter Education of Micki Weinberg." I trust it was merely an accident that Tikkun ran an ad opposite the contents page of that issue. It does Tikkun - a progressive force long needed in the Jewish community - no credit to be seen in the context of such a dishonorable hit piece on those who dare to challenge the special relationship between the United States and the State of Israel. No Arab-American group in this area could have afforded such a spread.
Garrett Lambrev, Oakland

Stunningly one-sided
Ms. Rufus fails to note that these ugly phenomena cut both ways. For every slur hurled at a Jew, there is one hurled at a Muslim. For every spitting pro-Palestinian, there is a spitting pro-Israeli (I have seen it). For every anti-Semitic speaker, there is an anti-Arab Jewish speaker. No side has the moral high ground in this sad spectacle. Ms. Rufus goes to great length in detailing anti-Semitic incidents without mentioning the flood of abuses heaped on Muslims after 9/11. When talking about the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, Ms. Rufus cannot cite any actual improper conduct, but instead writes, "It is what might [!!] go on in such classrooms that worries." This is unfounded speculation, the worst kind of journalism. Being a journalist myself, I can assure you that such a vague allegation would never make it past a decent editor.
Nicolas Gattig, San Francisco

How would he know?
Regarding Daniel Boyarin's letter to the editor, Dr. Boyarin claims that the university conducted an investigation into my letter of complaint against graduate student instructor Abbas Kadhim, and concluded that my accusations were baseless. He even went so far as to call me a "liar" in the Jewish Bulletin. I wonder how Dr. Boyarin drew his conclusions; neither he, nor any member of his department, ever contacted me regarding the charges. In fact, Dr. Boyarin was on vacation at the time at the time of the so-called "investigation." I certainly hope that his works of scholarship are not based on similar research techniques.
Susanna Amira (nee Klein), Tsfat, Israel

Allah, he is greater
In doing some linguistic research for a line of apparel I'm now selling at InfidelApparel.com, I have discovered that the definition of "Allahu Akbar" as "God is great" is inaccurate to the point of dissembling. The word "akbar" does not mean "great," it means "greater." "God is great" is a statement with which any monotheist can agree. "Allah, he is greater" as the phrase really means, is a statement of Muslim triumphalism, another way of saying the God of the Muslims is greater than that of the Jews, Christians, or any other non-Muslim faith community.
Ronnie Schreiber, Oak Park, MI

Why now?
What extraordinarily bad timing to run as your cover story yet one more portrayal of Jews as victims during the very week in which Israeli actions in Gaza earned worldwide condemnation as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Or perhaps the timing is spot on. As Adam Keller points out in the current issue of The Other Israel, "Nathan Sharansky - former Soviet dissident and ‘Minister for the Jewish Diaspora' in the Sharon cabinet - has been touring US campuses and European capitals, busily waging the ‘Campaign Against the New Anti-Semitism.'" Why "anti-Semitism" and why now? Focus groups have shown that the Holocaust no longer works to deflect criticism of Israeli policies, so a new narrative defining the most successful minority in the history of the United States as a "victim" class must be pulled out of the hat. For another, Israel has gambled that the parallels between the US invasion of Iraq and its own occupation of the Palestinian territories would work in its favor. But if, as now seems likely, public opinion in the US turns against the Iraq adventure, the obvious linkages could shine a spotlight on the Israeli occupation such as has not happened here before.

Finally, although Israel through American Jewry exerts an extraordinary control over the American government and media, critical voices are beginning to break through - mostly from college campuses. Thus Sharansky and his tour. Thus Daniel Pipes and Campus Watch, which has morphed into House Resolution 3077, a dangerous attempt to censor US academic experts on the Middle East. I'm truly sorry if Micki Weinberg, Jesse Gabriel, Susanna Klein, Daniel Frankenstein, and others unnamed have ever been made deliberately to feel intimidated or scared. As a fellow Jew, however, I'm even more sorry if they have hardened their hearts to the great wrong that Israel has committed against the Palestinian people in our name, for to do so is to fall into a moral abyss worse than discomfort, worse than fear.
Joanna Graham, Berkeley

All militance is not equal
Certainly there is anti-Semitism here and in Europe. That being said, militant Islam is hardly the cup of tea of any progressive I have ever met; it is the complete opposite of tolerance, logic, and compassion. As are militant Judaism, militant Catholicism, and militant any religion. But, rhetoric aside, does anyone really think we will adopt Sharia law in the West, let alone the US? We are a hell of a lot closer to adopting the militant Christian antichoice, prayer-in-the-schools, antifeminist, antigay agenda. Just listen to our current president. So why spend all the time in the article quoting the nonsensical rhetoric of the "Liberation Through Islam" conference? Even the attendees, according to your article, paid its excesses little attention.
Mal Burnstein, Berkeley

A failed gambit
Curious. For years, there was zero tolerance at UC Berkeley for discussion of the rights of the Palestinians. And now, when, after years of silencing, the rights of the Palestinian people are openly supported and Israel is openly criticized, UC has lost its reputation for tolerance - or so your article claims. Such ironies are not unfamiliar to those of us who have struggled to put the horrors of Israel's occupation on the agenda of the progressive movement. Israel's violence is always a response to terrorism, never the vicious means to an illegal end. Israel, the occupier, is the perpetual victim, and the Palestinians, the occupied, are the perpetual victimizers. All criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. Thank goodness that gambit is losing its effectiveness.
Osha Neumann, Berkeley

The big game
Having attended the Daniel Pipes lecture, it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. The large number of Muslim Arab students who were initially in the audience and who later waited for us outside to mock and jeer were of such a cruel and vicious nature - you could cut the hatred with a knife. I also attended a Pipes lecture at Stanford, and the Muslim Arab students there behaved in a civilized manner, posed questions, but never threatened or jeered or clicked their noisemakers.
Barbara Mortkowitz, San Jose

A chill in the movement
I'm against the war in Iraq and I'm also against the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I support a free, independent Palestinian state. Despite this, I've been feeling more and more alienated and unwelcome in various leftist movements, particularly the antiwar movement, due to this kind of anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head. You see, I believe Israel has a right to exist. That alone means that I'm called racist, colonialist, imperialist, and so forth. The Bay Area becomes a very scary place for Jews when Zionism becomes a dirty word, "Jew" is an insult, and the only tolerable Jews to the modern left are those who don't look, speak, or act Jewish. It truly saddens me to think that my Jewish and proud boyfriend is afraid to wear his Star of David around his neck in Berkeley. This is the Bay Area - it's ridiculous that we have to face this kind of Jew-hating here of all places in this day and age.
Sarah Dealy, Oakland

I smell a cat
Anneli Rufus' piece on Mideast politics at UCB is simple-minded to the point of caricature. Why are we readers supposed to view the Palestine conflict through the lens of a Beverly Hills high school graduate who came to Berkeley and found out that not everyone shares his benign view of the State of Israel? Gee, welcome to the real world, pal. It doesn't take rocket science to realize that an entire people thrown out of their land are going to view the dispossessors and those who bankroll them (US) with hatred. Frankly, the left liberal overuse of "anti-Semitism" and "racism" is parallel to the right's "communist" and "pinko" cards. It has become, like patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel. The Express has done some excellent reporting over the years, but this piece is not one of those. It reminds me of your inferior sister publication across the bay. I smell the pawprints of Phoenix corporate here.
Michael P. Hardesty, Oakland

The big lie
Every generation produces its movements with reasons for hating and killing Jews. At its core, each of these anti-Semitic movements is fueled by a Big Lie, a falsehood so audacious that its frequent repetition causes some to believe it must be true. The Big Lie in Nazi Germany was that Jews were destroying the economy. The Big Lie of our time is that Jews stole the land of Palestine from the Palestinians.

Big Lies give rise to cultures of hatred and victimization. They are used to justify uncontrollable rage, and eventually to rationalize the most unconscionable acts of violence, whether it be a gas chamber or the blowing up of school buses. But what is truly surprising is that today's anti-Semitic movements have been embraced by people who consider themselves to be progressive, tolerant, and nonviolent. If there is one lesson to be learned from this, it is one that we should have learned from Nazi Germany: Hatred can thrive when it is considered politically correct.
Gene Chamson, Oakland

Not much has changed
I've learned not to expect any real journalism from the Express since it became corporate, but the article "The Bitter Education of Micki Weinberg" was especially sensationalistic. It was completely disingenuous to bemoan poor Weinberg's disappointment in not finding UC Berkeley a bastion of free speech. Remember, the Free Speech Movement was a response to the lack of any voice supporting the Vietnamese freedom fighters. Sounds like not much has changed, doesn't it?
Gina Shepard, Alameda

Judaism is reactionary
Jews keep on beating the drums of the Holocaust to silence the noise of Apache helicopters, tanks, machine guns, and Caterpillar bulldozers involved in killing Palestinian men, women, and children and destroying their homes. Jews continue to claim the underdog status while holding both seats in the US Senate for California, writing most of the opinion pages in major newspapers, and on and on. They also want to control both sides of the discourse: They speak for the state of Israel and they speak for the Palestinians (KPFA, MEChA, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.). Anybody else who ventures a critical opinion is immediately labeled "anti-Semite."

It is these so called "progressive Jews" who provide the fig leaf of "Zionism" to cover Judaism's ugly ass. Israel is a self-proclaimed Jewish state, not a "Zionist" state. Judaism is the ideology of the Jewish state. Judaism is the ideology of the "chosen people" = chauvinism; and the "promised land" = ethnic cleansing. Of course, most of the religions are reactionary and counterrevolutionary, but Judaism, being one of the oldest, is even more retrograde. Some "progressive Jews" like to call themselves "secular Jews," which is like saying that there are Marxist Christians or Buddhist Muslims. If Semitic people, who claim to be "progressive," want to be taken seriously, they should denounce Judaism as a reactionary ideology; otherwise, they are just part of the problem, and most often the first ones to denounce "Arab terrorism." "Anti-Semitism" sounds like a very empty accusation when at the UN more than 150 nations condemn Israel against the votes of the US, Israel, and a couple of other fuckasses.
Leo T. West, San Leandro

Blame the Planet and KPFA
Thanks for publishing the superb piece on the festering growth of anti-Semitism on the UC Berkeley campus. Alas, under the guise of anti-Israeli rhetoric, this sickness can also be found mutating in much of the off-campus community where it is fueled by two local media outlets, the Berkeley Daily Planet and KPFA. After publishing a letter I wrote accurately quoting an individual's anti-Semitic rant as he attempted to disrupt Daniel Pipes' lecture, the Daily Planet not only apologized to that individual but then published a half-page litany of lies by him in which I was laughingly called a "conservative" and the term "Zionist" was applied as an epithet virtually serving an excremental function. Shortly thereafter, BDP owner/editor Becky O'Malley wrote an editorial in which she dismissed Daniel Pipes with a singular word, "reprehensible," sans any further explanation. And she rationalized the form of protest by the pro-Palestinian students as justifiable, paying no mind that they were ousted by the police for trying to violate Pipes' right of free speech.

And then there is KPFA. On a daily basis, KPFA's news department broadcasts the worst anti-Israeli rhetoric amid its absurd allegations. While the examples are too numerous to cite here, the station serves as an outlet for such pro-Palestinian propaganda as the nonsense that the Israeli army perpetrated a "massacre" in Jenin, a charge discredited by Human Rights Watch and no longer even maintained by the PLA. With such local media outlets so regularly spewing disinformation about Israel, can there be but little wonder that anti-Semitism has grown like Topsy in our community?
Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

Controversy is healthy
I was troubled by Rufus' belief that young people at Cal are being "indoctrinated" by the likes of crackpot imams and Palestinian professors. At Cal, or anywhere else for that matter, everyone who stands up to speak before us has his or her own opinions and agendas, and if we just drink it in uncritically then we are asking for trouble. Professors, imams, and Hillel directors all have their own take on justice and oppression in the Middle East and debate on campus. For that matter, Ms. Rufus' article also clearly had a point of view; should she be criticized for indoctrinating her readers? Daniel Frankenstein at least has the comfort of knowing that when he graduates this month, he is unlikely to find himself disliked in Washington for having refused an alliance with a Palestinian university. Personally, I am glad that his views did provoke controversy at Berkeley, because views, ideas, and thoughts are the proper subject of controversy and should remain so.
Malissa Taylor, Oakland

Tell it to W.
Anneli Rufus' article reflects a common misconception about the role of political and academic freedom in a democratic society: the notion that opponents of official government policy have an obligation to be fair to supporters of those policies. Professors and journalists don't need to give equal time and weight to justifications for Israeli policies in every lecture and article. For that, we have the White House.
Robert Denham, Berkeley

Please allow me to introduce myself
It's about time I weighed in with an editorial comment, as I am the sole beneficiary of the Arab-Israeli conflict. More than 56 years of bloodletting have kept me well nourished, and it's good to see all the support I have at Cal. With all the isms flying around, I find the most threatening to be "Rationalism." You know those folks. Although they don't spit or yell, they're everywhere. They believe that hatred, violence, and intolerance are antithetical to the love of God. They hang out at interfaith peace conferences. They believe that those who promote, engage in, and celebrate brutal acts of injustice make a mockery of their professed desire for justice. They believe that a well-armed sovereign nation of 6.5 million citizens will naturally resist attempts to destroy it. They believe that borders historically exist between people of distinct culture, language, and history for very good reasons, and that the people of Israel and the people of Palestine are best served living within secure and recognized borders with equal access to natural resources. In short: they wish to starve me!

I urge the progressive students and faculty at Cal to keep this tragic Punch and Judy show going: perhaps you won't be marching triumphantly to Al Quds any time in the near future, but you'll be keeping my larder well stocked all the while!
Death (aka Frank Commanday), El Cerrito

A gross overstatement
In an effort to deride Middle Eastern culture, the author writes, "By that, he meant the practice of clitoridectomy, which is followed in some traditional Islamic cultures." This is by all means a gross overstatement of something that occurs in Egypt (practiced as much by Copts as by Muslims) and in sub-Saharan Africa primarily. I have heard that it may be present in Yemen, but this is not at all a prevalent practice in the Middle East. I lived in the Middle East most of my childhood and never heard of it until coming here!
Sara Jurdi, Berkeley

Editor's Note
According to Amnesty International, the practice also occurs in Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.


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