Anti-Semitic Riot at San Francisco State University

By Melissa Radler

16 May, 2002

After being surrounded by a mob of students shouting, "Hitler didn't finish the job," and "Get out or we'll kill you," pro-Israel students at San Francisco State University are finally finding an ally against hate. The university president is so fed-up with the hate-filled atmosphere on the Bay Area campus that he has asked the local district attorney's office to help bring pro-Palestinian hate-mongers to justice.

The May 7 incident received widespread press attention after an e-mail was circulated by Prof. Laurie Zoloth, director of the Jewish studies program at SFSU, describing the virulence of the anti-Semitic rhetoric and the campus's seeming inability to halt such occurrences.

More than 100 anti-Semitic incidents, including graffiti, vandalism, hate speech, and violence have occurred on US campuses since January, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Zoloth, who attended the campus Hillel's Peace in the Middle East Rally along with several hundred students, faculty, and members of the community, described how Palestinian supporters descended on a group of 50 students who stayed behind to clean up and conduct a prayer service, after singing Hebrew songs and hearing speeches in support of Israel. "They screamed at us to 'go back to Russia' and they screamed that they would kill us all, and other terrible things," she wrote in the May 8 e-mail.

"As the counter-demonstrators poured into the plaza, screaming at the Jews to 'Get out or we'll kill you' and 'Hitler didn't finish the job,' I turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter-demonstrators from the plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, 'it would start a riot.' I told them that it already was a riot."

After approaching Dean of Students Penny Saffold, who called the San Francisco Police, pro-Israel demonstrators were marched to the campus Hillel House under police protection and a guard was posted at the door. Zoloth also described what life is like for Jewish students and faculty at SFSU, noting her despair at the emergence of posters around campus equating Zionism with racism and Jews with Nazis, and pictures of cans of soup labeled "Canned Palestinian Children Meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."

"This is not civic discourse, this is not free speech, and this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control," she wrote. After staying silent for nearly a week, university president Robert Corrigan posted a statement condemning the incident on SFSU's Web site on Monday. But in a move that Jeffrey Ross, ADL director of campus/higher education affairs, praised as a positive departure from many campuses' public silence on anti-Semitic incidents, Corrigan noted a request to the office of District Attorney Terence Hallinan to assign a member of its hate crimes unit to work with SFSU and consider bringing legal action against certain students.

"Despite the claims of some, this is not an anti-Semitic campus. But as history shows us, silence and passivity can at times of crisis be very little different from complicity," Corrigan said in the statement. In the Bay area, where anti-Israel protests have been the norm on campus for decades, Ross credited the University of California, Berkeley, as being the first school in the area to take legal action against pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Last month, 79 protesters were arrested after taking over a building on campus, and Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended from operating on campus for a month.

"In both cases, you've got administrators who are trying to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances. We're pleased that they're working beyond the rhetorical to law enforcement, when law-enforcement is appropriate," Ross said.

But it remains unclear whether those who have been terrorized will be placated by Corrigan's vow to crack down on anti-Semitic demonstrators after nearly two years of virulent anti-Israel demonstrations. As Zoloth noted in her e-mail, the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American atmosphere that has pervaded campus extends far beyond the scope of one protest that spun out of control.

"After nearly seven years as director of Jewish studies, and after nearly two decades of life here as a student, faculty member, and wife of the Hillel rabbi, after years of patient work and difficult civic discourse, I am saddened to see SFSU return to its notoriety as a place that teaches anti-Semitism, hatred for America, and hatred, above all else, for the Jewish State of Israel, a state that I cherish," she wrote.