Anti-Israelism: Only in Berkeley By JOHN GERTZ

Tuesday September 20, 2005

As we longtime residents know, Berkeley can be an odd place. We have led the nation in some great directions. But sometimes our national reputation for nuttiness is actually well deserved. I happened to be in Germany the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was an amazing scene watching hordes of East Germans flood across the old barrier for their first look at freedom. Several days later I arrived back at SFO and grabbed a cab home. As soon as I said I was going to Berkeley, the driver identified himself as a Berkeleyan. He proceeded to give me a long harangue about how wonderful it was that the Wall had fallen because now everyone will know what an evil Stalinism had been, and what an evil Leninism had been. Now the whole world, at long last, will welcome the great truth of Trotskyism. Right! Only in Berkeley. 

Raging anti-Israelism is a study in such nuttiness. As far as I am aware, this is unique in all the country to our fair city and seems to rest on a confluence of four intertwined sources: 

1) The Peace and Justice Commission, which was until recently peopled almost exclusively by Berkeley’s radical left. Peace and Justice found support on the City Council for their hateful anti-Israelism from Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington.  

2) The Daily Planet’s editor, Becky O’Malley, who has turned this paper into a bastion of anti-Israelism. She has even gone so far as to recently appoint Henry Norr as her Middle East reporter, even though Norr is in the Middle East as a member of ISM, an anti-Israel group which praises and supports Palestinian terror. I will, however, allow that Ms. O’Malley has the integrity to consistently publish the letters and commentaries of her adversaries in this matter. 

3) KPFA, where one can routinely hear some of the most vile and hateful anti-Israelism and even anti-Semitism imaginable in America. KPFA does not generally share Ms. O’Malley’s integrity by inviting knowledgeable people to rebut their propaganda. 

4) A cohort of anti-Israel activists who claim to be Jews. Their letters appear frequently in the Daily Planet. They usually begin with words to the effect, “I am a Jew, and here is why I hate Israel.” Some of them are, frankly, liars—they are not now and never were Jews (they share this feature with many of the members of Jews for Jesus, another Bay Area group). Two such people I met, who claimed to be Holocaust survivors, couldn’t even name the camps they were in. But some really are Jews. In Berkeley, they are noisy and they are organized. But they have no national footprint whatsoever, and even in Berkeley these Jews represent a tiny minority of the community at large.  

Here some history is in order. Prior to World War II, there were three major strains of European Jewish anti-Zionism. There were the assimilationists who felt that a Jewish particularism should be forsaken for the benefits of European hoch cultur. These people were given up by their highly cultured non-Jewish neighbors and for the most part perished in the ovens. There were the ultra-orthodox, who believed that the establishment of a secular democratic Israel was a sin. According to them, Israel could not be established by the hand of man before the arrival of the messiah. They, too, mostly perished in the ovens. There were the communist Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia, who believed in a new Universal Man. They mostly perished in the gulags and the purges. The rump survivors of all three strains of anti-Zionism found their way to America and brought their bankrupt philosophies with them. The ultra-orthodox anti-Zionists now reside mostly in New York; the assimilationists have melted away in the sun of Southern California; and Berkeley seems to be the nexus of the communist strain of anti-Zionism. Even those rabid Israel bashers who are bona fide Jews are Jews only in the sense that Clarence Thomas is black. Their Jewish identity has been entirely superceded by their radical left identity, just as Thomas’ blackness has been obviated by his radical right ideology. 

Many of us have had just about enough of Berkeley’s hateful witch’s brew of anti-Israelism. I pointed out in a recent letter to this newspaper that Berkeley mirrors the UN General Assembly. Last year, with its automatic Islamic and third world majorities, it passed 88 separate anti-Israel resolutions, while passing a total of only four such resolutions about all other issues in the entire world put together. Someone wrote back that this must only mean that Israel deserves it. Only, dear Berkeley, if justice is to be measured by the size of a lynch mob that metes it out. 


John Gertz is s former president of the Jewish Community Center.