Public Comment

Commentary: Are Threats Behind Official Silence?

Friday April 14, 2006

Last summer in these pages John Gertz complained that the “old” Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission was “setting Berkeley’s citizens against one another by condemning one side alone.” He reassured us that the “newer members are unlikely to support anti-Israel resolutions. But neither are they inclined to put forth pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian resolutions. [T]hey are waging a peace campaign—they want peace to return to Berkeley on this issue.” (Daily Planet, July 29, 2005) Now he is suggesting that that same commission, as well as the City Council, “should call the Palestinians to task” for electing Hamas.  

With any other Berkeley resident, we might note the apparent change of mind, perhaps snicker, and move on. However, when John Gertz speaks, I think we ought to pay attention. A suggestion from him has something of the quality of a “suggestion” from Don Vito Corleone. Readers may recall that when he disagreed with the “old” Peace and Justice Commission, he fixed the problem by packing it with members of his choosing. When Councilmember Maio displeased him with her vote on Rachel Corrie, he made a credible threat to destroy her chances with a smear campaign should she choose to run for mayor.  

Here’s the issue. If our public officials—our councilmembers and our mayor—agree with Gertz and have followed their hearts with respect to Israel, so be it. We can express our disagreement with them at the polls. If, however, they have appointed Gertz’s picks to the Peace and Justice Commission, backed off on divestment and Rachel Corrie, possibly chosen not to run for mayor, and generally agreed to total silence on a critical issue because they fear the reprisal of Gertz and other members of the Jewish lobby, then our votes are of no avail. A small, unelected group is distorting city policy by exerting undue influence and would do so no matter who was in office. We need to know if this is indeed happening.  

Finally I note that the money John Gertz has at his disposal to spend either for or against any particular candidate, he has made, ironically, by marketing Zorro—that iconic avenger of the oppressed—whose trademark he owns. Lately there has been a veritable Zorro torrent involving many artists, like Culture Clash and Isabelle Allende, who would probably prefer not to finance the occupation of Palestine. If readers of this paper feel the same, one small thing they can do is boycott all things Zorro—and spread the word. 


Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.