An Alternate Universe (aka Berkeley)
When I read the letters by Carol Sanders and Elliot Helman (Nov. 30) praising Hatem Bazian after Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin appropriately deplored Bazian's appointment to the city's Peace and Justice Commission, I thought I must be living in an alternate universe. Then I remembered this is happening in Berkeley.
Mayor Arreguin's comment was utterly sane. Bazian started Students for Justice in Palestine, which enthusiastically supports BDS. BDS has been widely condemned in many countries and defined as anti-Semitic by 26 states across the U.S., including California. Anyone associated with either hateful movement, whose ultimate unspoken mission is to rejuvenate the Holocaust, deserves all the opprobrium one can muster.
It's difficult to become accustomed to hearing self-proclaimed Jews who hide behind their religion to dignify their support for anti-Semites. Sadly, this has characterized Jewish life for centuries and will no doubt continue ad nauseam.
All that can be done is to ensure that they are clearly identified as haters of everything Judaism stands for and denounce their appropriation of the religion to their own dysfunctional ends. As for Bazian, I can think of worse things to say, but this is a family newspaper.
Bazian is No Friend of the Jews
It's hard to know what to say to those letter writers who defend Hatem Bazian and deride Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin for calling him out for denigrating Jews and being a divisive force in our community.
Bazian is not just a kindly professor who attends Passover seders. He is an internationally known leader in the BDS and anti-normalization movement and has no problem vilifying and encouraging viciousness against Zionists. It's all the rage right now: Proclaim your love for Jews and the Jewish religion on the one hand, and undermine the centerpiece of Jewish peoplehood on the other.
There is little one can say to Jews who refuse to see the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism — even while it is staring them in the face. One can intellectualize it away, but the gut knows it's all too real.
As for criticism of Israel, no one is trying to shut that down. What we object to is when Israel is judged by a double standard, when Israel is held solely responsible for the painful stalemate that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and when Palestinians are supported in clinging to victimhood and excused from any responsibility in perpetuating their own very real suffering.
Mayor Arreguin has been nothing short of courageous in standing up for the Jewish people, better than some of us deserve. I take this opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to him.
Pick a Side
I do not claim to know the mind of Hatem Bazian. But I am sure that the two letter writers defending him in the Nov. 30 issue cannot both be right.
Elliot Helman calls Bazian "a brilliant political theorist … He has a great respect for our Jewish traditions and values." I believe that the foundation of any interfaith work is to pay close attention to what you say and how others may understand it differently than you do. It's a matter of respect to one's fellow human beings. And yet, Carol Sanders says that Bazian "retweet[ed] an offensive post without paying sufficient attention to its content." Someone fitting Helman's characterization would not do this.
Sanders also admits that Bazian's retweet "identifi[ed] Israel's crimes with Jewry itself." But here's Helman again: "He … speaks in support of and solidarity with all oppressed groups…" I suppose this must include, for example, Iraqi Sunnis who after liberation from ISIS have suffered retribution from Shi'a militias who consider them complicit. Or Kurds, whom Turkey considers to all be enemies, by association with PKK rebels. So I expect that he would be familiar with the imputation of collective guilt on a sectarian or ethnic basis.
You can't have it both ways, folks.