Saturday, August 11, 2007

Anti-Semitic Mural Arts 202

Here we go again.

Back in 1994, San Francisco State unveiled a mural of Malcolm X on campus, which included magen Davids, dollar signs, skulls and bones, and the words "African Blood".

The artist insisted that it was not meant to offend Jews, but "represent(ed) Malcolm X's anti-Israel sentiments."

Robert Corrigan, SFSU President and tool of the Zionist Conspiracy, announced that it was coming down. All hell broke loose. After weeks of hysterical posturing, including a student table with a banner announcing that they were "Anti-Zionist, not Anti-Semitic", and including photographs of Robert Corrigan wearing a kippa at the Western Wall, compromise was reached, and a modified version of the mural remained up.

I had ample opportunity to check out the student group's literature, because that was the summer I was taking a handful of classes at SFSU to cover my science requirement at Mills. Can't tell you how super I felt to be on campus.

Some years later, in the spring of 2002, I sat around a table with some Jewish activists who, a couple of days before, had attended a pro-Israel, pro-peace rally at SFSU to speak about their experiences as Jews violently expelled from Arab countries. They didn't make much of the fact that the event turned into a near-riot due to "anti-Zionist" protestors yelling things like "Hitler did not finish the job" at Jewish students. They'd seen a lot worse--crowds yelling the same thing, and armed to the teeth. ("Leave me alone, or I'll call the police. What do you mean, you are the police?") I, on the other hand, was a little agitated when I realized how badly things had gone...

Not too long after that, I applied for a job at SF Hillel. During the interview, I commented that the situation must be tense for young Jews on the SFSU campus. This was shrugged off by the then director. It was fine, I was told. The whole thing had been because of a few bad apples who had since graduated. All was well.

Well, heeeeere we go again. The mural above, featuring the late Dr. Edward Said, the al-Aksa mosque, folk dancers, small children reading under an olive tree, and possibly a partridge in same tree, is going up at SFSU. What's not going up, after Robert Corrigan's steadfast refusal, is the bit on the right-hand side showing the cartoon figure Handala holding a key labelled, in Arabic, "The Return".

Honestly, I am just surprised that it took this long, and impressed that Corrigan is still going after all these years. What's deeply angering me, though, is the coverage of this in the j., successor to the Northern California Jewish Bulletin. They write:

More than two years of debate, hand-wringing and intense dissection of what exactly a cartoon character holding a key means has ended.

Robert Corrigan, president of San Francisco State University, approved a mural celebrating the late Palestinian activist professor Edward Said last month after an agreement was made to remove elements that campus Jewish groups claimed were symbols of violence and promoted the destruction of Israel.

“I think this is a victory for moderation. The mural as it stands now is a celebration of Palestinian culture and that’s not something we should be objecting to,” said Alon Shalev, the executive director of San Francisco Hillel.

I beg your pardon, Alon, but why the hell not, given the intensely anti-Semitic history of Palestinian student organizations on campus, and the obvious fact that any attempt to put up a 'celebration of Jewish culture' on these walls would lead to total insanity of an unprecedented nature even on the SFSU campus?

My kneejerk liberal reaction is that of course I can't justify saying that there shouldn't be a mural for Said, just because I wouldn't have voted one in myself, he's just another popular lefty scholar of the moment, and of course, Palestinian culture is very nice and all...but my kneejerk liberal reaction is wrong. This is different from the other murals up at State, even the Malcolm X one.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, praised Corrigan for “insisting that blatantly offensive symbols are not included” in the mural.
Representatives of SFSU’s General Union of Palestinian Students did not return calls or emails.

Wonder why.

The key — pun intended — of Jewish concern with the mural was the inclusion of the Palestinian cartoon character Handala. The illustrated child, which some claim is a symbol of violent resistance, was holding a key in his hand. Campus Jewish groups claim this was a veiled reference to Palestinians’ right of return to Israel and the destruction of the Jewish state.

Not all that veiled, given the inscription. BTW, the General Union of Palestinian Students' petition online claims that "the Palestinian key, in conjunction with the word ‘Al-Awda,’ represents how Palestinians have adapted to different cultures without forgetting where they came from. The Palestinian house key is the symbol that represents a collective memory, culture and identity of the Palestinian Diaspora whose families still carry keys to the only homes they knew."

The contested mural — and Corrigan’s blocking of it or any other mural gracing SFSU’s main quad in 2006 — had long been a sore point within the pro-Palestinian community.

At a vitriolic anti-Israel confab held on the SFSU campus last summer, speaker Eyad Kishawi said Corrigan had rejected the mural because of the influence exerted by “racist, chauvinist people.”

The Palestinian student union hopes to have the mural up on the Cesar Chavez Student Center by Nov. 2. Corrigan will review the artist’s final rendering prior to the mural’s installation.
Shalev hopes this accord is the first step in improved relations between Jewish and Palestinian campus groups.

Mr. Shalev is an optimistic man. Wish I was that optimistic.

“We are cautiously optimistic about that. We feel the moderates within the Palestinian movement are the ones who have won and that’s a good sign for us,” he said.
“The last couple of years, our Israel Coalition has been putting out feelers all the time, inviting them to all the concerts we’ve had on campus. And they’ve been coming, which they hadn’t in the past.”

Ummm...WHAT Palestinian moderates? From everything I've heard so far, Robert Corrigan is the only Palestinian moderate out there. And he's not even Palestinian. Glad they're going to concerts, though. Concerts of what?

Also, this has been going on for two years. I never heard about it before, and I'm fairly plugged in to the Bay Area Jewish Community. Why the hell were we not out there? Why the hell was Hillel not out there? Why are we taking this, again?

1 comment:

The back of the hill said...

Campus Hillels in the Bay Area approach everything with a hands-off-lets-not-make-waves attitude.

You will perhaps recall the lack of noise they made when Carter was at Berkeley? They were the ones in charge of channeling the outrage. They insisted that everyone allow them to co-ordinate a response.

And they bungled it.

SF State is enemy territory, alas.
As Alaska said about the lower forty eight: "let them freeze in the dark".