Story by Donald H. Harrison; Photos by Solange
SAN DIEGO – With Islamist terrorism striking globally and Palestinians and their supporters attempting to intimidate Jewish college students across America, StandWithUs put together a multi-religious line-up of speakers Sunday evening, Dec. 7, whose message, taken in the aggregate, was that the Jewish community is not alone, nor is it without resources to legally and morally fight back.
A crowd of approximately 400 people at a $150-a-plate dinner heard a Muslim doctor call for the separation of mosque and state; a Latino Christian tell of growing support in his community for Israel, a one-time member of Students for Justice in Palestine tell why he has reversed his position and now stands with Jews and Israel; and a Jewish attorney pledge a rapid response legal team to help assure Jewish student rights and safety on college campuses. Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego), a member of San Diego’s Jewish community, was introduced from the audience.
Financially underwritten by Dr. Bob and Mao Shillman, the “Festival of Lights” reception and dinner at the Torrey Pines Hilton was a mélange of speeches and video messages garnished with Hebrew and English song. The proceedings were emceed by Jon Davidi.
The Star Spangled Banner was performed by Jonathan Valverde, a deep-voiced, operatic singer who also heads Latinos for Israel. He was backed up by members of a mariachi band. For the singing of Hatikvah, he joined Sarit Harel, an Israeli who has recently made her home in San Diego.
Roz Rothstein, cofounder and CEO of StandWithUs, said she and her husband were galvanized to form the organization in 2001 after 13-year-olds Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran were found murdered in Israel with their bodies so brutally mutilated that they could be identified only through dental records. Rothstein said although terror against Israelis was becoming common place, the response from U.S. Jewish organizations rarely went beyond sincere expressions of outrage. She said that was when she realized an organization needed to be formed whose mission statement would be to defend Israel and its supporters in the United States, Israel, and in other parts of the world.
She said the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been part of a unified strategy by Palestinians and their supporters to dehumanize Israel and marginalize its supporters on college campuses, among labor unions, and amid other segments of society in a war for hearts and minds. A current aspect of the anti-Israel campaign is to block Zim ships from Israel from delivering their cargo in U.S. and Canadian ports. When Palestinians initially enlisted the aid of the Longshoremen’s Union in Oakland, Roberta Said, a chief researcher for StandWithUs, was able to make a presentation to that local about Israel and persuade the dock workers to table a pro-BDS resolution, Rothstein reported.
Tony Berteaux, a student at San Diego State University who initially had aligned himself with the BDS movement, told of his disillusionment when he saw how Students for Justice in Palestine were not simply opposing Israel on intellectual grounds but were intimidating Jewish students. That prompted him to write an Op-Ed piece for The Daily Aztec decrying such tactics, and soon he too was being intimidated. Email messages accused him of being a baby killer and an apartheid supporter—two typical epithets hurled by pro-Palestinians against Israel and its supporters.
His message was that as he was able to change his opinion and outlook, so too can other pro-Palestinian supporters once they start learning the facts. The young man received a standing ovation.
Attorney Mitch Danzig said that intimidation of Jewish students, along with failure by college administrators to do anything about it, has become a national phenomenon. He said under the auspices of StandWithUs a rapid-response legal team has been formed as a resource for pro-Israel, Zionist students.
The next time a Jewish student is punched in the face and is called a “kike,” and the university administration doesn’t respond, said Danzig, “we will be there!”
The organization also will use its legal know how to respond to situations when pro-Israel speakers are banned from campuses, or when professors subject students to anti-Israel propaganda with biased assignments, Danzig said.
Valverde, head of Latinos for Israel, commented prior to a musical interlude that many Latinos are “rising up in support of Israel.” He later told members of the media that a celebration of Jerusalem will be held Sunday, December 28, in the meeting room his father, the Rev. Efrain Valverde of the Restoration Ministry, leases from the South Bay Baptist Church in Chula Vista. He noted that Chaldean spokesman Mark Arabo will be among the presenters. Arabo, whose Minority Humanitarian Foundation business card identifies him as a national spokesman and humanitarian of the Iraqi Christian community, was in attendance at the StandWithUs event.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona medical doctor who founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). Born in the United States to Muslim parents who fled the regime of the late dictator Hafez Assad in Syria, Jasser said the United States needs to recognize that the Islamist movement is one which seeks to impose an Islamic theocracy wherever it can take power. His organization, on the other hand, believes in democratic values, especially in the separation of mosque and state, he said.
He described himself as a devout Muslim who believes, as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson did, that nations should not favor one religion over another, but should provide a safe place for individuals to peacefully follow their own religions.
Until the United States recognizes that terrorists are funded by Islamist states who believe their religion must prevail, it will see terrorist groups popping up all over the world. Fighting those groups, while ignoring the forces behind them, he said, is like playing Whac-A-Mole – the popular arcade game in which as soon as you hit one pop-up figure with a mallet, another one pops up somewhere else on the board.
Jasser said the United States and European countries must not allow Islamist terrorism to become accepted as a normal state of affairs. Nor should they back one Islamist movement in the hopes of defeating another, he said. Instead, he urged, the United States and its allies need to unite with people in the Muslim world who believe in freedom. He approvingly quoted Jewish Congressman Brad Sherman, a Los Angeles Democrat, who said that jihadists have to be defeated on Islamic grounds.
In Islam, there is the Quran and the Hadith, with the latter being a collection of sayings, interpretations, and traditions about the former. The Quran is the central religious text of Islam. Into the Hadith, he said, have crept some anti-Semitic passages, such as one urging Muslims to kill a Jew behind every stone. “This is not authentic Islam,” he said.
In fact, he said, the only Muslims his organization will work with are those who recognize the State of Israel.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. Comments on this article may be placed in the space provided below or the author may be contacted directly via email@example.com. Photos by Solange may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org