Jewish leaders say student encampment anti-Semitism accusations are false
Student protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies supporting the Israeli state are confronted by police on the campus of California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, in Arcata, Calif., April 22, 2024. Accusations by law enforcement that the protest was anti-Semitic are disputed by local Jewish leaders. | Andrew Goff / Lost Coast Outpost via AP

ARCATA, Calif.—Local Jewish leaders, including two rabbis and a synagogue president, issued a statement May 3 denying that the recent demonstration at Cal Poly Humboldt against the Israeli war on Gaza was anti-Semitic.

The statement was a response to a press release by Senate President pro-Tempore Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) and Assembly Speaker pro-Tempore Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) that included a claim the demonstration was characterized by “anti-Semitic hate speech.”

The Jewish leaders, while admitting that there have been anti-Semitic incidents in the area, insisted, “We do not find the protests themselves to be anti-Semitic, and we reject it as justification for the police force used against the protesters.”

The latter statement referred to the assault against the protesters the preceding Tuesday morning by around 100 police from a variety of jurisdictions, who broke up the encampment at Cal Poly Humboldt and arrested 32 people, including a faculty member and a reporter from a local radio station.

The Jewish leaders also pointed out, “This inappropriate justification is all the more problematic because it was done without any consultation with Jewish community leaders.”

Their statement concluded with a warning of “the risks of potential harm and escalation that come from a politicized use of the term anti-Semitism” and an assurance that they would like to work with lawmakers directly “to address these complex problems and the nuances required for future communications.”

Signatories to the statement included Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Lecturer Emerita Cal Poly Humboldt; Rabbi Bob Rottenberg; Courtney Ladika, M.D., Temple Beth El President; Caroline Connor, M.D., M.P.H., Temple Beth El Vice President; Emeritus Professor Ann Alter, Temple Beth El Board Secretary; and David Boyd, Temple Beth El Antisemitism Task Force.

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Henry Millstein
Henry Millstein

Hank Millstein is a long-time peace and labor activist. He's a fiction writer and journalist and a member of the National Writers Union.