As a progressive left-wing voter, it’s been heartbreaking to see so many liberals fall for the rhetoric of Hamas and the enemies of the Jews. Everyday here in San Francisco, I see more and more evidence of antisemitism and divisive tactics on our city streets. While I do not agree with the horrid right wing Israeli government/settlers forcibly removing innocent people from their homes, nor the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, which is appalling and unacceptable, the lies and misinformation put out by the evil-Hamas and their allies (Iran etc) must be stopped. The innocent Israeli hostages must be freed, and Hamas needs to be held accountable on a world stage. There needs to be more communication, education, conversations and dialogue. Clearly, neither the Jews nor the Palestinians are going to leave the land. One way or the other, we are going to need to talk. Why not stop all the violence and get to the talking?
There are at least three murals on view in the streets here in San Francisco. My purpose in sharing these with you is to bring consciousness to the graphic images forced upon us, and how damaging and dangerous they are. My friend Michelle Kletter, also a concerned left-wing voter, drafted a letter to the SF Arts Commission, Supervisor Mendelman, and the SF Planning Department, demanding that the virulently antisemitic murals be removed. I used her letter, and edited to be — my version– which asks that the skillful murals be used for arts-based educational purposes, listening sessions, and programs combating antisemitism and Islamophobia. Here’s the response I’ve received so far:
“Thank you for your email. Our office was made aware of a number of murals last week, and we’ve been working with colleagues, including those from the City Attorney’s Office, the Arts Commission, and members of the Board of Supervisors, to fully understand the situation from a regulatory perspective and – still more challenging – to grapple with it from a human perspective. As a Jew who grew up in Noe Valley, your email and the issue at hand have particular resonance. I have extremely strong feelings about this, none of which are appropriate for me to share in my capacity as City staff. Our Department, Supervisor Mandelman’s office, and other City agencies have been looking at a number of mural-type installations throughout the City related to the war and to the alarming increase in antisemitism. Perhaps stating the obvious: you are far from alone with these concerns. The substantive response to your email is that all speech – even hate speech – has a level of constitutional protection. Our office does not regulate non-commercial messaging like this and no review or approval from the Planning Department is required. Were this installation to have been painted without the owner’s permission, it could be addressed – and potentially removed – as graffiti. That is not the case here. I’m truly sorry to say that there is nothing our office can do.”
I have also shared this blog post with the artist, in the hopes that he might be willing to weigh in on this– I hoped in a peaceful and productive way. Here was his response:
“Peace it seems to many who want to censor my people and bomb and murder 10,000 Palestinians in cold blood, sorry I don’t think we need to talk about anything unless you are telling me you support Palestinian human rights. I’m not the occupier my people are occupied. I have no obligation to hear your justification. If you think my messaging is hateful it’s most likely because you hate the truth.”
I have yet to respond to his email– my first thought is that I do support Palestinian and Israeli HUMAN rights. And, far from censoring him, I am bringing consciousness to his work, and hoping to use it for good. I was so glad he responded and I thought it was a great first step.
He then sent me an additional email with picture of someone looking fearfully over their shoulder. There was no explanation with this picture. When I saw it, I felt threatened. I looked it up on his Instagram page and discovered that the picture was of a person whom he accused of defacing his art— with calls for revenge on this man. On Instagram he sent me a message with a series of books including, Blaming the Victims, by Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, Expulsion of the Palestinians, by the Institute of Palestinian Studies, The Invention of Ancient Israel, by Keith Whitelam, and Under the Cover of War, by Rosemarie M. Esber. These books and his real-life experiences as a Palestinian have convinced him– without a doubt– that the Jews are horrific colonizing people. He accused me of using antisemitism as an “excuse on my people” without ever acknowledging the complexity of “my peoples” ties to the land, and “his people’s” terrorist government. I have not read the books. Here’s how I responded on Instagram:
“I do appreciate you reaching out with this information. I have no intention of defacing your art. Not my style. I’m sure your experience as a Palestinian American cannot be defined or summed up by some books someone read or agrees with. It’s the same with my experience. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the dialogue. I read lots of books– I might look into these.” He gave this response a heart.
Let’s explore some of the artwork:
Here’s the first mural (see below). This mural depicts an oppressed Palestinian person throwing a rock to protect innocent Palestinian civilians. The upper caption reads: “Resistance is Justified when people are Occupied.” The first problem here is the misrepresentation of “Resistance”. Rock-throwing is a vast understatement to the constant barrage of rockets, and the brutal, savage attacks from Hamas– which resulted in murders, beheadings, rape, kidnapping and more. Terrorism is never justified. This mural paints Israel as the enemy. Where’s Hamas?! No mention. Also, without regard to historical fact, this mural states that billions of dollars of tax money are going to the oppression of Palestine in “illegal occupation” of Israel. Again– full of falsehoods. Money to support Israel is to defend the country from terrorism. Money that has been given to the leaders of the Palestinian people– HAMAS– have been used only to wage war, and to further endanger the Palestinian and Israeli people.
Artist: C. Gazaleh
Another mural has similar misleading themes (see below.) It says, “Stop the Genocide in Gaza Now!” Genocide happens when a group of people determines that their purpose is to wipe out the entirety of another people. Israel does not want genocide. Israel wants to exist. If Israel wanted ethnic cleansing, why would they offer a two state solution 5 times? Hamas is projecting their objective onto us. They want only the annihilation of the Jewish people and Israel. They redefine Zionism to fit their rhetoric, and then use the term against us. Hamas and their allies do not want to share the land. Given the Jewish-peoples age old fight to exist and global struggles with being scapegoated and victims of genocide, they are using this word to further enrage the the Jews, and insult our character. It’s sickening.
Artist: C. Gazaleh
Here’s a detail of the mural (see below). This is antisemitism 101 folks. Here we have the Israeli flag depicted with a money sign rather than the Star of David, while tying Israel to the U.S.A. dropping a rocket on innocents for no reason. Propaganda, rhetoric and stereotypes are on full display here.
Here’s my letter:
Dear SF Arts Commission, SF Planning Department and Supervisor Mandelman,
I am writing as a concerned, Jewish resident of San Francisco, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, a Jewish educator and artist.
There are two large murals that I do not believe were permitted through the appropriate process, and they promote hateful, violent, anti-Semitic tropes. Given the current war between Israel and Hamas, these murals add more misinformation and hate to this city.
Instead, why not have them provide an opportunity for us to bring further education and peace to this city? As an artist-activist myself, I can appreciate the work of this artist. However, I also cannot let this pass without bringing consciousness to this work and how it ultimately misinforms, and harms the city and its residents. One is located at 4018/4020 24th Street in Noe Valley. The other is on Mission Street at Cortland.
The content of the murals is misleading, offensive and anti-Semitic. I ask that you have these murals taken down immediately. In the process, I ask that we collaborate to create an arts-based educational event and listening sessions that underscore why the messages are dangerous propaganda that will ultimately inflict harm. Messages, like these, that are meant to incite hatred have no place in our San Francisco communities.
If you are not aware, anti-Semitic related hate crimes have increased by 400% (in the US) since the October 7th attack on Israel and Jews by the terrorist group Hamas. Jewish owned businesses in San Francisco have been vandalized so badly they have been forced to close and re-build (see Smitten Ice Cream on Valencia St). Antisemitic graffiti litters streets, highways, our institutions for higher learning (see SFSU). A Jewish traveler was punched in the face by an Uber driver at SFO. Murals like these are only going to promote more violence against Jewish people. You must act swiftly.
We need clear messaging from our elected and other city officials in important positions, to stand against anti-Semitism and to stand against terrorist groups with clear, unequivocal denouncements to stop this rampant hate, before it gets any worse.
I would be happy to help you formulate statements of why this kind of “art” is contradictory to our values as human beings, and against terrorism. I am certain organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) or the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) would also help. As a Jewish artist and educator, I would be willing to help assist in creating this opportunity to educate our youth and bring our communities closer to peace.
I look forward to your personalized reply and plan to not only take down these murals, but address this situation publicly, through education. I can be reached directly at 415-533-2433.