'Some anti-Israel rhetoric is absolutely anti-Semitic'

San Francisco mayor expects protests against his Israel trip at a commencement speech next week.

SF mayor (photo credit: AP)
SF mayor
(photo credit: AP)
Some of the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist rhetoric in the San Francisco Bay Area is simple anti-Semitism, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Newsom, in the country for four days as part of a large San Francisco Jewish Community Federation delegation, said he expected to see some people protesting against his trip here when he gives a commencement address next week at San Francisco State University. The university was the site of some of the ugliest anti-Israel protests in the US during the second intifada, with some pro-Palestinian protesters chanting "Hitler didn't finish the job" and "Die, racist pigs" at a pro-Israel rally in 2002. Asked how he answered his constituents who argue he should not be visiting Israel at a time when it is "oppressing the Palestinians" and "bombing Gaza," Newsom said, "I think of the old adage, 'Seek first to understand, then to be understood.' "To those who make that assertion, I would like to see it backed up in the context of the capacity of understanding. I think there is a lot of bias and bigotry, and frankly a lot of anti-Semitism," he said. "I hear it a lot; not as much, thank God, as probably some other mayors in other cities, in spite of the reputation of the Bay Area. But it still exists, it absolutely still exists." Sitting on a stone ledge at the entrance to Yad Vashem, which he was about to enter for the first time, Newsom said he "absolutely" believed some of the anti-Israel speech emanating from his city was anti-Semitic, and that Israel faced a "generational challenge" in the US. "I see a new generation of younger people who don't have a connection to this country that they should," he said, adding that he has seen an increase in the phenomenon on college campuses over the last five to 10 years. As to how to combat this, Newsom said, "That's one of the reasons I came here - I think it sends a message." This was not one all his constituents would like, he said. This is the first visit to Israel for Newsom, 40, the popular San Francisco mayor being widely touted as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for California in 2010. He captured some 72 percent of the electorate in the city's last mayoral election in 2007, a considerable victory, even though among those running against him were a nudist activist and an owner of a sex club. Gavin catapulted to national attention in 2004 when he issued a directive to the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. He was consequently blamed for contributing to Democrat John Kerry's loss in the 2004 presidential elections to Republican George W. Bush because he made same-sex marriages an explosive issue in the months leading up to the election. In the current Democratic primary campaign, Newsom has come out for Hilary Clinton. Newsom spent Saturday touring Jerusalem's Old City, and said that he - a mayor of one of America's most diverse cities - was struck at the diversity of the ancient quarter. "It is a remarkable microcosm that you have so many faiths, and so many people from so many conceivable walks of life living there, across their differences, in such a small area," he said. "It is an extraordinary thing, and kind of gives me a sense of optimism in spite of all the consternation and stress that is usually associated with the Middle East." Newsom said that by seeing the relative quiet of the Old City and the greenery of Jerusalem he was gaining a perspective of Israel not available to most Americans. "I can assure you that these are not the regular images of Israel," he said. "For most Americans it is usefully violence, stress, frustration, angst, political issues - that is the narrative that we get. "But this," he said with a sweep of his hand of the scenery around Yad Vashem, "is a little different." While there have been some boycott and divestment motions against Israel in Berkeley, situated across the bay from San Francisco, Newsom said this issue had not gained much traction in his own city council. Indeed, he said, the divestment issue being discussed now in San Francisco was divestment from Iran, although no decision had been made. Newsom said he was "a little cautious" about the idea because of concern that if such a resolution was passed on Iran, there would be calls for divestment from other countries as well, such as Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China. "My only hesitation is that with the politics of San Francisco being as rife as they are, we could really start micromanaging that pension fund to a degree that could become problematic," he said. But, he added, "I haven't given it much thought beyond that." During his four days here, Newsom will also travel to Haifa, San Francisco's sister city in Israel, as well as Tel Aviv and Umm el-Fahm. The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation trip he has joined is here to celebrate Independence Day, and is designed to build ties between business leaders in the Bay Area and Israel.