Latest update: January 23rd, 2014
In liberal Oakland, California, some people still hate Jews enough to blanket a neighborhood with fliers on which they have emblazoned a swastika of the forehead of a nominally Jewish politician.
Or maybe it’s a kind of tribute to Holocaust education that a swastika is such a symbol of hate that for some it simply represents evil, or plain old banal “bad.” Just a few months ago, also in Oakland, fliers with the picture of another councilmember with a swastika on his forehead was plastered on lamp posts. That council member is a hispanic, who is Catholic.
The Jewish Press caught up with Libby Schaaf, the councilwoman who was the latest victim in the swastika flier series, late on Tuesday afternoon. The fliers were put up in the very early hours of Monday, Jan. 20.
Schaaf said the symbol drawn on her forehead was “hurtful,” but that it had gotten a lot of attention and she wanted people to know that Oakland is primarily a diverse community which is very proud of its acceptance of different cultures.
She explained that although she was not raised Jewish, her father was born Jewish and she always had great respect for and pride in her “Jewish ancestry.” And, she said, “that symbol on anyone’s head is anti-Semitic.”
When asked whether there has been any response from the Jewish community in the area, the council member was openly enthusiastic.
“There has been a fantastic outpouring of support and concern from the local Jewish community,” said Schaaf, “and Rabbi Meyer May called me twice to check in on me.” The council member was very impressed that Rabbi May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, had taken time out of his busy schedule to call her and express his concern. The main office of the Wiesenthal Center is in Los Angeles.
Schaaf said that “as a public official, I cannot let experiences like this cloud my judgment or curtail my activities.” However, she felt it was oddly fortuitous that the hateful incident occurred on Martin Luther King Day. “I was able to take my children, ages six and eight, to an event commemorating Dr. King, and really stress to them how important it is for everyone to work hard to express their tolerance and their love towards others.”
The council member said she and her husband had not yet had the chance to sit down with their children and discuss what happened in their community, but they plan to. Still, the coincidence of the fliers being posted on Martin Luther King Day, and her position as a public servant, “just gave me an even greater incentive to continue working to help create a just society.”
It remains unclear whether the Oakland police are going to categorize the incident as a hate crime. Schaaf said she told them she didn’t want any extra resources devoted to the investigation, as there are so many other concerns on which they need to focus.
Schaaf has represented Oakland’s District 4 since 2010, and is currently running for mayor of Oakland.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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