On Friday of last week the Israel Caravan, a traveling fair sponsored by the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, made its annual stop on campus to mark Israel Independence Day. Yet only minutes after the gala began, some 25 members of the General Union of Palestinian Students unfurled anti-Zionist posters and a Palestinian flag, chanting "U.S.-Israel out of Lebanon!" through a bullhorn, and surrounding Jewish students who were dancing the hora.
"They've got a history of this, so I'm not surprised," said Brad Weinberger, a senior accounting major and the president of S.F. State's Zionist Action Committee.
"In 30 seconds they stole the show," Weinberger said of the kaffiyeh-clad students who hung posters reading, "Israeli Elections Not Worth Lebanese Lives" and "Stop Funding Israeli Occupation" above Malcolm X Plaza — which has been a locus of anti-Jewish tension on campus in past years.
But Israel Project director Peter Altman maintained that this year, the Israel Caravan took center stage.
"I think this was a great moment of pro-Israel stance on campus. I think we outclassed GUPS," he said.
The caravan "isn't geared to be political. It's an event with a happy face. We're trying to fight negativity with a positive [message]. Israel is more than politics. There's a depth and wealth of experience."
The anti-Israel mood at S.F. State seemed out of synch with what was happening last week in the Middle East, Altman said.
"Yesterday the Palestinian National Council repealed the anti-Israel section of its covenant, so what's going on here anyway?" Altman said.
The scene echoed anti-Israel demonstrations at S.F. State in the past, as Palestinian supporters, some lying corpse-like under kaffiyehs, yelled through megaphones. Jews and Israelis danced the hora and sang prayers in Hebrew, English and Arabic for victims of the recent bombing.
For several years, the S.F. State campus has been plagued by an anti-Semitic reputation. The tension hit a boiling point two years ago when a mural of Malcolm X was unveiled, revealing such details as skulls-and-crossbones, the words "African blood" and Stars of David scattered amid dollar signs.
The mural, sponsored by the Pan-Afrikan Student Union, has since been sandblasted off the wall. But the sentiments it evoked linger on among the paint chips in the square. On May 16, a new mural honoring Malcolm X will be unveiled at S.F. State.
Last year anti-Israel sentiment surfaced during student government elections, when one candidate announced, "The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist."
"It isn't always like this," said S.F. State Hillel director Stacey Roberts. "The last nine months have been peaceful. We've taken great strides with faculty and administration in easing the tensions."
Brad Weinberger disagreed.
"Yes, the climate has been quiet. But we've bent over backwards not to incite them. I'm sick of it," he said.
In one case, Weinberger said the banner announcing Israel Independence Day, which was hoisted where the Malcolm X mural once stood, was moved to a more innocuous position on a side wall.
"We're always placating them. What about what's best for us? Social responsibility only goes so far," Weinberger said.
He filed a grievance with the university regarding GUPS' actions, charging that GUPS members violated school policy on counter-demonstrations.
The school requires a 48-hour notice for all counter-demonstration requests. Bullhorns and megaphones are not permitted at counter-demonstrations, and counter-demonstrators must maintain a distance of 30 feet from demonstrators.
"We'll wait and see if there is any discipline. I wouldn't hold my breath," Altman said.
Jerry Isaac Shapiro, executive director of the Northern California Hillel Council, is more optimistic.
"My sense is that the administration has done a good job of meeting needs," he said.
Shapiro noted that campus administrators and police patrolled the Israel Day event to maintain a calm atmosphere.
Today, S.F. State's Jewish students are "really on much better footing," he said.