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Friday, September 5, 2003 | return to: local


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ADL calls for city investigation of SFWAR’s practices

by ABBY COHN, Bulletin Staff

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Asserting that a rape crisis center engages in "blatant discrimination," the local head of the Anti-Defamation League wants the city of San Francisco to investigate how SFWAR recruits volunteers and whether it is misusing public funds.

In an Aug. 28 letter to City Attorney Dennis Herrera, ADL's regional director, Jonathan Bernstein, also expressed concern that the nonprofit agency's previous anti-Zionist stance might discourage Jewish women from seeking its services.

Bernstein goes on to contend that San Francisco Women Against Rape discriminates by giving priority to volunteer applications "from women of color and lesbian women."

"SFWAR's discriminatory practices violate various anti-discrimination provisions of the laws and requirements of the government funding it receives," Bernstein wrote.

Bernstein's letter was just part of a series of developments last week concerning the embattled nonprofit crisis center, which described itself in a July e-mail to the Bulletin as "an anti-Zionist organization."

Founded 30 years ago, SFWAR has come under fire for that statement as well as the discovery that online forms asked potential interns and volunteers to participate in "political education discussions," which had previously included "taking a stance against Zionism."

The agency, which receives more than $600,000 annually in state and city funds, has since removed that language. Some $277,990 of its funding comes from the city.

Herrera, who met last week with Bernstein and other Jewish community leaders, told the Bulletin last Friday: "We're very clear that public money should not be used in a discriminatory way.

"I have made a commitment that it's something we'll look into," added Herrera, who also wants city staff to receive training about grants to nonprofits.

Nina Jusuf, executive director of SFWAR, could not be reached for comment.

In related developments, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council Abby Michelson Porth said she held a "very frank and honest discussion" Aug. 28 with Jusuf.

And Naomi Tucker, the head of a Jewish domestic violence program based in Oakland, said she and Jusuf were working to get funding to hire a trained facilitator "to bring some understanding between the two communities."

"We're in pretty regular communication now," said Tucker, who heads Shalom Bayit.

"I don't know that we're necessarily going to agree on our political opinions," she added. "I think we're looking for the communities to understand each other. I think the Jewish community has been attacked, and I don't think SFWAR understands why we feel attacked."

Porth, meanwhile, said she now is waiting for a "good-faith effort" from Jusuf to "restore the Jewish community's confidence in SFWAR."

"I think that the tone was very much one of our both wanting to resolve this issue," said Porth.

Also last week, Belle Taylor-McGhee, executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, told the Bulletin that she was monitoring the rape center's operations. She said she had been meeting with Jusuf to ensure that "the city does not fund political education activities." Taylor-McGhee also planned to meet soon with the agency's four-member board.

So far, Taylor-McGhee maintained she had turned up no evidence that SFWAR had misused public funds, though she said, "We're still looking at that."

The city department helps fund SFWAR's 24-hour hotline and its counseling services for women who have been sexually assaulted. "Our contract is very clear about what SFWAR is and these are the activities we fund," said Taylor-McGhee."We want to make sure the mission of the department and the mission of SFWAR are aligned and that we're funding women in need."

Referring to SFWAR's previous description of itself as anti-Zionist, Taylor-McGhee said, "We would not have signed a contract with an organization if this is how they described themselves. We would ask that they refrain from describing themselves that way if they want to continue to receive city funding."

Taylor-McGhee added that she was getting "total cooperation" from Jusuf. She said she also had written a letter to SFWAR recently in which she told agency officials that "we don't fund political educational activities such as the stance they've taken on Zionism."

In his letter, the ADL's Bernstein asserted that while the objectionable language was removed from the online forms, "there is no indication that the practice has been discontinued."

Citing comments made by SFWAR supporters at a heated public hearing July 23 of the Commission on the Status of Women, Bernstein said in an interview that "it is quite clear that even though they've taken it out of their volunteer form, it [anti-Zionist sentiment] is still very much part of the culture there."

In his letter, Bernstein asked for Herrera's assistance "in pursuing this matter to end this discrimination and ensure that SFWAR does not use public funds to promote discriminatory interests and treatment."


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