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“I believe that denial of a Jewish state is a form of antisemitism,” Khanna said
Representative Ro Khanna addresses the crowd about his policies before the Q&A session. (Amit Cohen)

 

The Jewish Democratic Coalition of the Bay Area held a town hall at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale on Sunday, March 17, addressing antisemitism in the south bay, featuring Representative Ro Khanna from California congressional district 17 and Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein, alongside Sunnyvale police from the city’s Department of Public Safety.

Since Oct. 7, antisemitic hate has been on the rise. In the bay area, antisemitic hate crimes are up 260% over the last year according to the Anti-Defamation League, the most known incident being when students at the University of California Berkeley breached and shut down an event hosting a former member of the Israeli Defense Force as a speaker.

Yael Shekel reading a prayer for the return of the 134 hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7. (Amit Cohen)

Before the event kicked off, the organizers held a moment of prayer to commemorate the lives lost on Oct. 7 and of the 134 hostages that have been in captivity for almost half a year.

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Khanna said, “We need to understand that antisemitism didn’t end after World War II. Some people believe that makes it clear; that we understand the history of the Holocaust, which has been distorted unfortunately on a lot of social media apps. I believe that denial of a Jewish state is a form of antisemitism.”

During the Q&A session, Ella Hassner, a Jewish Israeli senior at Fremont High School, described instances of antisemitism perpetrated by students and faculty.

Hassner recounted the football team using the penny-pinching stereotype, having track coaches allegedly making Nazi identification remarks to Jewish students and teachers ripping down school-approved posters of hostages. She asked Khanna how her friends could be protected in the years to come when she’s gone, if the school won’t care about them now.

Khanna responded, saying that antisemitism is not tolerated and he is willing to personally help if her voice is not being heard by school officials.

”I see that (type of violence) happening to many Jewish Americans and Israeli Americans today and there is zero tolerance for that in the United States,” Khanna said. “If there are specific incidents that you have documented and the administration isn’t taking action on that, I am happy to convene the principal and the school board to see what needs to be done because it is wrong.”

Dan Gotesdyner, 19, a computer science major and the Inter-Club Council Chair of Marketing, tells Ro Khanna about the situation at De Anza. (Amit Cohen)

Another student, Dan Gotesdyner, 19, a computer science major and De Anza’s Inter-Club Council Chair of Marketing, brought up how De Anza’s Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action, which he referred to as De Anza’s “social justice organization,” brought Joel Beinin and the Jewish Voice for Peace as a co-organizer for a recent teach-in, and raised concerns about their history citing their support of the 1936 Arab revolt in Palestine, while the school ignored him.

VIDA Director Cynthia Kaufman, one of the teach-in organizers, is also a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and is Jewish herself.

Khanna responded that their colleges should give both sides of this issue an opportunity to speak.

“What I do think needs to be happening at De Anza or San Jose State (University) is that both there has to be a respect for the narratives of all people (on college campuses),” Khanna said. “You can’t allow one side to have speakers who may be controversial and not give that same respect to a Jewish group that wants a speaker who may be controversial … you can’t have a situation where Jewish American students are feeling unsafe, physically or in the community.”

He said he plans to have meetings with De Anza, San Jose State, Fremont, Wilcox High School and Stanford University regarding antisemitism.

Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein stands in front of Ro Khanna speaking to event attendees. (Amit Cohen)

As more questions piled up by concerned attendees, about their safety in schools and online through doxxing, Khanna was asked about the potential defunding of universities where antisemitism has seen an increase. He said he wouldn’t do so because of the amount of money universities produce for the country.

Towards the end, Sunnyvale’s Mayor Larry Klein was asked about antisemitism in his city.

“I’m working to try to make Sunnyvale safer,” Klein said. “Where everyone feels included. We’re standing in the south Peninsula Hebrew day school right now. I worked with our staff to get those gates and those fences out front … Whatever we can do to make our students feel safe, let our parents feel safe … No matter what their beliefs are, that is my priority.“

”It’s important for us as a community to understand what we’re going through,” event organizer and Executive Director Oded Shekel said. “By hearing each other’s stories it helps us understand the significance and the intensity of antisemitism … (Also) having elected officials that listen to those events, understand our emotions, not just the data behind it, trust is crucial to building a platform that we can use going forward.”

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About the Contributor
Amit Cohen
Amit Cohen, Freelance Reporter

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