Jewish students speak at pro-Palestinian campus occupation on Monday. File photo: Andrew Goff.



Open letter from the leadership of Temple Beth El:

Dear Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood,

As leaders in the Jewish community in Humboldt County, we express our disappointment in your recent press release in which you referenced “antisemitic hate speech” in connection to the protests at Cal Poly Humboldt. Yes, there have been instances of antisemitism. Yes, there is important work to be done. But we do not find the protests themselves to be antisemitic and we reject it as justification for the police force used against the protesters. This inappropriate justification is all the more problematic because it was done without any consultation with Jewish community leaders.

Our Jewish community is diverse with wide ranging views. We share the distress felt by so many Cal Poly Humboldt students, faculty, and staff over the ongoing violence and tragic loss of life in the Middle East. We have varying opinions about the protests, slogans, and many related matters, nor do we share one definition of antisemitism. The Temple Beth El Antisemitism Task Force holds that the charge must be brought with discretion, carefully taking into account numerous factors in any situation. While some of us have witnessed and are concerned about statements and acts by individuals that we experience as anti-Jewish, we push back against the charge that antisemitism was endemic to the protests at Cal Poly Humboldt or that expressions of it were an appropriate justification for police action.

Senator and Assemblymember, you stated concern for the difficult experience of “Humboldt’s Jewish students and others over the past week.” Yes, the past week has been traumatic, for the entire campus community and community at large. But the problems with antisemitism at Cal Poly Humboldt are not confined to one tumultuous week. Let us explain:

In past decades very few antisemitic incidents on campus came to our attention, and some longtime Jewish faculty report encountering no antisemitism at Humboldt State University (now Cal Poly Humboldt). Jewish faculty and staff have received honors, and rabbis teaching or volunteering on campus have been treated with respect. Similarly, for decades there was very little antisemitic activity in the community at large. But things have changed in recent years. Even before the October 7 massacre, some Jewish students reported feeling marginalized by classmates and instructors.

Since October 7 there has been a surge in antisemitic crimes and incidents off campus and one hate crime on campus right after the massacre before protests began. The charged atmosphere of the protests this winter and spring has left some Jewish students, faculty, and staff feeling intimidated and afraid to openly identify with their religion or celebrate their heritage. One student was viciously harassed and has received little help.

In early February, Jewish community leaders contacted University administration requesting a meeting on urgent problems and solutions. It took three months to get a one-hour meeting. During that time the situation deteriorated, and the University failed to engage with us in any meaningful way. We were surprised to read a recent press release in which the University stated they “have been in touch with Jewish community leaders.” This is inaccurate. Now it appears that our well-intentioned elected officials have been misled by the University.

The protests loudly demonstrated a lack of cultural sensitivity and indifference to alienation of Jewish students with opposing views. The University ignored offers of help from Jewish leaders and failed to provide students, faculty and staff with resources to address antisemitism and support Jewish life on campus. This must change. At a long-awaited meeting on May 2 with the Dean of Students, it was agreed that vigorous, long term effort is needed to educate the Cal Poly Humboldt community about and respond to antisemitism. Crimes and discrimination must be taken seriously, and spurious charges of antisemitism must be scrupulously avoided.

We appreciate your service to the community and want to make sure you understand the risks of potential harm and escalation that come from a politicized use of the term antisemitism. We would like to work with you directly to address these complex problems and the nuances required for future communications.

Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Lecturer Emerita Cal Poly Humboldt
Rabbi Bob Rottenberg
Courtney Ladika, M.D., Temple Beth El President
Caroline Connor, M.D., M.P.H., Temple Beth El Vice President
Emeritus Professor Ann Alter, Temple Beth El Board Secretary
David Boyd, Temple Beth El Antisemitism Task Force