Below are the PDFs of the letter from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to the San Francisco Arts Commission followed by a copy of the text of the letter.
Mr. P.J.Johnston, President
Ms. Jill Manton, Program Director, Public Art Program
San Francisco Arts Commission
25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 240
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dear Mr. Johnston and Ms. Manton,
We write on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the central public affairs and community relations arm of the organized Bay Area Jewish community, which represents over 80 synagogues and Jewish agencies on issues that affect our community.
We are writing to express our concerns regarding elements of the 24th and Capp Street Mural Project. An individual member of the Jewish community living in the Missioni called us expressing deep concern about one particular segment of the mural, which depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First, we wish to express our full appreciation of a community inspired project that engages youth in artistic expression about their experience living in San Francisco. We recognize the great value of this educational leadership experience for the young people involved in the project. We understand the mural as an expression of solidarity against division in San Francisco. The Jewish historical experience of oppression makes our community particularly sensitive and aware of those themes and we appreciate the importance of speaking out about these issues. We have a keen understanding of a mural’s power to galvanize and unite a community, and also its potential to create new barriers and divide the community.
The Mission is a diverse community, made up of people of all faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds. This includes a flourishing, vibrant and young Jewish community. In fact, ten percent of San Francisco’s population is Jewish, and one-third of this Jewish population is comprised of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union who sought refuge in San Francisco from anti-Jewish oppression.
We take particular note of a section of the mural depicting the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The scene is of the Israeli security barrier, depicted as a long solid wall, with a group of Palestinians crashing through it.
Our understanding is that the San Francisco Arts Commission did not approve this section of the mural, and that this was inserted without the prior knowledge of the Arts Commission. The sketches and narrative submitted by the artist to the Arts Commission did not contain any reference to this section of the mural. We take note that in the “Description and Time Line” narrative submitted by the artist, one of the primary purposes of the mural is to represent “the current lives of young people in the neighborhood, grouing from rebelliousness into organized consciousness, guided by shared ancient roots and traditions.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict segment of the mural depicts a scene some 6,000 miles away from the Mission neighborhood.
Regarding the actual scene depicted, we have the following concerns:
- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict section is the only one that stands out as not being part of the experiences of American minorities in San Francisco.
- The breech in the security barrier is in the shape of the map of Israel, apparently meant to represent “all of Palestine.” The implication is a rejection of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This perspective negates the existence of Israel. Israel represents to the majority of Jews and to our collective identity our people’s quest for self-determination and overcoming oppression and powerlessness.
- The depiction of the security barrier as a wall that goes off into the distance is inaccurate. In fact, only 3% of the security barrier is actually a concrete wall, and 97% is fencing.
- The depiction of the security barrier is lifted out of context:
- -It was erected only in the last four years as a response to an unrelenting wave of terrorist attacks, mostly suicide bombings, motivated by religious extremism.
- -In all, over 1,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, were murdered in these terrorist attacks. Victims included Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian Arab Israelis, as well as visitors from countries around the world including the United States, Asia, Philippines, and African, Asian, and Latin American countries.
- -Since the security barrier was erected, an estimated 2,000 lives have been saved in the last three years.
The image of violently breaking down a security barrier that has saved thousands of lives is exceedingly threatening to our community. This imagery victimizes Jewish members of the Mission neighborhood for whom the security barrier has prevented the loss of lives of family and friends in Israel. Further, this segment of the mural isolates the Jewish community community in the Mission by raising barriers to inter-ethnic and inter-religious understanding.
We urge the San Francisco Arts Commission to:
- Insist that this mural portray non-violent imagery originally intended for this space.
- Implement whatever protocol exists to ensure that this and all murals paid by the City and County of San Francisco, and erected in its neighborhoods, have been fully vetted and approved by the body.
- Ensure that this and all murals commissioned for the City and County of San Francisco help promote a stronger, more vibrant, more harmonious and diverse community, rather than display divisive and hostile themes that are alienating and isolating to most San Franciscans.
- In the absence of such protocol, halt this project until such time as protocols are extablished to ensure that the City and County of San Francisco’s interests are represented in the artwork that it commissions.
Rabbi Douglas Kahn
CC: Ellen Shershow, Public Art Program Associate