(September 22, 2016 / JNS) By Stephen M. Flatow/JNS.org
The name, Joan Edelstein Davenny, is relatively unknown outside of the Connecticut community where she was a teacher and among her family and friends who knew her. Joan was one of the victims of an August 21, 1995 suicide bomb attack on a downtown Jerusalem bus. As luck would have it, Joan was not on the bus that was bombed but on a passing bus that bore the brunt of flying shrapnel. Joan and three other innocent people were murdered in that attack.
A little research on Joan shows that she grew up in San Francisco, Calif. So it’s shocking to me that a major university in San Francisco is partnering with a Palestinian university that honors the killers of a prominent San Francisco woman. It’s an outrageous misuse of California taxpayer money–and a slap in the face to every person who cares about peace and justice.
Campus Watch, a division of the Middle East Forum, has revealed that two years ago, San Francisco State University quietly established a partnership with An-Najah University, in Palestinian Authority-controlled Nablus, the biblical Shechem. Oddly, the university’s website says next to nothing about this alliance. SFSU President Leslie Wong has ignored Campus Watch’s inquiries about the financial and administrative terms of the partnership and about plans for a student exchange program between the two schools.
I wonder if Wong is giving Campus Watch the cold shoulder because deep down, he knows that befriending An-Najah is indefensible. The campus is a notorious hotbed of support for Hamas. Not long ago, the students set up a large exhibit on campus in which they constructed a replica of the bombed-out Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem, complete with blood-drenched debris. It was a celebration of one of the most infamous Hamas suicide bombings.
Hamas has praised An-Najah as a “greenhouse for martyrs.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that the student council “glorifies suicide bombings and propagandizes for jihad against Israel,” and that the Islamic Palestine bloc on campus “is a recruiter and feeder for Hamas and many of its members have conducted suicide bombings.” Matthew Levitt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes that An-Najah is known for “terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of students.”
The Hamas bombing, which residents of San Francisco remember best, is the one that shattered one of the city’s most prominent Jewish families. On August 21, 1995, a female Hamas suicide bomber named Sufian Jabarin (using a device designed by the most infamous bomb maker Yahya Ayyash) blew herself up on a Jerusalem bus. Four innocent people were murdered, including Joan Edelstein Davenny.
Joan was a true daughter of San Francisco. Her grandparents, George and Pauline Edelstein, founded the city’s Temple Beth Shalom back in 1904. The synagogue’s current location is less than five miles from the campus of San Francisco State University. I wonder if Wong has ever passed it on his way to work.
Joan’s parents, Burt Edelstein and Betty Kahn, were San Francisco natives. Burt owned and operated the longtime Outside In clothing store at Mission and 22nd Street, which is no longer there. Wong grew up just across the bay in Oakland, and his father was a National Dollar Store executive. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joan’s father and Wong’s father crossed paths now and then.
Betty Kahn Edelstein ran the popular Minerva’s Owl bookstore on Union Street. An intellectual, such as Wong, might have had occasion to visit during all those years he lived nearby. Who knows if he didn’t chance to stop by one day when Joan was helping out at her mother’s shop.
While Wong attended the Bishop O’Dowd Catholic High School in Oakland, Joan was going to San Francisco’s George Washington High School. Perhaps the two schools played each other in football or lacrosse. Wouldn’t it be something if the two teenagers ever happened to sit near each other in the stands?
Joan and her family were deeply immersed in the colorful cultural scene of 1960s San Francisco. Joan’s parents were close friends with legendary rock music producer Bill Graham. “The friendship allowed her to get work at the Fillmore Auditorium and hang out with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane,” according to the Northern California Jewish Bulletin. “We lived out the Haight-Ashbury experience,” longtime friend Elisabeth Semel recalled, describing the years when she and Joan “became hippies.” Joan channeled that youthful idealistic spirit into a career as a school teacher, a drug counselor and an AIDS educator.
A number of Joan’s family members still live in the Bay area. Her uncle Maurice, for example, is a noted local photographer. Three years ago, his critically-acclaimed exhibit, “Images of Chinatown: Four Decades of Photography,” was featured at San Francisco’s Chinese Culture Center. I hope Wong had a chance to view it.
The memory of Joan, the values for which she stood, and the contributions that she and her family made to their city should be a badge of pride for every San Franciscan. Wong should be holding up the example of Joan’s life as a model for every one of his students at San Francisco State University.
Instead, he is trampling on Joan’s memory by befriending a university that glorifies Hamas, the terrorist group that murdered her. When Wong was chosen to serve as president of SFSU, John Gumas, president of San Francisco State Foundation, explained that he and his fellow search committee members selected Wong in part because of his “sense of social justice.” But Wong’s partnership with the Hamas cheerleaders at An-Najah University is what I would call a social injustice–and an embarrassment to the city of San Francisco.
It’s an injustice that is not too late to correct.
Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.