The body of water in question is Stow Lake, in San Francisco, which was named after William W. Stow, a one-term 19th century California State Assemblyman.
During a debate in the Assembly in 1855, Stow clashed with Jewish storekeepers who opposed his proposal to force all businesses to close on Sundays. “I have no sympathy with the Jews and would it were in my power to enforce a regulation that would eliminate them from not only our county but from the entire state!,” he declared. “I am for a Jew tax that is so high that [Jews] would not be able to operate any more shops. They are a class of people here only to make money and who leave the country as soon as they make money.”
To be clear, the lake was not named after Stow because of his antisemitism; his opinion of Jews appears to have been a very minor aspect of his career. The lake was so named because he chaired the local Parks and Recreation Commission, and it was customary for a nature site within that district to be named for a commissioner following his death.
When some local residents recently discovered Stow’s antisemitism, they began calling for renaming the lake. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has endorsed the proposal, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission will soon consider it.
Since the naming of the lake had nothing to do with Stow’s antisemitism, and almost nobody in in our own times even knew of his bigotry until the recent protests, does it make sense to change the name? Absolutely—for two reasons.
First, because it’s simply a matter of right and wrong; it’s morally wrong to honor a bigot.
But the second and more practical reason is the damage that can be caused by naming a site after such a person—that is, the danger that it could serve as a source of inspiration for extremists.
There are numerous streets, monuments and other sites in Eastern Europe that are named after World War II-era nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis. Such sites have become the location of rallies by local fascists.
Efforts to change those names have run into resistance. But the Ukrainian town of Tyvriv recently defied the extremists and changed the name of its Stepan Bandera Street. Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought for Ukrainian independence in World War II but also was involved in atrocities against Jews and other civilians.
In the Middle East, streets are sometimes named after terrorists, often by the Palestinian Authority, precisely in order to honor their terrorism. Recall that Egypt refused to renew diplomatic relations with Iran for more than thirty years, until the Iranians finally changed the name of a street honoring Khaled Al-Islambuli, head of the group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
The street on which the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters are located, in Ramallah, is named after Hamas bomb-maker Yihyeh Ayyash, who orchestrated attacks that killed at least 90 Israelis. Across the street is a square named “Heroic Martyr Dalal Mughrabi Square,” honoring the leader of Fatah’s Coastal Road massacre of 37 Israelis.
There are also schools named after Mughrabi in at least six Palestinian Authority towns, and lessons idolizing her are part of the curricula throughout the PA’s school system. Nasser Al-Rajabi, an elementary school teacher in Hebron, has posted a YouTube video of himself reading a section about Mughrabi from the PA’s 5th Grade Arabic Language school book. The text describes Mughrabi as “leading her group of self-sacrificing fighters” to carry out the 1978 attack, during which she “watered the soil of Palestine with her pure blood.” It asks students to answer questions about the massacre, such as “How old was Dalal Mughrabi when she died as a Martyr?” and “[Name] the number of heroes in the group of self-sacrificing fighters.” (Translation provided by Palestinian Media Watch)
Imagine our horror if, in between swimming and kayaking, visitors to San Francisco’s Stow Lake were taught that Stow’s “Jew tax” proposal was a visionary idea that should be implemented. That, essentially, is what Palestinian Arab school children are taught about Mughrabi.
It’s a scary thought, because while there is little danger of children visiting Stow Lake and then becoming pint-sized advocates of a “Jew tax,” there is ample evidence that Palestinian Arab youngsters are being groomed to follow in Dalal Mughrabi’s murderous footsteps. And that when they grow up, many do so.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.
As published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles