Think American, Not Mexican on Antonio


 

As Antonio Villaraigosa campaigns for mayor in the Jewish community, he will face the same big question asked by all non-Latino voters: Are you too Mexican?

The question is especially important to Jews, because our community’s long-time relationship with Latino and African American Los Angeles has been a powerful force in the city’s history.

Actually, it’s doubtful anyone will ask Villaraigosa this question outright at a public meeting. The question will be voiced in the comparative anonymity of talk radio and the blogosphere. But, if past election campaigns mean anything, Villaraigosa’s ethnicity will be lingering somewhere in the back of the minds of even those who don’t follow the blogs or listen to talk shows.

His opponent, Mayor James Hahn, turned Villaraigosa’s ethnicity against him four years ago with a television ad that made him out to be an associate of south-of-the-border drug dealers. Since then, Hahn has compiled a record to campaign on: beating Valley secession; hiring our excellent police chief, William Bratton; and standing up for the impoverished, politically weak, largely Latino, immigrant victims of the brutal Rampart- scandal cops. However, with his reputation damaged by allegations of misdeeds by associates, the fear of losing may persuade the mayor to return to the same questionable tactics he used against Villaraigosa in 2001.

If he does, he’ll be hoping a majority of voters share a misconception of Los Angeles life in general and take a gloomy, narrow view of race relations here.

Being a glass-half-full kind of person, I take a hopeful view. Despite having covered two riots and innumerable dustups, I know that various ethnicities in Los Angeles can find common ground and share common American values.

A reminder of that occurred last week with the death of the famous African American attorney, Johnnie Cochran, graduate of Los Angeles High School, which was then almost all-white. He grew up, as Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten wrote, in a city where, despite residential racial segregation, “interracial contacts and friendships flourished…. [Cochran’s] closest personal friends were white and Jewish. It simply never occurred to him that those friendships were in any way precluded by his abiding concern for the African American community.”

Another reminder was at a March 19 dinner, where the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research honored Larry Aubry, an African American community leader who, in many roles, has been a fighter for civil rights and for collaboration among Los Angeles’ ethnicities. I remember him particularly from the tough days before, during and after the ’92 riot, when, as a member of the Los Angeles Human Relations staff, he courageously hit the streets day and night, a peacemaker in an incredibly tangled and explosive situation.

The library itself is an example of multiethnic cooperation on the left. It was founded during the McCarthy era by Emil Freed to house his and others’ collections of leftist political material. Its files tell the story of Jewish-Latino-African American cooperation in battles for civil rights and labor rights from the Great Depression onward.

But cooperation does not occur only on the left. The most important cooperation, as I was reminded last week, occurs in the broad center.

I was in Sacramento, participating in a Latino Legislative Caucus’ academy for elected officials. The program was conceived by one of Los Angeles’ most unappreciated politicians, Richard Polanco, who represented the city in the state Assembly and state Senate for many years.

Polanco came up with a political strategy that elected so many Latinos to the Legislature in the 1990s that the Assembly got a Latino speaker, Cruz Bustamante, in 1997. Villaraigosa was also speaker, and the office is now occupied by Fabian Nunez. Polanco himself was Senate majority leader before term limits retired him.

I followed the strategy when I was at The Times, and it was a real education in the nature of Latino California.

California had been fed news stories of Latino gang members, illegal immigrants storming the border, school dropouts and impoverished, broken families. Polanco understood that large numbers of Latinos were as he was — middle-class Californians with strong family values and educational and economic drive. They had the same interests as the rest of California: better schools, safe neighborhoods, good jobs.

He and his colleagues recruited Latino candidates from the middle class. They delivered this message and won in predominantly Anglo districts.

It was, and is, a very American story, familiar to anyone with immigrant roots. Upsetting as it may be to ethnic nationalists or leftist theorists, most people aspire to the good old American middle-class dream.

That was Villaraigosa’s dream as he moved up the economic and professional scale. No, he’s not too Mexican. If you were a left-wing radical, you’d say he’s too American.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

 

Bang the Press Slowly


“I will concede that conservative Jewish Republicans like myself are in the minority, especially out here on the Left Coast,” reader Gillee Sherman e-mailed me. “But we are growing in numbers every day, and this election should see a huge improvement for Bush in the Jewish community.”

Maybe she’s right, I thought. I was in a receptive mood, grateful for Sherman’s e-mail. That is, until I read the next paragraph, where Sherman stuck in the knife: “In conclusion, I would like to see if you will leave behind the left-wing bias that has to be institutionalized at The Times and cover both candidates.”

What? Give up the bias that nurtured me — and fed my family — through 30 years at the West Coast’s most influential center of left-wing thought?

Impossible, Gillee. I’m brainwashed. I’ve gone through too many liberal indoctrination sessions in The Times employee cafeteria, where I was forced to read the entire collected works of Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner and other left-wing theorists.

I’m kidding. All they served in The Times cafeteria was second-rate food, and nobody made you eat there. And I’d rather have been fired then read the lefty theorists who write in the style of Chairman Mao.

But I understand Sherman’s tactics. She was trying to make me feel guilty in hopes that I would write about her Republicans. The game is called “banging the press” and it worked.

I made an appointment to see Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California, who is working hard to switch the predominantly Democratic Jewish community to the Republican side.

Greenfield, who grew up in Encino and graduated from UC Berkeley, has been with the coalition since March, after working as an attorney, business executive, financial adviser and vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation.

He has a tough job. A recent statewide poll of all Californians by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California has Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) ahead of Bush 49 percent to 38 percent.

But the Republicans have a strategy, heavily influenced by the recall election in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican moderate, ousted Gray Davis.

“The Republicans are streaking toward the middle,” Greenfield told me as we chatted in the coalition office on the seventh floor of a West Los Angeles office building.

He sees Schwarzenegger building a moderate Republican coalition, one that will be more appealing to Jews than the anti-abortion, right wing, prayer-in-the-schools bunch that have been the public face of the California Republican Party for several years.

Recent events give some credence to Greenfield’s hopes. The big crowds greeting Schwarzenegger when he campaigned in suburban shopping centers during the budget battle may have scared the Democratic left and the Republican right into falling into line behind him.

California’s top Democratic politician, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sees the danger. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton reported that she told journalists in Boston, “My greatest fear is that [Kerry strategists] come to the conclusion that we don’t have to worry about California. California is a tremendously volatile state. Look at the recall, and you can see how volatile California is … you lose California, you lose the [presidential] election.”

If Feinstein’s fears are valid, the predominantly Jewish vote will be an important part of the Republican equation.

To balance out my coverage, that evening, I stopped by an event in Encino sponsored by Valley Democrats United and the Valley West Democratic Clubs. It was a dinner for former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a tour promoting his recent book, “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity” (Carroll & Graf Publishers).

This was days before Kerry’s successful acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Even so, the substantial crowd of Valley Democrats who had come for cocktails and dinner were deep into the campaign.

Elizabeth Kaipe reported that meet-ups and other social events had been going well. Russ Lynn, president of the Valley West Democrats, said, “Our club has seen a huge increase in membership … [there is] an enormous sense of frustration that has driven people into our club.”

The fact that the audience had turned out and paid $45 per dinner to hear Wilson was a strong indication of disapproval of the Bush foreign policy and of the administration’s conduct of the war.

Republicans are charging that skepticism about the war means that Democrats are soft on national security, a charge that will be at the heart of their campaign to win the Jewish vote. The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Greenfield said, “The Jewish community has raised concerns about his wing of the party on national security.”

In Jewish political dialogue, this is code for being soft on Israel. As Democrat Ed Koch, who doesn’t speak in code, charged: The Democrats have a left wing which has “an anti-Israel philosophy, reviling that democratic state which shares the values held by a majority of Americans.”

Kerry, whose position on Israel is the same as Bush’s, sought at the convention to immunize himself from such attacks and to take the offensive on the national security issue. But he’ll be up against such skeptics as my reader, Gillee Sherman, who wrote, “I work in an office where five other Jews beside myself will be voting for Bush, along with my father who was a Democrat for over 40 years.”

According to the polls, Sherman’s office mates and dad don’t add up to enough for Bush in California’s Jewish community. But early polls can be misleading in this volatile state.

How many more Jews such as Sherman are out there? The answer to that question could be one of the most interesting political stories of the next three months.


Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic
life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles
Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist
for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Your Letters


Political Correctness

Jane Ulman’s attempt to deconstruct the story of Purim is another revolting exercise in political correctness (“Viva Vashti,” March 5).

Those who really care about the plight of women need to concentrate their energies on dealing with some very horrific realities: There are countries where women are enslaved — both as labor slaves and sex slaves, killed at the whim of a family member, denied the most basic human rights and even brutally mutilated. Except for a few lonely and courageous voices, there is very little protest over these heinous situations.

Oops, I forgot. Forgive me. Please don’t call the politically correct thought police! We are not supposed to be “judgmental” about other cultures; we are only allowed to trash our own Bible and our own sanctums.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman, Van Nuys

Jewish Exceptionalism

For more than 60 years, Jewish voting patterns have defied one of the rules that govern most voters: People vote for their own economic interests.

The Los Angeles Times exit poll still shows Jewish exceptionalism. Looking at Proposition 56, a measure to lower from 66 percent to 55 percent the majority needed to pass tax bills, we find strong evidence of Jewish exceptionalism. Forty-seven percent of Jews voted for Proposition 56, compared to: 33 percent of Anglo Catholics, 42 percent of Latino Catholics, 27 percent of white Protestants, 41 percent of black Protestants and 35 percent of Asians. Jews are still more willing than other communities to pay for government programs to help others.

The economic self-interest rule of American politics seems to be trumped by an older Jewish rule: “There will never cease to be needy people in your land, which is why I command you: Open your hand to the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Rabbi Allen S. Maller, Temple Akiba of Culver City

Both Sides

Thank you for publishing William S. van der Veen’s letter to the editor, “Gaza Withdrawal” (March 5). I appreciate that you print both sides of an argument and feel that this higher standard which you set for yourself makes for a more educated public. Once again, thank you.

Dick Wrigley, via e-mail

Carin Davis

I have been reading Carin Davis’ columns all year. I greatly admire her writing style and use of humor. Carrie Bradshaw has nothing on her. Keep up the good work.

Jackie Taus, via e-mail

Different Reasons

There is a difference between Queen Esther marrying a non-Jew and a Jewish person nowadays intermarrying (“Keeping Jews in the Flock,” March 5). Esther was on a mission to save the Jews at that time. A Jew nowadays who intermarries does it for personal reasons.

Name Withheld Upon Request, Los Angeles

Retraction Sought

You owe an apology to me, my children, friends and associates (“What Jews Need to Know About Jesus,” Feb. 20). Since I attempt to be observant, I suppose my family is what is called “ultra-Orthodox.” Without sources, Jack Miles indicts all of us who, he alleges “called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin.”

I suggest a prominent retraction at your earliest opportunity so that I can continue reading your paper and recommending it to others.

David J. Leonard, Los Angeles

Editor’s Note:

Jack Miles’ only point with regard to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin was that some Israelis applauded the deed and others decried it. The label applied to those who applauded it was a secondary matter and could have been left out altogether.

That said, in the ever-changing political landscape of Israel, not all of the ultra-Orthodox are also ultranationalist, but some have been. Charedim (black hats, Chasidic communities) are ultra-Orthodox. Chardalim (knitted yarmulkes, settler communities) are in general both ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist. The two groups are distinct, but some of their views overlap.

In retrospect, Jack Miles’s reference to “Israelis who called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin and who applauded Yigal Amir when he did the deed” would have been more accurate had he not identified them by any label or else characterized them as either “ultranationalist” or “ultra-Orthodox, ultranationalist.”

Arnold’s Choice


If there was a presidential candidate whose father accused "the Jew media" and "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" of beating the drums for war, and said he had no problem with harassing and punishing the Jews — but such things shouldn’t be done in "a loud clamor" — would you vote for that candidate?

The answer, of course, is that most Jews already did back in 1960. Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy, made his anti-Semitic views abundantly clear while serving as ambassador to the Court of St. James in the run-up to World War II. Germany’s ambassador to England at the time, Herbert von Dirksen, called Joseph Kennedy, "Germany’s best friend in London."

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s people would probably love to throw that example back at journalists who pepper him with questions about his father’s Nazi membership and his own inordinate affection for former Nazi Kurt Waldheim. But somehow, I don’t see Arnold pointing to his wife, Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, and saying, "You think my family’s got problems, look at hers."

More and more, it seems, candidates run as much against their pasts as they do against other candidates. They mount campaigns within campaigns to race not against opponents but against disclosure. The recall election for governor exaggerates the extent to which politics has become a form of forensic archaeology, with operatives and the press digging up skeletons as fast as the other candidate’s team can heap dirt on the bones.

Take Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. The Democratic candidate for governor once belonged to a Latino group called MEChA when he was a student at Fresno State in the 1970s. MEChA called for the revolutionary and radical return of California to the Mexicans, from whom Anglos took it (though it stopped short of calling for the Mexicans to return it to the pure-blood Indians from whom it was first stolen).

Extremist Latinos still exist out there — one of their Web sites is particularly noxious and anti-Semitic — but clearly Bustamante is not one of them, and a thousand e-mails "exposing" him as otherwise doesn’t make it true.

Bustamante didn’t help matters by not directly refuting what the MEChA manifesto professed and discussing openly his involvement. The past is ever present in campaigns these days, but still candidates see it as a problem to be handled, rather than faced. We the voters have to decide what history matters and how much.

Arnold’s opponents want voters to hold his 1977 Oui magazine interview describing illicit drugs and explicit sex against him. Voters I’ve spoken with will give him a pass. What happened in the ’70s stays in the ’70s.

But Waldheim is different, and it sticks in my craw.

According to "Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up," by Eli M. Rosenbaum and William Hoffer, Waldheim was an intelligence officer in Germany’s Army Group E when it committed mass murder in the Kozara region of western Bosnia. In 1944, Waldheim oversaw the dropping of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets behind Russian lines.

One leaflet read, "Enough of the Jewish war, kill the Jews, come over." For these activities, the U.S. Justice Department put Waldheim on its watch list in 1987 and denied him entry.

In 1986, the Wiesenthal Center, according to its Web site, launched a massive campaign to urge the Reagan administration to bar Waldheim from entering the United States after reviewing the archival material dealing with his role in German atrocities in Yugoslavia and Greece during World War II. The center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier testified at the Waldheim hearings in Washington, D.C.

Just as the Waldheim controversy was heating up, Arnold invited Waldheim to his wedding. Waldheim declined, but sent a gift, and Arnold toasted the ex-Nazi at his celebration. He has never retracted or explained his affectionate statements or the support he demonstrated for Waldheim by allowing his name to appear on Waldheim’s campaign posters.

Hier recently told The Journal that there is no reason to hold Schwarzenegger responsible for the actions of his father and that the actor, a major financial donor to the center, has worked tirelessly for Holocaust awareness and tolerance. Still, even Hier said he would like to see Arnold publicly clarify his views about Waldheim.

Whatever our political or moral leanings, I think most of us can safely agree that a man doesn’t get a pass for saluting a war criminal. Toasting Nazis should not be anyone’s big issue in this race, but character does count. If in the past Arnold refused to distance himself from Waldheim because, as some critics have suggested, he wanted to keep his options open for electoral office in Austria, his behavior reeks of the kind of opportunism that already stinks up Sacramento.

A Republican strategist told me that Arnold’s Waldheim issue probably won’t matter "to anyone under 70 years old." That may be largely true. It may not be expedient for Arnold to come clean on Waldheim, but it’s right.

Increasing Political Isolation for Jews


If all those statistics are true about Jews still being one of the most liberal voting blocs in the nation, why are they increasingly estranged from the American left?

Easy: The left, ranging from the anti-globalism fringes to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to some segments of the mainstream liberal community, has adopted policies and perspectives that even many progressive Jews regard as offensive and dangerous.

Good causes have been rendered marginal by activists looking for easy-to-grasp heroes and villains; political correctness has turned Israel from a noble experiment into the ultimate example of vicious colonialism.

And a political culture that can’t say no to extremists has turned the concept of civil rights on its head. It’s no longer unusual to see activists peddling the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at anti-war and anti-globalism rallies — and for organizers, for all their talk of human rights, to remain silent in the face of this overt anti-Semitism.

That’s producing a kind of political disenfranchisement for Jewish voters who remain strongly liberal, but increasingly lack partners with whom to pursue those political interests.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is in sync with mainstream Jewish voters on a host of important domestic issues. But there is also no other group that is as tolerant of some of the most anti-Israel and

anti-Jewish voices.

Many have been highly critical of Israel in recent years. That’s no sin, since many American Jews and Israelis openly criticize Israeli policies.

But many of these lawmakers go further by giving legitimacy to those who criticize the very idea of Israel, and whose criticism veers off into outright anti-Semitism.

When a United Nations conference

on racism was hijacked by anti-Israel forces and turned into a lynch mob of open anti-Semitism, administration officials boycotted the conference — but leading CBC members, including Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) demanded full U.S. participation.

When McKinney and Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) lost their reelection bids, some CBC members complained about excessive Jewish influence in American democracy. McKinney’s father, a defeated state legislator, was blunter: when asked about why she lost, he angrily spelled out the reason: "J-E-W-S."

Overt expressions of racial intolerance are no longer acceptable in American life, but if the targets are Jews or Jewish influence, many who rally under the civil rights banner are surprisingly tolerant of intolerance.

Other CBC members have provided a Capitol Hill platform for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When Farrakhan returned from a recent Mideast "peace mission," it was CBC founder Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who provided him a forum, as if he was a legitimate statesman, not a garden-variety bigot.

It’s not just the CBC.

When anti-globalism, anti-International Monetary Fund forces come to Washington to demonstrate, a wide range of left-wing groups rally under a banner that also includes nutty anarchists and aggressive pro-Palestinian forces.

Collectively, they depict Israel as the last colonial power and the ultimate example of institutional human rights abuses, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein as misunderstood freedom fighters, Zionism as inherently racist.

That same process is at work in the nascent anti-war movement focused on the expected U.S. strike against Iraq.

Many Jews probably share the aversion to a unilateral, preemptive U.S. strike, but don’t expect to see lots of Jews joining anti-war demonstrations; the movement is already linked to the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli forces that produced so much overt anti-Semitism at the U.N. racism conference.

Even Tikkun Magazine Editor Michael Lerner, in a letter to supporters, expressed concern about "vulgarity and anti-Semitism" in the new anti-war movement. The left just can’t say no to groups, however extreme and however intolerant, as long as their intolerance is wrapped in the proper Third World, anti-colonialist argot.

Another example: the divestment campaign on American college campuses, which reached an absurdist crescendo with the recent divestment conference at the University of Michigan.

Many Israelis agree that their country has a human rights problem. But to say that Israel is in the same league as Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria or an endless list of others reflects a breathtaking lack of balance that looks more like political correctness run amok and a pathological hatred of Israel than compassion for victims.

Overwhelmingly, the left chooses to ignore genocide by Third World countries, while relentlessly criticizing Israel for an occupation most recent governments have tried to end.

The result: Jews who remain liberal, which means a majority are becoming politically isolated.

Their views on a host of domestic issues remain progressive and they continue to be turned off, not only by the Republican Party’s positions on those issues, but by the iron grip of the religious right on the GOP.

But increasingly, they feel uncomfortable in coalitions with groups that tolerate or even encourage the viscerally anti-Israel, Third World rhetoric and misguidedly accepts anti-Semitism in the name of human rights.

A National Unity Government for L.A.


The more time I spend trailing the Los Angeles mayoral candidates, the more I find myself musing about rehabilitating the commissariat as a form of government. Or, failing such "Red Dawn"/"Red Alert" scenarios, perhaps we might seek something akin to the national unity administration now under contemplation in Israel. I say this not just to be provocative — well not only. It just strikes me as a huge waste of precious talent, integrity and commitment to be forced by a winner-takes-all electoral system to have to pick just one of these outstanding people for mayor while jettisoning the others.

How very novel to feel this way about an impending election, considering the impulse to hold one’s nose that attended the major elections we’ve experienced since the summer in Canada, the U.S. and, most recently, Israel. I’m almost sorry that, as a permanent resident and faithful taxpayer, I do not have the right to vote.

The current mayoral dog-and-pony show wended its way to Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino this week for what the candidates now purport to be only the 27th (and not, as I reported last week, the 40th) of some 80 prospective face-offs. Trailing after them, I found myself deeply moved (as often I am) by Rabbi Harold Schulweis’s deft assessment of the unusual embarrassment of electoral riches facing us.

"The people who are with us this evening," he intoned, "are men and women who have chosen a career of service to the community. They know that there are no civilizations without cities, and they know that it is their task to see to it that cities remain civilized. For as it is said, ‘Crave for the well-being of the city, because without just governance, a man will swallow up his neighbor.’"

There was certainly no danger of such in this crowd, not least because it is the esteemed rabbi’s enlightened custom that participants who may not be properly introduced begin programs of this nature by embracing those on one’s immediate left and right for a vigorous round of "Hineh Ma Tov." Having made the acquaintance of a fellow Montreal expatriate in this fashion, I recommend this most Californian practice, and would ask the candidates to consider adopting it for future City Council meetings. I would suggest this for the Knesset as well, but I also think of myself as a realist.

In many respects, as I have noted, the candidates for the April election and June runoff share a common sense of the ills that plague this city. In addition, they seem to agree, in a broad sense, on those measures necessary to remedy them. Judging the candidates by their word, no matter who is elected, we can expect renewed emphasis on establishing neighborhood councils, demands for greater personal accountability by city department heads (including the police chief), common-sense solutions to pressing traffic and noise problems, and sustained efforts to improve the school system.

Last week, some may recall, I asked why the candidates for mayor, whose powers have traditionally been restricted to matters of budget, appointing commissioners and exercising veto privileges, spend as much time as they do calling for educational reform. The answer, I learned from State Controller Kathleen Connell and Councilman Joel Wachs, rests in the potential efficacy of the mayor’s office as a bully pulpit.

Mayor Riordon succeeded in placing school reform on the municipal agenda. The other candidates, with almost no exceptions, say they will do whatever they can to maintain this momentum. The result could be a spate of new charter schools, greater parental oversight of teachers and principals, widespread after-school and pre-kindergarten programs, and if real-estate broker and current Parks and Recreation Commissioner Steve Soboroff has his way, the eventual replacement of L.A. Unified by neighborhood school districts.

In addition, the candidates appear to share a sense that while the police department must be held accountable for Rampart, the city’s first priority must be to bolster sagging morale, stem the loss of personnel, and reverse a rising crime rate and attendant decline in arrests.

Why, asks Antonio Villaraigosa, were 68 line officers implicated in the Rampart abuses, but not a single captain, commander or deputy chief? Why, added Wachs, was Chief Parks, who already makes a quarter-million dollars a year, secretly awarded a merit raise of $30,000? How long, asked Soboroff, can we retain a police chief when 85 percent of the force is unhappy with their work, leadership and conditions of employment?

The remedy for this set of ailments, they all attest, lies in establishing greater accountability at the top; fairer disciplinary procedures at the bottom; increased civilian oversight; emphasis on community policing; inducements for police to reside within city limits; flexible work schedules; pensions in line with those of comparable sectors; and most of all, a police chief committed to genuine reform.

If the candidates differ, they do so most glaringly in matters of style. And style, as Connell observed, is an integral component of any municipal administration.

Villaraigosa stresses the need for consensus, for bringing a disparate and polarized population together around common goals and visions. Soboroff wants less talk and more action, preferably the kind that costs nothing but makes for greater efficiency. He is a real-estate broker, and his thing is "closing." Connell emphasizes her experience running a major governmental enterprise, and her successes in holding large and unwieldy institutions to account. Wachs will continue to push for greater transparency in government, and an end to City Hall’s pandering to special interests.

They are all serious in their intent, and I believe each of them, as I think did most in attendance that evening. No, I did not conduct an exit poll to make that call. It was enough to discern the only discordant note of the evening, when Soboroff implied that his rivals were motivated by the kind of job seeking triggered by term limits. This crowd wouldn’t have it. Indeed, there was some hissing. But it virtually kvelled when Wachs recounted how his own parents, who once belonged to VBS, had labored 29 years before to help him gain office.

"Some of you remember how my mother ran the headquarters, because we only had $24,000 to campaign with, and how my father stood in front of Gelson’s and the markets handing out cards that said ‘Vote for my son Joel.’ When the campaign was over, the late Art Seidenbaum did a half-hour special on KCET, not about me, but about the role my mother and father played in the election.

"When it was done — and I’ll never forget this — they asked my father and mother, ‘What do you want out of all this?’ And my father said, ‘I want he should be a good boy.’"

He is. They are all good people. And we are blessed for it.

Tight Races


Initially, one cannot help but think that the surge of retired, elderly Jews to Florida, augmented by this year’s Lieberman Factor, has redefined Florida politics into an Israel-style method of governance. While the rest of America was voting and deciding on Tues., Nov. 7, Florida was telling us – just as Israel runs under Barak – “Wait 48 hours, and then we’ll decide.” Two days later, as the last recount came in from Seminole County with Bush a nose ahead, Florida essentially told us, “Well, wait 48 more hours, and then we’ll really decide.” Even today, Nov. 17, with all the incoming mail ballots from those Floridian voters stationed out-of-state in the military and on campuses tallied, we still have the proverbial 48 hours and more. Recounts. Manual recounts. Just like Barak’s Israel.

Critically, the deadlock that marked the presidential voting also spilled over into splitting the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. An interesting quirk, as the Senate totters on a 50-50 split – and that possibility will continue as Americans monitor the health of two elderly Carolina Republicans in the upper chamber – is that if Bush ultimately emerges the uncontested winner, then Vice President Dick Cheney could be in the Senate casting tie-breaking votes until the next election. The impact of such a situation cannot be underestimated, although everyone in the meantime is underestimating it. Traditionally, vice presidents stay in the shadows and bide their four or eight years until they get to run for president. But if Cheney casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, he will become a powerful force. Imagine if he casts the deciding vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice – or an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Another impact of the close Senate result is that, at least for the next two years, every Republican Senator will have great, inordinate power. That is, as long as the GOP holds the Senate by 51-49, or if it goes 50-50 with Cheney casting tie-breakers, all it takes to switch the majority is for one or two Republicans to “vote their consciences” on a bill. So, liberal Republican senators will become a major nuisance for Trent Lott and will have huge power, as will the Democrat conservatives in their party.

As a result, presidential leadership will be minimized, avoiding dramatic initiatives, and that will redound to Israel’s benefit, especially if James “F— the Jews” Baker III is back in the equation. In Israel’s time of great crisis, in the era of Oslo’s collapse, the gridlock will make it difficult for an American president to impose brutal concessions on Israel. Look for adherence to the polls. As a result, these will be the years of cautious moderation, and that will help Israel. Ironically, the necessarily practical course will make the new president wildly popular over the next two years, artificially reassuring independent voters that he can be trusted to “steer the course.”

Jews lost a few good friends and a few enemies in this election, as we usually do. Florida’s Sen. Connie Mack had been a strongly supportive Republican voice in support of Israel; he has retired, and we shall see whether and hope that Senator-elect Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, takes care not to offend Florida’s Jewish Democrats on Israel. Jim Rogan of California was a top-drawer Republican Congressional supporter of Israel. He is replaced by Adam Schiff, a liberal Jew, who will follow other liberal Democrat Jews in Congress – backing whatever the Israeli government does or fails to do, whether it be Oslo or whatever. In New York, Rick Lazio already had been named by Arabs to their “Congressional Hall of Shame,” so we lose a good friend in the House. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is a political mercenary, so she may very well become a strong “friend of Israel” in the coming months. The bad news on Hillary has been that she was among the first to back an independent Palestinian State, that she hugged Suha Arafat while the Palestinian First Lady was accusing Jews of horrible things, and that Hillary had received lots of bucks from Hamas supporters. But the good news is that she easily backtracks on her principles as the situation requires. Consequently, Arabs have lost a friend, at least until she seeks a higher office, when she no longer will need to rely on Jewish voters in New York, much as former New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt progressed once his constituency expanded. She has begun her White House march by quickly proposing to abolish the Electoral College.

In addition to Hillary’s temporary conversion to Israel, the Arab side apparently has lost another friend with the fall of Republican Spencer Abraham in Michigan. Abraham, a Lebanese American, was one of only two senators who refused to sign the recent Senate letter supporting Israel.

Sen. Jon Kyl’s huge reelection numbers in Arizona are encouraging because he has been a wonderful friend of Israel. Dianne Feinstein’s victory in California was good news, too, because Republican Tom Campbell overtly supported Arab aspirations against Israel during his campaign. We have friends and ill-wishers in both parties. The election results demonstrate as much.

As for the electoral college, I kind of like it. It allows states like Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin to be taken seriously. It also forces national candidates to make promises on Israel to Jews in New York. That is a powerful motivator for the candidates and their advisors to learn about Israel early, to study the issues and to make informed decisions as to where they will aspire to stand. Ultimately, their views change, in the face of Arab oil pressures, the sheer number of Arab countries, and the United Nations factor. But the electoral college system forces them to come out for Israel early because there are lots of Jewish votes in New York, in California, in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania – and in Florida. Therefore, like every Jew who values higher education, I endorse that college. I am not married to it, but I like it.

Nevertheless, we may remain concerned – especially if Oregon still goes to Gore – that, with Bush coming out of Florida with 271 electors, one or two of his electors may decide to show Mom and Dad back home how famous he can be, or try to impress Jodie Foster with how powerful she is, and decide to vote for Gore, making it a tie, or otherwise throwing the results askew. It just may happen -because this is America, where tabloid papers sell briskly at supermarkets and where everyone in the country except me watched “Survivor.” If such a thing happens and the Bush elector who throws the election to Gore-Lieberman turns out to be a Jew, it will not be funny at all. So if Dubya wins Florida, may he win New Mexico, too.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Relations Committee and national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, practices complex civil litigation and First Amendment law at the Los Angeles offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

Scars Fall on Alabama


Scars Fall on Alabama

Close to half the Reform temples in Alabama are named “Emanuel,” which is Hebrew for “God is with us.” Jews all over the state are hoping it proves true this fall, when voters pick a governor.

In a way, the Alabama governor’s race is the very embodiment of a dilemma Jews face nationwide as they confront the growing strength of the Christian right. On one hand, Republican incumbent Gov. Fob James, a passionate defender of Israel whose conservative domestic views put him sharply at odds with most Jews. On the other hand, his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, best known for not being Fob James.

But James is no mere conservative. He’s one of the nation’s most strident political crusaders for a Christian America. He recently won headlines by defending a judge who hangs the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. His advocacy of school prayer reportedly borders on promoting civil disobedience. Critics say that his attacks on federal courts and the First Amendment — he claims that it doesn’t apply to states — are fueling an atmosphere of religious war in Alabama.

He resoundingly clinched his party’s renomination in the June 30 primary runoff after one of the most divisive races in recent memory. Local Jews are shaking their heads.

“The politics here are becoming really frightening,” Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham says. “This seems to be the place where the Christian right is making its beachhead.”

James is not really as devout a Christian as his rhetoric suggests, say most observers. But his wife is. Bobbie James’ brand of fundamentalism is said to be one of the chief influences on the governor’s agenda. A millennialist who considers Israel the key to God’s plan, she’s visited Israel at least 15 times. She’s close to several haredi rabbis and Likud politicians. One rabbi flew from Jerusalem to her husband’s last inauguration, in 1995, to blow a shofar and read from the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. Afterward, the band played Hatikvah.

Challenger Siegelman is not Jewish, despite his name. But his wife is. The Siegelmans are regulars at Montgomery’s Conservative synagogue, Agudath Israel, where their older daughter was bat mitzvahed in February. When Hatikvah was played at the 1995 inauguration, the lieutenant governor’s wife was reported to be the only one on the reviewing stand able to sing along.

And, yet, it’s Fob James who has made friendship for Israel and Jews a cornerstone of his agenda. His Alabama-Israel trade mission last fall was a high-profile event that yielded important contracts for Israeli firms. He elevated the state’s annual Holocaust commemoration from a small reception to a major public ceremony. “We stand with you forever,” he declared in his 1997 keynote, “and vow before God Almighty: Never again.”

Few doubt his sincerity. It certainly isn’t a bid for Jewish votes. Only 9,000 of the state’s 4.3 million residents are Jewish, barely one-fifth of 1 percent, and most are Democrats. Last year, a mild ruckus erupted during a meeting at the Birmingham Jewish Federation when the chairman of the community relations committee disclosed that one of the panel’s 15 members was a Republican. “Most people were very nice about it,” says the lone Republican, Hyman “Herc” Levine. “But not everyone.”

A year later, Republican Jews are harder than ever to find, and the reason is Fob James.

“Here’s a man who, with his wife at his side, will stand up and say he’s a friend of the Jews,” says Tuscaloosa attorney Joel Sogol, a member of the regional Anti-Defamation League board. “And, yet, he stands with a group of people who want to make Jews and other non-Christians second-class citizens.”

Sogol points to last year’s Ten Commandments case as typical. A judge in rural Gadsden had hung the tablets of the Law in his courtroom, and he was opening each session with a prayer — Christian only. Sogol, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in federal court to stop the practice. The case was thrown out when the court ruled that nobody with a valid interest had complained.

That didn’t stop Fob James. He filed his own lawsuit, demanding that the federal court specifically endorse the rituals. When the court declined, the governor went on the warpath, claiming that the federal judge was impeding the practice of religion.

James was even more aggressive after another federal court barred recitals of Christian prayers in the public schools of rural DeKalb County.

“The court basically affirmed existing federal law, that children can pray during non-instructional time,” says Birmingham attorney Lenora Pate, who lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Siegelman. “The governor has used it to make the case that 50 million children throughout America can no longer pray in school. He’s even urged students to some extent to disobey the law.”

“I’m a Christian, and I’m deeply troubled by the rhetoric,” says Pate, who is married to a Jew. “Back in the ’60s, we had this same type of states-rights, ‘those-federal-judges-can’t-push-us-around’ rhetoric. Back then, it was wrapped around race. We had Gov. Wallace, who ran all over the state, whipping people into a frenzy, and out of the blue we had church bombings and little girls were killed.”

“Today, the same rhetoric is wrapped around religion. I can certainly understand how my Jewish friends and family can feel a huge concern.”

James does have Jewish defenders, particularly in Mobile, whose 1,200 Jews include some nationally prominent Republican donors. They say the governor is misunderstood.

“Those who know Fob James don’t feel threatened,” says Mobile attorney Irving Silver, a former chairman of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Public Policy. “I think he has an abiding respect for people of faith, and I think he is crying out — perhaps not as articulately as he should — about the shortage of religious values pervading our society. But the world is not caving in. Those forebodings about Alabama becoming a theocracy are just ludicrous.”

But the fears aren’t just theoretical. Last year, in rural Pike County, a Jewish family named Willis was subjected to violent harassment after protesting the prayers imposed on their children in school. Jews throughout the state, particularly in rural areas, followed the case closely.

“Fob James is a very nice guy,” says Rabbi Miller. “And the fact is that our constitutional protections are still in place. So far, it’s mainly atmospherics. But you don’t know where things may lead. That’s what’s frightening.”

“When non-Jews say they’re scared,” says Pate, “they mean they’re concerned about our image nationally. But when Jews say it’s scary, they mean it personally.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.