This month marks the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous night of horror on Germany’s Jews. “The Night of Broken Glass” served as a prelude to the Holocaust, during which an array of Europe’s minorities — Jews primary among them — were brutally slaughtered en masse as a result of government-led anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, anti-religious and anti-gay policies.
Despite the notable improvements in civil rights and race relations of the past 70 years, we find ourselves today facing the threat of personal violence motivated by those same biases. Violent hate crimes are on the rise, reflecting an overall increase in xenophobic attitudes across Europe and North America, a revival of anti-Semitism and a continuation of prejudice against Muslims, Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Although governments are not now the perpetrators of the violence, they are failing to do everything in their power to stop it.
Last year’s disturbing developments included record levels of anti-Semitic violence in the United Kingdom, a nearly one-fifth jump in racially motivated attacks in Russia and a 24 percent increase in violent incidents involving sexual orientation bias in the United States, according to a recent survey by Human Rights First.
The trend across Europe, the former Soviet Union and North America is alarming. One critical question is how to get governments to acknowledge hate crimes and take steps against them.
There is no easy answer. In many countries, human rights organizations that might document and calm tensions simply do not exist. Many governments lack the will or the ability to tackle deeply rooted racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and sexual hatreds. Some, it must be said, simply turn a blind eye toward hate crimes out of indifference or for political considerations. Worse, others may even stir hatreds out of cynical self-interest.
Democratic nations, too, often have failed to systematically address hate crimes. The survey reveals that only 13 of the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security body, have adequate hate-crime monitoring and reporting systems in place. More than 40 nations fail to collect and publish complete information on hate crimes and thus don’t have a clear picture of the problem.
International nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights First, seek to overcome these roadblocks by exposing the reality of hate crimes through the gathering and publicizing of data from nongovernmental sources and the media. This is critical work; demonstrating the extent of the problem serves as a powerful advocacy tool for pushing recalcitrant nations to take responsibility for crimes within their borders.
This strategy has resulted in several recent improvements:
These are tangible and important steps forward. Of course, much remains to be done. Legal and administrative directives are meaningless unless police and other security forces are trained and prodded to track hate crimes and enforce provisions to investigate and prosecute them as such. Additionally, hate crime definitions must be broadened to include all forms of bias that might be the grounds for hate violence.
Today, few governments systematically collect information on anti-Semitic hate crimes, even as NGOs have reported significant increases in such crimes. This is the case in some nations with long histories of anti-Semitism.
On the other hand France, whose nearly half-million-member Jewish community is one of the world’s largest, has achieved considerable success in its efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The government has ordered police to work with the Jewish community in responding to anti-Semitic violence. The number of crimes has dropped significantly, although more remains to be done.
Hate crimes committed against Muslims in much of Europe and North America also go largely undocumented. Only five of the 56 OSCE member states publicly report such incidents.
Nations are sensitive about their image abroad — and much more so in a world made smaller by globalization. Even authoritarian regimes take pains to burnish their image, if only to encourage international investment. Nothing diminishes a nation’s luster as does documenting and publicizing its human rights failings.
This leverage must not be wasted. We must continue to hold governments’ feet to the fire by revealing the failure to pay attention to hate crimes.
Tad Stahnke is the director of Human Rights First’s Fighting Discrimination program and a co-author of the group’s recently released 2008 Hate Crimes Survey, which is available at humanrightsfirst.org/discrimination.
Article reprinted courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Let me hedge my bet.
At the vice presidential debate, the talking points Sarah Palin’s handlers have been stuffing her head with will come out of her mouth so butchered that even Republican voters will say, like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”: “The horror, the horror!”
Or, at one of the remaining presidential debates, a contemptuously smirking John McCain will finally become so enraged by having to share a stage with Barack Obama that he will pop his notorious cork right there in front of a hundred million Americans.
Or maybe Obama or Joe Biden will goof or gaffe or otherwise give such a bloody bit of chum to the media sharks that the gazillionth replay of the sound bite will drive every swing voter in the country away from them. But I don’t think so.
Sure, cable yakkers will declare after each debate who won on points, and who on body language; who played Nixon, and who played Kennedy; who won their focus groups of undecideds, and who flatlined with them.
But my guess is that the prestige press headlines will continue to play it safe, as they did after the first debate — “candidates clash” (New York Times), “differ sharply” (Los Angeles Times), “quarrel” (Washington Post) — and that on television, it will be concluded that no one delivered a knockout blow, which will require audiences to remain in suspense, and therefore to keep tuning in, until the photo-finish end.
This election won’t be won or lost at the debates. Nor will it be determined by the two campaigns’ “ground games” — their get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor, unfortunately, will its outcome even depend on how many Americans wake up on Election Day intending to vote for one candidate or the other.
Instead, my fear is that the Electoral College results will hang on the swing state voting systems’ vulnerability to sabotage.
It’s already happening.
In El Paso County, Colo., the county clerk — a delegate to the Republican National Convention — told out-of-state undergraduates at Colorado College, falsely, that they couldn’t vote in Colorado if their parents claim them as dependents on their taxes.
In the towns of Mount Pleasant and Middleton, Wisc., Democratic voters received a mailing containing tear-out requests for absentee ballots pre-addressed to the wrong addresses. Both mailers were sent by the McCain campaign.
Florida, Michigan and Ohio have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates. “Because many homeowners in foreclosure are black or poor,” The New York Times says, “and are considered probable Democratic voters in many areas, the issue has begun to have political ramifications.”
If you’re one of the million Americans who lost a home through foreclosure, and if you didn’t file a change of address with your election board, you’re a sitting duck for an Election Day challenge by a partisan poll watcher holding a public list of foreclosed homes. In states like New Mexico and Iowa, the number of foreclosures is greater than the number of votes by which George W. Bush carried the state in 2004.
In the 2006 election, according to the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, black voters in Virginia got computer-generated phone calls from a bogus “Virginia Election Commission” telling them that they could be arrested if they went to the wrong polling place; in Maryland, out-of-state leafleters gave phony Democratic sample ballots to black voters with the names of Republican candidates checked in red; in New Mexico, Democratic voters got personal phone calls from out of state that directed them to the wrong polling place.
Does anyone think this won’t be tried again in 2008?
The reason behind Alberto Gonzales’ attempted purge of U.S. Attorneys was that some of them wouldn’t knuckle under to Karl Rove’s plan to concoct an “election fraud” hoax that would put Republicans in control of the nation’s voting lists.
“We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today,” Rove falsely told the Republican National Lawyers Association, an evidence-less problem crying out for a draconian solution. Does anyone think that Rove’s move from the White House to Fox has dampened Republican ardor for this ruse?
And if all of that doesn’t alarm you, consider the new report on electronic voting systems from the Computer Security Group at the UCSB, which concluded that “all voting systems recently analyzed by independent security testers have been found to contain fatal security flaws that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting process….
Unless electronic voting systems are held up to standards that are commensurate with the criticality of the tasks they have to perform, the very core of our democracy is in danger.”
And did I mention that on Election Day, some polling places in minority precincts in battleground states will be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that so many people want to vote that it will take hours of standing in line to vote? That is, of course, unless they run out of ballots.
So while the presidential and vice presidential debates will make for swell political theater, the likelihood is that victory will be determined not by how the debates move a small percentage of undecided Americans off the fence, but by the voting experiences of a few thousand voters in a few swing states on Nov. 4.
Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”
I think he had it half right.
Those who decide who cast the votes also decide everything.
It’s axiomatic that Jews tend to view all news through the lens of “but is it good for the Jews?” It’s therefore no surprise that this filter now is being brought to bear on my former boss and mentor, Judge Samuel Alito Jr., who has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Based on my experience working closely with Judge Alito, I can answer unequivocally that yes, Judge Alito will be good for the Jews — and, by extension, for all Americans.
I’m a pro-choice, registered Democrat who supports progressive candidates. I’m also a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and an observant Jew who is active in my community. Notwithstanding numerous areas of commonality I have with the liberal groups opposing Judge Alito’s nomination, I wholeheartedly disagree with their position on the nomination.
First, while the Jewish community may be suspicious that certain statements made when Judge Alito worked in the Reagan-era Justice Department show him to be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative intent on enacting a conservative agenda, I believe such fears are misplaced.
Regardless of Judge Alito’s personal beliefs or positions that he advocated while a litigator with the Justice Department, he takes great pains to set aside his personal opinions when judging. To be frank, he did such a good job of setting aside his personal beliefs that I did not know what they were when I clerked for him.
In this era in which nearly everything is subject to partisan politicization, it is hard to understand that someone can put aside one’s personal views. Yet Judge Alito is so committed to the judicial process, including the principle of respecting prior precedent, that he succeeds in doing so.
Contrary to attempts to paint Judge Alito as a conservative ideologue, I can attest to the fact that Judge Alito is an open-minded judge who does not come to cases with preconceived notions. One time, while working on a criminal appeal, I made the mistake of commenting that the case should be fairly easy to decide in favor of the government, in light of the extremely slipshod brief submitted by defense counsel.
Even though he was a former federal prosecutor with considerable experience with criminal cases, Judge Alito rebuked me for my attitude, and made it known that we were to carefully read all briefs and the appellate record, and conduct any additional research needed to ensure that all parties received fair hearings before the court of appeals. Like Judge Alito, we were expected to keep an open mind and not prejudge any case.
Second, in areas of religious freedom, Judge Alito has a proven record of being sensitive to the needs of minority religions. It’s often said that Jews are the canaries in the mineshaft of civilization: One can tell how well a civilization is doing by the way it treats the Jews.
I would extend that metaphor to all minority religious groups. Judge Alito has considerably more sensitivity to members of minority religions than some of the conservative justices currently serving on the Supreme Court.
The current Supreme Court standard for determining religious discrimination cases under the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause is Employment Division v. Smith, in which Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that a law that does not target religion does not violate the First Amendment. In other words, if the statute is not targeting a religious practice, it’s constitutional even if it has the effect of banning that practice.
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism declared that the Smith line of cases would “go down in history with Dred Scott and Korematsu as among the worst mistakes this court has ever made” — Dred Scott was the case that held that slaves were not people and Korematsu was the case that allowed the U.S. government to intern Japanese-Americans without suspicion of wrongdoing during World War II.
By way of contrast, Judge Alito has written numerous opinions protecting the right of minority religious groups to be free from religious discrimination. One example of his greater sensitivity to religious discrimination cases is a case involving Muslim police officers in Newark, N.J. In that case, Judge Alito held that the city violated police officers’ Free Exercise rights by requiring them to shave their beards in violation of their Sunni Muslim religious beliefs.
In another case, Judge Alito wrote an opinion stating that a university could not discriminate against a Shabbat-observant professor, since “criticism of an employee’s effort to reconcile his or her schedule with the observance of Jewish holidays delivers the message that the religious observer is not welcome at the place of employment.”
In another case involving a member of a Native American religion, Judge Alito wrote that a civic ordinance may not “target religiously motivated conduct either on its face or as applied in practice.”
The American Jewish community owes its vibrancy and continued viability to the constitutional protections of the First Amendment. These cases clearly demonstrate that Judge Alito is more protective of the rights of members of minority religions than some justices currently on the court.
As someone who believes that the Jewish community is best served by judges who limit their roles to deciding specific cases and not enacting their personal agendas, I’m convinced that Judge Alito is by far the best person for this position. Is he good for the Jews? Absolutely.
Jeffrey Wasserstein was a law clerk for Judge Samuel Alito Jr. from 1997-1998. He currently is a principal in the law firm of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C., in Washington.
“But is it good for the Jews?” That was the question many of our grandparents voiced when they perused the morning papers — a question we may have dismissed, even with affection, as a narrow or parochial expression.
Today, we know that what’s “good for the Jews” extends beyond ourselves: It encompasses a concern for the well-being of society as a whole and the fate of our constitutional freedoms. After all, we Jews are unquestionably part of the general community, thriving largely thanks to the protections afforded to us as a minority religion.
For the National Council of Jewish Women, this has led us to take sides in the national debate on the direction of our courts, which are the guardians of our liberty and our well-being as Jews and as Americans. And it has led us to oppose the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr. to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
When a Supreme Court nominee decides that the First Amendment permits the majority religion to impose its beliefs and symbols on the rest of us in the public square — it’s not good for the Jews.
When he reveals his lifelong ambition to overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, preventing a woman from following her conscience and religious beliefs when exercising her legal right to choose abortion — it’s not good for the Jews.
And, when he consistently rules against victims of employment discrimination, narrowing civil rights protections — that too isn’t good for the Jews.
Judge Alito has a record of conservatism that is far to the right of our national consensus. He’s the candidate President Bush promised us when he said in 2000 that he would appoint justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
By his own account in 1985, Judge Alito entered law school “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the area of criminal procedure, the establishment clause, and reapportionment.”
Further clarifying his views on the Supreme Court’s past decisions regarding religion, in November 2005 he told his supporter, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that these rulings “were incoherent in this area of the law in a way that really gives the impression of hostility to religious speech and religious expression.”
Alito’s judicial record supports this statement. He disagreed with the majority of the 3rd Circuit when it decided that students could not include a prayer in their graduation programs simply because they had voted to have one.
He also argued that public school teachers could be forced to distribute materials of the Child Evangelism Project for their weekly after-school meetings. In contrast, the Supreme Court concluded that religious meetings may be held on school grounds only “where no school officials actively participate.”
As for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, Judge Alito’s views seem oblivious to the religious convictions of others. His hostility to the right to choose has been unwavering.
While working in the solicitor general’s office, Alito wrote a 17-page memo on using Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as an ” opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects.” He later expressed pride in his role in that case.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he wanted to uphold a requirement that a woman notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, a proposition Justice O’Connor and the majority rejected, declaring, “A State may not give to a man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.”
His strategy of pressing for more and more restrictions on Roe clearly became the ongoing strategy of the anti-choice movement — a movement that would restrict religious freedom by imposing one religion’s view on all women.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism recently repeated its support for legislation “maintaining the legality and accessibility of abortion so that in those cases where our religious authorities determine that an abortion is warranted halachically, obtaining that abortion will not be hindered by our civil law.” It’s clear that as a Supreme Court judge, Alito would threaten this principle.
So, what is “good for the Jews?” It’s a Supreme Court committed to upholding the rights and liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights, to upholding the letter and spirit of pluralism and to upholding basic values of inclusion and fairness.
The protections we seek as members of a minority religious group cannot exist in a vacuum, but only in the context of a larger society in which everyone’s rights and liberties are protected. For that reason, the National Council of Jewish Women urges all Jews and Jewish organizations to join with us in the fight to defeat Alito’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land.
Phyllis Snyder is president of the National Council of Jewish Women.
The sound of angry Christians railing against the marginalization of Christmas has become the new tune of this holiday season.
Across the country, from department stores to town halls, battle lines have been drawn over how to mark the winter holidays.
Led by evangelical groups, which say the holiday’s religious significance is being ignored, some Christians are fighting back. They’re threatening to sue school districts that have banned the singing of Christmas carols and other places where “Happy holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas” as the preferred greeting of the season.
Evangelical leaders don’t cast the Jewish community as Scrooge, yet efforts to highlight Christian themes and celebrations at Christmas historically have come at the expense of religious diversity and tolerance, say some Jewish leaders.
“It is not a movement prompted by an animus against Jews or the Jewish community,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who in recent months has spoken out on what he characterizes as the growing evangelical influence in the United States. “But the unintended consequence is that Jews may be blamed for it.”
Rabbi Leah Richman of Pottsville, Pa., received angry letters and phone calls when she called for the removal of a nativity scene in her town square.
“The non-Jewish people in the area are very interested in promoting Christmas and they believe that church and state should be more mingled,” Richman said. “They’re taking my stand as being anti- tolerance and anti-diversity because I’m not tolerant of their nativity scene.”
Instead of opposing the nativity scene, some respondents said Richman should place a menorah nearby. Indeed, much of the evangelical community’s argument has rested on a call for more celebrations of both Christmas and Chanukah, part of a call for a return to “Judeo-Christian values.”
“It just seems to me that what we ought to be aiming for in America is recognizing everyone’s traditions, rather than melding traditions into a homogenized whatever,” said Gary Bauer, president of American Values, an organization associated with the Christian right.
The onslaught of Christmas decorations and programming for years has been a source of quiet frustration for American Jews, but decisions about how to handle it have varied. Some Jewish groups have worked to ensure that religious Christmas displays don’t enter the public square, while others — predominantly the Chabad movement — sought equal treatment for menorahs and other Chanukah decorations.
The inclusion of Chanukah and then the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa has forced retailers and municipalities to seek more generic and inclusive ways of acknowledging all faiths. That has led, in due course, to claims that Christianity has been taken out of Christmas celebrations.
Boston renamed a tree in Boston Common a “holiday tree.” Target, the giant retailer, was criticized for airing commercials in December that did not specifically mention Christmas.
Even Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in, declaring this month that a “commercial pollution” of Christmas could alter the holiday’s true meaning. He suggested families erect nativity scenes in their homes.
The pro-Christmas movement comes at a time of growing evangelical political strength, giving their message increased weight and attention. Evangelicals have fought this year against efforts to remove proselytizing from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and to promote the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools. Nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court have been evaluated, in part, on their church attendance and their public proclamations of faith.
Some evangelicals have “come to feel a certain strength in their position in America and in the public that they didn’t feel under President Clinton,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and chairman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Even the White House has been chastised for writing “Best wishes for the holiday season” on its annual Christmas cards.
Those who perceive a decrease in Christmas observance, including media figures like Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson, both of the FOX News Channel, claim Christmas is being excluded from seasonal decorations in a misguided attempt to be sensitive to minorities.
“It’s mostly guilt-ridden Christians,” said Gibson in an interview. He’s the author of “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought” (Sentinel HC).
Added Bauer: “The Jews I know are not offended by the words, ‘Merry Christmas.’ The controversy doesn’t seem to be coming from believing Jews.”
But some Christian leaders do accuse Hollywood, the media and the American Civil Liberties Union of taking the religion out of Christmas — and all three groups are widely viewed as being run by Jews, Foxman said.
Eckstein warned of a backlash if Jews are perceived as being on the front lines of the fight.
In Coatesville, Pa., Councilman William Chertok was accused by a colleague of voting against an increase in the city’s Christmas parade budget because he was Jewish.
“I understand, Mr. Chertok, that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas,” Councilwoman-elect Patsy Ray said in a meeting in November. Her comments prompted rebukes from the City Council and the local media.
Chertok said he voted against the increase for budgetary reasons.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has been often cast as the lead opponent of Christmas celebrations. He said evangelical leaders are trying to place Christmas and Christianity above other religions.
“There’s a kind of Christian triumphalism; a feeling that Christians have to win every battle,” said Lynn, who commented by telephone while shopping for Christmas presents. “There is a fear that other religions are going to be treated the same as Christmas, and that means Christmas won’t have its special place five weeks of the year.”
Scholar Jonathan Sarna asserts that the Christian evangelicals have some reason to be concerned. Because at some level, they are gradually losing their battle with history.
“What we’re seeing in America today, with the evangelical emphasis, will be looked back on as the last gasp to hold onto an America that is [solely] Christian,” said Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
At the same time, supporters of interfaith dialogue say that as the majority religion in the United States, Christians have a right to see more expressions of their faith.
“It’s a legitimate feeling when 90 percent of the country is for it,” Eckstein said. “I am not threatened by someone who affirms his faith.”
A small group of American Jewish leaders that came to Israel recently is determined to put the issue of Israel’s Arab minority higher on the American Jewish agenda.
In an interview at a Haifa hotel, Rabbi Brian Lurie of San Francisco, the force behind the initiative, spoke calmly but could hardly hide his emotions.
Time is running out, he warned: Unless drastic action is taken to equalize the standard of living of Israeli Arabs and Jews, Arab frustration could endanger the country’s security.
The Jewish-Arab Task Force met Sept. 20 for a day of discussions with politicians and experts to discuss ways to make Arab citizens feel more equal. The meeting, organized by the New Israel Fund, will be followed by a meeting in New York in November to take action in the American Jewish community on behalf of Israel’s Arabs.
“We are trying to create an umbrella organization that looks at the Israeli Arab issue as a priority issue,” Lurie said.
The specifics of the plans are still unclear, but, according to Larry Garber, the New Israel Fund’s executive director, they should include more funds to minorities in Israel, a broad educational program about why the effort is necessary and “a dialogue with Israeli leaders on these issues.”
Lurie initiated the idea several years ago, but now is giving it an additional push.
Helping Israeli Arabs was a cause celebre among many American Jewish groups in the late 1990s, but it receded as a priority after the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.
Israeli Jews were shaken when Arab citizens rioted in solidarity with the Palestinians shortly after the intifada began. A number of Israeli Arabs also were involved in terrorist attacks, raising Jewish fears that the community could serve as a fifth column for irredentist Palestinians who do not accept the Jewish state.
But Lurie, a former head of the United Jewish Appeal, says his conviction that more needs to be done on Jewish-Arab relations has intensified since the intifada began.
“The October 2000 riots were a wake-up call,” he said.
Also attending the meetings in Israel were Steve Schwager, the executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Harriet Weiss of the UJA-Federation of New York; Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies; Ami Nahshon, the president of the Abraham Fund, and Garber.
The task force spent the day listening to briefings from Israeli legislators jurists, leaders of the Islamic Movement and civil rights groups such as Sikkuy.
Some of the guests already are involved in projects to improve Israel’s Arabs’ standard of living. But no one has any illusions: Task force participants are aware of the fact that it will take considerable time and effort to recruit American Jewish organizations — and public opinion — for work with the Arab community.
Since its establishment 26 years ago, the New Israel Fund has devoted 25 percent of its funds to Israel’s minorities. The challenge has been to reach a broader spectrum of American leadership and convince them of the importance of the issue.
“Among our supporters there is an appreciation that this is a crucial issue, but we still need to reach a broader spectrum,” Garber said.
The need to face Israeli Arab issues has become more urgent in recent months due to growing public debate about the “demographic danger” inherent in Arabs’ growing proportion of the Israeli population.
The task force was briefed by Rabbi Michael Melchior, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who warned that talk of the “demographic threat” is used to disenfranchise Israeli Arabs.
“The moment you refer to Israel’s Arabs and the Arab womb as a demographic threat, you can no longer treat them fairly and equally,” Melchior said.
He added: “If we grant them rights as individuals and as a community this could, in fact, strengthen the Jews in this country. My approach to the issue is moral rather than demographic.”
Some insist that fully equal rights for Israeli Arabs must be accompanied by equal responsibilities on the Arabs’ part, such as national service.
Arnon Sofer of Haifa University has said that the number of Israeli Arabs will reach 2 million in 2020 and the Jewish majority will shrink to 65 percent, compared to its present 80 percent.
Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right Israel, Our Home Party, has made demography a key issue of his platform. Lieberman says Israel should exchange territory with the Palestinian Authority so that blocs of Arab villages along Israel’s border with the West Bank will be turned over to P.A. control in exchange for Israeli control of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
If boundaries are redrawn to exclude Israeli Arabs, “it’s the beginning of the Arab-rein concept,” Lurie said, a play on the Nazis’ wish to have an area that was Judenrein, or clear of Jews.
“Then what — are we a democracy? This is a frightening reality,” he said.
However, advocates of plans like Lieberman’s note that it conforms with the historic principle of separating Jewish and Arab populations into two states for two peoples, one rationale behind the recent eviction of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. All involved understand that a future Palestinian state will contain no Jews, even if it means uprooting tens of thousands of Jews from their homes.
Participants in the discussions heard data from Shuli Dichter, co-director of the Sikkuy Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality, illustrating alleged Israeli discrimination against Arab citizens. For example:
A successful charter school operator will launch a campaign to take over the Los Angeles high school where racial tensions erupted into campus brawls earlier this year. The Journal has learned that Steve Barr, who runs Green Dot Public Schools will announce, later this week, his bid to assume control of troubled Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles.
The 45-year-old Barr, who is Jewish, makes a point of serving students in low-income minority communities, even though he knows his schools would enjoy a ready market and have access to considerable financial support in the heavily Jewish and more prosperous neighborhoods of the Westside and West Valley.
If the school board goes along — and Barr already has some civic and political support — Jefferson would be the first existing L.A. campus handed over to an outside company.
Private companies have taken over schools elsewhere in the country with mixed results. In Los Angeles, however, most of the recent charter schools have been “start-ups,” that is, new schools that begin from scratch hiring teachers and recruiting students. Charter schools operate independently of established school systems, although school districts typically sponsor and supervise them. A Los Angeles public school has never been converted to a charter because it is failing or floundering or futile — pick your adjective for Jefferson.
Jefferson High gained notoriety when a series of campus melees erupted starting in mid-April. In many of the fights, black students squared off against Latinos. Officers arrested two-dozen students; three students were hospitalized and dozens suspended or transferred. Hundreds more stayed away from campus. The situation was disturbing enough that Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa visited the campus to plead for calm. Even before the unrest Jefferson had problems enough, with a high dropout rate and poor student achievement.
The move represents a gamble for Barr, the founder of Green Dot. He has never assumed operation of an existing school, especially one where academic achievement has lagged for decades. Barr’s first five charter high schools, all created over the last six years, have impressed many observers. His first school, in Lennox, which is south of Inglewood, has graduated 90 percent of its first two classes of students, said Barr, all of whom completed the coursework required to attend the University of California. L.A. Unified, by contrast, loses about half of its students as dropouts.
The Journal confirmed Barr’s intentions with several sources familiar with his plans. Barr declined to be interviewed prior to Thursday’s anticipated announcement, but confirmed the basic details. The plan has been in the works for weeks, but not widely known. In fact, late last week, one of the top aides to L.A. schools Superintendent Roy Romer was unaware of what was afoot. The superintendent’s office has since been alerted. Barr was tentatively scheduled Tuesday to meet with and brief Mike Lansing, the school-board member who represents Jefferson.
If allowed to run Jefferson as he does his other schools, Barr would divide the campus into eight or nine schools. Teachers would lose tenure protection, but could not be fired without “just cause.” Teaching staff also would have a central role in planning curriculum and purchasing instructional materials. The staff would not belong to United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful L.A. teachers union, but could instead join the independent union that represents faculty at Barr’s other schools. Teacher salaries would be 10 percent higher. Parents would be required to volunteer at the school. Staff currently at Jefferson, including the principal, would be invited to reapply for their jobs.
Barr plans to circulate petitions calling for the charter among teachers and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Jefferson. He’d also need the support of four of seven board members. Unfortunately for him, he can’t rely on board member David Tokofsky, because Tokofsky, a charter-school enthusiast, works part-time for Green Dot. Per board policy, Tokofsky cannot vote on a matter affecting Green Dot, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Two other board members, Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen are generally more skeptical about charter schools. Barr has already met with school-board President Marlene Canter, who represents the Westside and who would be a key vote for him.
Barr would have to move quickly to make a changeover possible by next year. In the meantime, L.A. Unified is pursuing its own remedies at Jefferson. Officials have reduced the number of students attending Jefferson by sending many of them to a newly completed high school. And a well-regarded administrator, Juan Flecha, agreed to move from Eagle Rock High School to Jefferson.
The mayoral primary on March 8 reconfirmed the existence of a political gap within the Los Angeles Jewish community between Jews who live on the Westside and those who live in the Valley.
According to the Los Angeles Times exit poll, Bob Hertzberg carried Valley Jews (6 percent of all voters) with 56 percent of the vote, to 18 percent for Antonio Villaraigosa and 12 percent for Mayor James Hahn. Among Westside Jews (5 percent of all voters), Hertzberg barely edged Villaraigosa, 37 to 36 percent, with Hahn at getting 20 percent.
Overall, Hertzberg took nearly half the Jewish vote (47 percent) to Villaraigosa’s 27 percent and Hahn’s 17 percent. Despite his Jewish support, Hertzberg finished third and failed to make the runoff.
He thereby continued the pattern set in 1993 and 2001 by Jewish candidates who did very well among Jews in the mayoral primary but fell behind the two leading contenders. In 2001, it was Steve Soboroff and Joel Wachs; in 1993, it was Richard Katz and Wachs.
In the post-Tom Bradley era, Jewish candidates for mayor are tending to run on the Richard Riordan base of Republicans, Valley voters and conservatives. I just presented a paper to fellow political scientists with my colleague, California State University, Fullerton geographer Mark Drayse, that shows a very strong overlap between the Hertzberg and Soboroff coalitions. This coalition provides a significant base of support among whites, but may fall short of citywide success in a city in which the Republican share of the vote has dropped 50 percent in the last decade.
The gap between Westside and Valley Jewish voters goes back at least to the busing controversy of the late 1970s. Overall, Los Angeles Jews, wherever they lived, were enthusiastic supporters of Bradley and his liberal biracial coalition. Bradley largely stayed out of the busing battles.
But school busing divided Westside Jews, many of whom favored busing but were not much affected by it, from Valley Jews, who provided key support for the anti-busing movement. Since then, citywide candidates with a somewhat less liberal leaning have done well with Valley Jewish voters. Meanwhile, liberal candidates continued to win in the high-turnout Westside, a pattern continued by the emerging Villaraigosa coalition.
We should not overestimate the Valley-Westside gap. Both voted heavily for the Jewish candidate in the primary. Both provided many votes for Villaraigosa and for Hahn in both 2001 and 2005. The gap is far smaller than that between white Democrats, which includes most L.A. Jews, and white Republicans.
But clearly, the emphasis in the Valley is on moderate politics, compared to a more liberal version on the Westside. Valley Jews are cross-pressured; they are as overwhelmingly Democratic as Westside Jews, but have reservations about the more urban liberal agenda.
While the split among Jewish voters might play a role in the lack of success of Jewish mayoral candidates, a bigger issue is the extremely low minority support they have received. Hertzberg received only 5 percent of African American votes and 6 percent of Latinos, though a surprising 12 percent among Asian Americans.
The electorate in the 2005 primary was slightly more liberal, more Latino, more Asian and more African American than four years before, and less white and less Jewish. Without minority support, no one, Jewish or non-Jewish, can be elected mayor of Los Angeles.
The center-right model, moreover, is not the only way for a Jewish candidate to run citywide. Both Laura Chick, the former Valley council member who won as city controller in 2001 and 2005, and Mike Feuer, who was nearly elected city attorney in 2001, ran more progressive-center campaigns than either Hertzberg or Soboroff. (Of course, neither faced a strong African American and Latino candidate at the same time, as did Hertzberg in 2005.)
Both won huge majorities of Jewish voters (with no Westside-Valley gap) but also did very well in minority communities. Had Feuer won half instead of 41 percent of the African American vote, he might have been elected.
Some will blame the division among Jewish voters as the reason it is hard to elect a Jewish mayor. I think this is wrongheaded.
First, it is extremely hard for anyone to win a citywide election, let alone the mayoralty, in this diverse city. Second, the Jewish role in Los Angeles politics does not depend on having a Jewish mayor. It depends on being valued by all competing forces in the city.
As the city electorate becomes less white and more diverse, Jewish voters, with their relatively high turnout and generally progressive (if not always liberal) stance, will be much sought after, even if they present two overlapping faces, one moderate and one liberal, to potential allies.
If a Jewish mayor does arise, he or she will have to win far more than Jewish voters, indeed, more than white voters, and that in itself will make such a candidate more than a representative of the Jewish community. That Jewish candidate might be a liberal appealing to the Westside or a moderate appealing to the Valley.
But from the very start of the campaign, such a candidate will have to work nonstop to reach out to minority voters. Minority votes might not be available until the runoff, if there are strong minority candidates in the primary, but the ground must be laid.
The reconnection of the Jewish political community, whether starting in the Valley or the Westside, into the heart and soul of Los Angeles’ minority communities will be a fine and appropriate reminder of the long years of mutual trust and effort during the Bradley years.
Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, was the Election Day political consultant for the Los Angeles Times’ exit poll.
It was in 1998 that my son, Sammy, broke out of his cocoon and started kindergarten at our neighborhood school. Up until then, he had spent his entire tiny life surrounded by Jews.
Having left his Jewish preschool behind only a few months prior, he had little knowledge of his own minority status in the world, not to mention in our South Bay community. But that didn’t matter to him, at least as far as I knew.
The phone rang on that cold December morning, the week before school let out for Christmas — I mean winter break.
“Hello,” Sammy’s teacher said. “It’s Susie Clark.”
As any good Jewish mother would, I immediately thought that Sammy had fallen and cracked his head open.
“Do you have a minute?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied. “Is anything wrong?”
“No, no. Well sort of,” she said.
This could not be good.
“It’s just that, well, Sammy’s been,” she stammered, “having a little trouble since we started our holiday unit.”
“Why?” I asked. “Doesn’t he get it?”
“Oh, he gets it. He gets it quite well. The problem is that….”
I sat down and waited for the bomb to drop.
“He’s been telling his classmates that there’s no such thing as Santa.”
“Oh, that’s awful!” I exclaimed. What was I supposed to say?
“I’m not sure what to do,” the teacher said. “I’ve been teaching almost 20 years, and this is a first. I’ve gotten calls from two mothers already.”
I had visions of furious mothers beating me with wooden nutcrackers.
“Gee, I’m sorry,” I replied as I began to sweat.
“I actually don’t spend that much time on holiday stuff, only the last week before break,” the teacher said. “And we do Chanukah, too. Obviously, we’re making little Christmas trees, Santas, candy canes, wreaths, but I have templates for dreidels and stars. My other Jewish students use some of the Christmas designs, but not Sammy. He’ll do only Chanukah. Yesterday, we ran out of blue construction paper. He wasn’t happy.”
I pictured his indignant pout as he made a red-and-green dreidel.
“I’ll talk to him,” I said. “Don’t worry, there won’t be any more rumors about Santa being a fake.”
“Thanks.” Her tone implied that she wasn’t quite finished. “And just one more thing.”
I sat down again.
“Sammy’s had a little trouble with Robbie lately.”
“What? He adores Robbie!” Robbie was Sammy’s best buddy since the toddler class at preschool.
“You know Robbie’s mom is Jewish and his dad’s not,” the teacher said. “So Robbie’s taken the position that he’s both Jewish and Christian, but Sammy keeps insisting that he’s all Jewish. They really got into it yesterday.”
“I’ll take care of it,” I said.
I hung the phone up quietly and wondered if living in a predominately non-Jewish area was bothering Sammy. For me, having grown up in the Valley, being Jewish was never an issue. I took it for granted that at least half of the kids at school were Jewish. But not where my children lived. The Jews in Palos Verdes were a small group, close-knit and involved but statistically a tiny sliver on the pie chart.
Sammy bounced into the car that afternoon as always. I tried to sound nonchalant.
“Why are you telling kids there’s no Santa?” I blurted. So much for nonchalant.
“Because there isn’t one,” he said.
“And why are you arguing with Robbie about whether he’s Jewish or not?”
“Because he’s Jewish. He was last year.”
It occurred to me then that perhaps there was no problem. My son was clear and content with what he knew to be true.
When we got home, Sammy pulled out his Chanukah cutouts.
“Look what I made.” He showed them proudly, even the green dreidel. I gathered him onto my lap and admired his work.
“Sammy, you can’t tell the kids about Santa anymore. Some of them really believe in Santa. It’s not right for you to spoil it for them.”
“But why would they want to believe in something that’s not true?”
“Because it’s fun,” I said. “Because their parents like to pretend and create a story or tradition for their family. We do that, like with the tooth fairy.”
His expression changed, and a little frown formed between his eyebrows. Naturally, a jolly, fat man in a red suit who drags presents down chimneys was absurd, but a little fairy who trades money for teeth was perfectly logical. There went my mother of the year award.
“How do you know there’s no Santa anyway?” I asked.
“Mickey told me.”
Of course. The older brother always tells.
“Well, do you think you could just not talk about Santa for the next few days?”
He nodded his head and began taping his artwork to the front windows for all the world to see that in our house, we celebrated Chanukah.
During those last few days before Christmas — I mean winter break — I reminded Sammy to keep his knowledge and opinions to himself. Friday afternoon came with great relief — no more irate parents calling the teacher and no mothers chasing after me.
Six Chanukahs have come and gone since that December, and Sammy wrapped up his elementary school career six months ago. On the last day of school in June, we ran into his kindergarten teacher. She hugged Sammy. The little boy who had spoiled Santa was up to her nose.
“Sammy, I’ll never forget that Christmas with you in my class,” she said. “And I think of you every year when I pull out my Chanukah cutouts.”
As for Sammy, his Jewish identity, established way back in preschool, is as solid as the blacktop where he used to play ball.
Robbie eventually became all Jewish, just as Sammy had insisted.
And the tooth fairy, well, she continued to visit us until the very last tooth had been hidden underneath the pillow.
“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
To grasp the importance of this striking statement made in 1954 by a unanimous United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education (see story on page 25), we must both look back and look forward. In 1896, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court upheld a long-standing practice of segregation in public schools and sanctioned widely held racist assumptions by declaring that segregation was acceptable if the separate facilities provided for African Americans were equal to those provided for whites.
African Americans were not the only minority group affected by “whites only” policies. In 1925, a Chinese American girl fought for the right to attend a white school in Mississippi. The court in Rice vs. Gong Lum ruled she was not white but that she could choose to go to a colored public school or to a private school. In 1947, Mexican American students won the right to attend white schools in California in Westminster School District vs. Mendez, but even there the court noted that California law prohibited segregation … except for “Indians under certain conditions and children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage.”
Looking back at the era preceding Brown vs. Board of Education, we have to appreciate that the court’s holding that education “is a right which must be available to all on equal terms” was a significant milestone, as was the unanimity of the decision. It was a landmark case that launched an unprecedented era of civil rights and school reform.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1954:
Sixty-nine percent of African American children ages 5 and 6 were enrolled in school (96 percent in 2002);
Twenty-four percent of African American adults ages 18 and 19 were enrolled in school (58 percent in 2002);
Fifteen percent of African American adults age 25 and older were at least high school graduates (79 percent in 2002);
Two percent of African American adults age 25 and older were college graduates (17 percent in 2002).
Looking back at these statistics, we can even conclude the decision was heroic.
However, we must also look forward. The news is not all good. The statistics for 2002 listed here suggest improvement but still tremendous disparity. Worse, some of the progress has receded. In 1954, not a single African American student attended a majority white public school in the American South. By 1988, after a generation of integration efforts, more than 43 percent of Southern African American students attended majority white schools. However, today, slightly more than 30 percent of African American students attend majority white schools, the lowest figure in 35 years. A new word has entered our vocabulary: resegregation, which studies show has been on the rise since 1991 for many white, African American, Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native students.
According to a recent study from the Harvard University Civil Rights Project, white students are the most segregated group in the nation’s public schools. On average, they attend schools where 80 percent of the student body is white. Likewise, on average, African American and Latino students attend schools where more than 85 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of the student body are people of color.
The Los Angeles Unified School District provides a dramatic example. In 2003, only 9.4 percent of enrolled students were whites, while the vast majority, 71.9 percent, was Latino.
A related impact is segregation by economic status. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 80 percent of African American and Latino segregated schools are in high poverty areas, compared with 5 percent of segregated white schools.
Finally, if diversity of educators was a goal of integration, the news is decidedly bad. There are about 3 million teachers available to educate America’s nearly 50 million school children. Only 14 percent of educators are people of color, while children of color make up 40 percent of our school-age population.
In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must face the tragic fact that we are far from the promised land in the struggle for a desegregated society.” Regrettably, these words still apply today.
One of the best things about being the editor of a Jewish paper is I get to meet a lot of Jews.
Looking back over the past year, I see it’s a fascinating perk of the job.
Just in the past two weeks, for instance, I danced (poorly) at the Chabad Telethon when the tote board hit $3.4 million, met with two powerful state legislators, hobnobbed with celebrities and entertainment industry machers, lunched with Israeli diplomats and Jewish professionals and educators, cocktailed with Israeli diplomats and Persian businessmen — you get the idea.
Old, young, secular, black hat, poor, rich, gay, straight, engaged, apathetic, famous and, in one case, infamous: When I say I meet a lot of Jews, I mean a lot of different kinds of Jews. It is a pleasure too few of us enjoy. As Jewish life in Los Angeles has grown and diversified, it has also become increasingly particularized.
Part of this phenomenon is reflected in the recently released National Jewish Population Survey, which shows that a majority of Jewish institutions serve a minority of Jews: synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and federations draw about 40 percent of the Jewish population, and the number of truly active participants is probably far less. That means there is a minority of Jews engaged in what we call, with increasing optimism and inaccuracy, "the Jewish community." Yet most Jews remain outside.
Even among Jews who do, as the jargon goes, "affiliate," the distance among them is great. Of this there is no measurement in the NJPS, but I can tell you anecdotally it is a common phenomenon, and a sad one.
There are 600,000 Jews in Los Angeles, and most of us get to know only one kind among them. Because we are not just Jews, but human, our knee-jerk reaction to these other Jews is to regard them as the Other. The natural result of joining one group is to look askance at all the ones you opted out of. When I told some people I spent last Sunday evening with Chabad, they regarded me as either a dupe or a traitor. I’ve told others about the preschool at Kol Ami, a gay and lesbian synagogue, where children (many adopted from the four corners of the world) discover Judaism as a faith of warmth and inclusiveness — and you’d think I was speaking of the Amalekites. The Jewish communities of greater Los Angeles rarely touch, and even more rarely interact. Many of us don’t approve of the Other, as if we are viciously competitive teams in a regional league, and our common sport is Jewish.
So there are two problems here. On the one hand, we have divided ourselves into Jews on the inside of Jewish life and Jews on the outside, the affiliated and the unaffiliated. On the other hand, within the affiliated groups, we have divided ourselves from one another.
"Do not separate yourself from the community," said the sage Hillel, "and do not be sure of yourself until you are dead." Every day I see any number of examples of us doing just the opposite.
What we don’t seem to understand is that while Judaism may offer immutable rituals and beliefs (itself a notion open to challenge), humans by nature approach faith and ritual as part of their journey through life. The extent to which we become partners in shaping and encouraging someone’s journey to be a Jewish one depends on how open we are to understanding and participating in the Other’s journey. If you want to pull your friend out of the mud, said a great rabbi, first you have to step into the mud yourself.
The nature of religious experience in our postmodern world is personal, mutable and somewhat mysterious. As our choices and freedoms expand, our varieties of Jewish experience will become even more varied. We will have to fight against our instinct to disparage the new and different. Few among us adhere to a form of Judaism that some other Jews, at some point in history, didn’t regard as treif.
Without stretching beyond our immediate Jewish community — whether that community is a mega-shul, a mini-shtiebel, a social action group or a choir — we are unwittingly participating in the diminishment of Jewish life. "If you stop dialogue and debate, you start talking to yourself," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, "and that is the first sign of insanity." It is also a ticket to self-righteousness and extremism, something we’ve seen enough of in 5763.
Meeting Jews is easy — this town is full of them. Meeting and getting to know and appreciate different kinds of Jews is a challenge, but a crucial one.
Try it once this year.
Who would have thought that a recall campaign built around the energy and budget crises might end up being decided by attitudes toward immigrants? Yet that may be what happens on Election Day. The controversy over a new law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents may reframe the election around the under-the-surface issue of 1990s California: How do we feel about how immigration has changed California? How might the injection of this issue affect Jewish voting in the recall election? Perhaps the last time immigration dominated a statewide election might be a place to look for answers.
The immigration issue burst into state politics in 1994 when unpopular Republican Gov. Pete Wilson used Proposition 187, a measure to deny public services to undocumented residents, to save his reelection. In a famous commercial, shadowy pictures of immigrants apparently crossing the border, with the caption: "They keep coming." Proposition 187 passed 2-1, and Wilson survived.
What saved Wilson devastated Republicans statewide; Latinos came to view Proposition 187 as an assault on their own community. A million new Latino voters joined the California electorate in the 1990s, and Pete Wilson remains an unwelcome name in Latino households. Wilson delivered California to the Democrats, as Latino participation powered Democrats to statewide victories and a sweep of all state offices in 2002.
Proposition 187 created new coalition patterns in California. Previously, conflict over the role of African Americans had structured much of party politics. But with Proposition 187, the role of Latino immigrants emerged as a new and critical cleavage. The strongest opposition to 187 came from Latinos who voted against it 77-23 percent. African Americans, pressured by demographic changes in their own neighborhoods, were ambivalent, but only 47 percent favored the proposition. Not surprisingly, the strongest support for Proposition 187 came from whites (especially men), conservatives and Republicans, all of whom provided huge margins in favor. According to a Los Angeles Times exit poll, 78 percent of Republicans and conservatives and 63 percent of all whites backed it.
Jews were quite different from other whites, and only 45 percent voted for Proposition 187. Most Jewish organizations spoke out against it. The fact, however, that a minority of African Americans and Jews were to some degree drawn to the reaction against immigration showed how sensitive and volatile the issue was in those days. Yet for neither group did Proposition 187 become the wedge to remove them from the Democratic Party loyalty they have shown since.
The recall election is already polarizing white voters, particularly Republicans on one side, and minority voters, mostly Democrats, on the other. Independent candidates are becoming irrelevant, and the partisan, ideological, racial and ethnic lines are emerging with full clarity. The driver’s license issue will keep driving those wedges into the electorate, particularly as Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to strengthen his shaky hold on Republican conservatives and Cruz Bustamante seeks to maximize his support from Latinos. Each has something to gain. Schwarzenegger, having avoided debates and specifics on important matters of state policy, can take a visible position on an issue without alienating conservatives. Bustamante can try to reach the minority of Latino voters who currently say they may vote for Schwarzenegger.
If the battle is close, white Democrats (and especially Jews) might hold the balance of power. Historically race and ethnicity have proven to be the most reliable ways to move white voters from the Democratic to the Republican column. Democratic candidates have to struggle to win enough white votes to overcome this effect, and Jewish support has therefore been crucial to Democratic candidates. Jews have been more resistant than other whites to these race-based appeals, but have on occasion leaned rightward.
Jews are likely to vote in their usual disproportionate numbers, and in this intensely fought election a high-turnout voting group is exceptionally important. And, as usual, in racially tinged political battles, Jews will be somewhere between the minority and the white position. How far along either path Jewish voters travel on Election Day, may determine this historic election.
Driver’s licenses may be the path to a Republican takeover of the governor’s office. But that road has perils for Republicans as well. Nowadays, dreaming of California as it was before immigration seems out of place. Members of both parties in Congress are debating proposals to normalize the status of undocumented workers. In that context, driver’s licenses are hardly far away anyway. Republicans are desperate to win support from Latino voters as they worriedly examine census data showing the declining demographic power of their largely white voting base. But Republicans should also be concerned that appeals to their own conservative and in some cases nativist voters, perhaps nostalgic for a white-dominated California of years past, will not endear them to Jewish voters, either.
Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.
The first floor of the building in downtown Paris was shielded by black-tinted glass. It wasn’t the clandestine offices of some secret government agency or a gay bar. Rather, it was the synagogue in which my nephew was to be bar mitvahed, with anyone entering the building searched by a security guard posted by the door.
Later, worried that someone who was arriving late might not be able to find us, I stood across the street after the security guard asked me not to wait in front of the synagogue, which might draw attention.
After the hours-long ceremony, the rabbi urged us to disperse immediately rather than milling on the sidewalk, once more ensuring a low profile for the synagogue. This, he said, would help protect against vandalism, as well as local residents who might use such vandalism as a pretext to kick the synagogue out.
Anti-Semitism, I learned on a recent trip through France, is alive and pervasive. Nor, I discovered with some surprise, was the rabbi or those in charge of the synagogue overreacting.
For what else was I to make during a stroll around Montmartre, when I overheard a 20-something man tell a couple, in French, that he was Moroccan. Then he shouted to me, in perfect English, "I hate Sharon."
I could have replied that I’m no fan of Sharon’s, either, but somehow I didn’t think that was his point. Shocked, I just waved back.
"See," he triumphantly turned back to the couple. "An Israeli."
Not quite, but close enough. He had been able to identify a Jew.
A few days later, in the city of Tours, a teen stared straight at me, then noted in French to his two companions, "He’s a Jew."
I was used to being identified as an American abroad. But here, for the first time, my religious identity superseded my national identity.
And suddenly I started wondering how strangers could tell my religion. Do I really have a Jewish nose? Is there really such a thing as Jewish features?
So self-conscious did I become that, going to the beach at the Cote d’Azure, I considered removing the religious medallion I’ve worn around my neck for over 10 years, the Sephardic hand of God. I didn’t, but I became quite aware of when my medallion was covered by my shirt and when it wasn’t.
Back home again, I once again wear my medallion to the beach without a second thought. Recently, seeing a street sign giving the address and pointing the way to a synagogue several blocks away, I also knew that this was something I would never stumble across in France.
And there is something I’ve also taken away from this experience.
We Americans have no idea how truly free we are in our day-to-day lives. Sure, discrimination exists here. But we still see discrimination against any minority — Jew, Muslim or other — as something to be stamped out. In France, discriminatory attitudes have become part of the very air the people breathe.
To quote those famous lyrics, I am proud to be an American; proud and relieved at the same time. The alternative to living freely is living in the same fear that, more and more, pervades the rest of the world.
Increasingly, however, that fear is coming here, masked under the guise of patriotism and homeland defense.
We cannot allow fear to run this country. Otherwise we all become outsiders, the "other" waiting for the finger of blame to point at us. And hiding our place of worship, or who we really are, ain’t much fun.
Just ask the French Jews.
Joseph Hanania is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the
Los Angeles Times.
What do the Kurds have to do with Holocaust? More than you might think.
When Fran Lapides discusses the plight of this Middle Eastern minority group with her high school students, she notes the similarities to the way the Jews were persecuted during the Holocaust.
“Why do some people choose to treat the Kurds differently than other Iraqis?” the Milken Community High School social science chair asked her history classes. According to the educator, the rampant bigotry and racism is the same as the Jews faced in the Holocaust.
Using resources and teaching methods suggested by Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development organization, Lapides incorporates the Holocaust to illustrate stereotyping and hate connected with other significant historical and current events.
As Yom HaShoah approaches, thoughts of the Holocaust inevitably permeate the minds of Southland Jews. Faced with the challenge of communicating these horrors to children and hoping they can learn from it, various local educational programs strive to train teachers to teach this difficult subject matter.
Having participated in Facing History and Ourselves’ training several years ago, Lapides and her staff have used the organization’s resources for more than 10 years.
“First you look at the individual,” Lapides said. “You look at yourself and how ‘the other’ is created and why people sit back and don’t protest.” Using the Holocaust as a case study, Facing History and Ourselves addresses how the Jews became “the other” in Nazi Germany and why individual Germans responded to Hitler.
With offices in seven cities around the United States, Facing History and Ourselves offers a more than a dozen teacher training opportunities yearly. The Los Angeles office was established in 1994. More than 1,400 local educators use its resources, and more than 130 local public, private and religious schools use the Facing History and Ourselves program in their curricula. Through the training, the organization aims to teach children morals.
“We’re trying to get teachers to show their kids that it was habits of mind, people’s failure to make ethical decisions as citizens, that made the rise of the Nazis possible,” said Bernie Weinraub, a Los Angeles program associate.
Building on the idea that each person can make a difference, Facing History and Ourselves organizes a variety of events throughout the year. Currently, the organization is sponsoring a multimedia exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library titled, “Choosing to Participate: Facing History and Ourselves.” The traveling exhibition features dramatic stories of ordinary Americans who took a stand in their own communities, and how their everyday choices affected the course of history.
Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is in its 20th year of conducting a Holocaust education workshop for teachers. The four-session program, which is offered each spring, includes lectures, a visit to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum and a meeting with Holocaust survivors.
This year’s theme was “From Anti-Semitism to Genocide: Teaching Hope and Humanity in a World Threatened by Terrorism.” Classes were held in February and March.
“A Holocaust education model can be a very effective way to teach humanity and empathy to students,” said Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, associate director of the ADL’s Southwest Region.
The ADL and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles are targeting local Catholic school educators in offering a new course, the Bearing Witness Summer Institute: Anti-Semitism, The Holocaust and Contemporary Issues, which will be offered June 23-25. The program will address issues of diversity, prejudice and bigotry in contemporary society.
Lapides recalled one year when she taught a Holocaust elective class at Milken, saying, “The change in the kids over the three months of in-depth study was evident. [Holocaust education] makes kids so much more aware of what they’re doing and how they’re treating others, and in our world today, it’s so important as we become a more diverse community.”
The “Choosing to Participate: Facing History and
Ourselves” exhibit is free and open to the public at the Central Library in
downtown Los Angeles through May 4. For more information, call (213) 228-7000 or
visit www.lapl.org .