Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Candidates

To obtain the views of the two main gubernatorial candidates on issues of particular interest to the Jewish community, The Jewish Journal submitted identical questions to Republican Bill Simon Jr. and Democratic incumbent Gov. Gray Davis. Following are their unedited responses.

Jewish Journal: The Jewish community includes a large number of immigrants. What priorities and budget allocations do you foresee to assist such immigrants, particularly in aiding their naturalization process?

Bill Simon: Immigration makes our country and our state great, but our immigration system is broken and in need of fundamental reform. I support President Bush’s efforts to fix the system, and look forward to working with him to achieve this goal. Most people who want to come to California do so because they want a better life for themselves and their families, and they want to contribute positively to society. I will work to adopt constructive reform, in conjunction with the federal government, that recognizes the contributions of immigrants. In particular, President Bush has said, and I agree, that those who wish to come to the United States shouldn’t have to wait for years to get an answer.

Gray Davis: While naturalization is a federal issue, my administration has provided funding for programs that assist immigrant communities. California made the largest General Fund investment ever in new English Language Learning programs in public schools. In addition, I signed legislation to guarantee resident tuition rates at Cal State and community college systems for noncitizen residents who have attended a California high school for at least three years and have graduated from a California high school.

JJ: The community has been shocked by the rise in hate crimes against it and other minority communities. What steps do you advocate to reverse this trend?

Simon: With anti-Semitism flaring up across the globe, from Europe to the Middle East to our own backyard, we must aggressively prosecute any crime of this nature committed in California. In particular, the rising incidents of anti-Semitic hate crimes on our college campuses must be stopped with firm action.

Our state has comprehensive laws dealing with hate crimes and I will enforce them. Hate crimes demand a response because of their unique emotional and psychological impact on both the victim and the victim’s community. Additionally, I will make it a priority as governor to stay in regular communication with all the diverse communities around the state, and promote a dialogue so that we recognize and appreciate our common interests and common bonds.

Davis: Hate crimes are abhorrent and cowardly acts that touch the conscience of the entire State of California. I have worked to reinforce the values we share as a society — justice, tolerance and strength through diversity.

I worked to crack down on hate crimes and made hate-motivated murder punishable by the maximum penalties available under the law — life imprisonment and the death penalty. I expanded the definition of hate crimes to include national origin and sexual orientation, and signed legislation to create a California Unity Center in Sacramento.

In 1999, I created a Blue Ribbon Panel, chaired by Warren Christopher and George Deukmejian, to conduct a comprehensive study of current laws to combat hate groups and paramilitary organizations operating in California. Based on the committee’s recommendations, I signed new laws that promote the reporting of hate crimes; helped school personnel identify hate groups on campus; and helped crackdown on hate-related vandalism.

Following the events of Sept. 11, I announced an initiative by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to assist victims of alleged hate crimes arising from the attack on America. I also announced a new state program to help victims of hate and bias crimes, making them eligible for up to $70,000 for reimbursement of medical and other expenses.

JJ: Both UC and CSU campuses have been subject to anti-Semitic incidents, harassment of Jewish students, as well as attempts to force divestment of stocks in companies doing business with Israel. What steps do you advocate to counter such acts?

Simon: Anti-Semitic incidents on campuses, as with such incidents around our state must be investigated and the perpetrators must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I oppose the divestiture of stocks of companies doing business in Israel and recognize Israel as a strong ally of the United States. As governor, I would speak out against anti-Semitism and take all actions allowable and appropriate for the governor’s office. In addition to upholding laws against anti-Semitic violence, I will work through meetings and dialogue everywhere in California to highlight the great strength we derive from our diversity and our common interests.

Davis: I’m deeply concerned about any incidents of anti-Semitism. I issued a statement following the reported incidents on college campuses that denounced the acts of violence and urged students and the larger community to stand together against those who use hatred and prejudice to divide us.

I also sent a letter to Dr. Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California and Dr. Charles Reed, chancellor of California State University, asking them to take specific actions, including reviewing campus policies that govern demonstrations to ensure that free speech is exercised without escalating into violence and taking steps to promote tolerance.

Regarding divestment, as long as I am governor, California will not divest and will continue to stand side by side with our friends in Israel, both in business and in friendship.

JJ: What steps do you advocate to strengthen economic ties with Israel? What other actions would you propose to support America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East?

Simon: I will encourage California’s Congressional delegation to support President Bush’s trade policies with Israel. I will also invite the Israeli prime minister and other appropriate Israeli state officials to California to tour our state and discuss the mutual economic advantages of increased trade.

With the Israeli economy growing to over $110 billion, California businesses and industries have great opportunities to increase their trade with Israel by exporting goods, from high-tech to agriculture.

As governor, I will strongly support California’s Israel Trade Office, located in Jerusalem. I will continue to operate and staff the office with talented people, and maintain California’s Israeli trade office under the auspices of the International Trade and Investment Division of the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency.

Davis: The relationship between the United States and Israel is one of the most important strategic and cultural relationships that we have with any country. Throughout my career in public service, I have been a strong supporter of California’s Jewish community. When I served in the 43rd Assembly District, I represented a thriving Jewish community with whom I had a very positive relationship.

Israel is California’s 22nd largest trading partner and the state has a trade office located in Jerusalem to administer our burgeoning trade relationship. I have visited the State of Israel four times over the years, including my most recent trip as governor in 1999, meeting with former Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Barak and in the United States with President Katsav. I am proud to be the first sitting governor from California to visit Israel.

In addition to our economic ties, California has strong cultural ties with Israel — due in part to the large population of Jewish Californians and recent emigrants from Israel. In April 2002, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating a Cultural Cooperation Commission between California and Israel, the first such agreement between California and any foreign country. I will continue to work hard to expand ties with Israel.

On April 15, 2002, two days before Israel Independence day, I sent a letter to fellow Democratic governors asking that they sign a declaration of principles expressing solidarity with Israel and the peace process. [New York] Gov. George Pataki sent a similar declaration to his Republican counterparts. The response was extraordinary, with 42 of the nation’s governors — both Democrats and Republicans — signing this declaration expressing support for Israel.

JJ: With the looming threat of terrorist acts on American soil, what steps do you advocate to counter the danger?

Simon: My administration will work closely with federal law enforcement agencies to share information in an effort to thwart any potential terrorist threat facing the people of California and the United States. I have detailed a comprehensive California Homeland Defense Plan, which will prepare our state for preventing a terrorist attack, or if one occurs, making sure we respond with the best trained and equipped first responders.

I applaud President Bush’s call for a new Palestinian leadership that rejects terrorism, a move we all know is required for a real permanent peace in and around Israel. I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel and stand with President Bush in defense of the Israeli people against the threat of hostile nations.

Davis: In the war against terrorism, all levels of government must cooperate to keep citizens safe.

In 1999, two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, I established the State Committee on Terrorism and the State Threat Assessment Committee to study terrorism. After Sept. 11, I appointed George Vinson, one of the nation’s most experienced anti-terrorism experts, as my top security adviser.

Working with the attorney general’s office, I established the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center to ensure that state and local law enforcement officials are sharing intelligence information among themselves and with federal officials to detect, prevent and respond to possible acts of terrorism. In addition, I enhanced the public health readiness system, increased security at our vital assets, and won Federal Aviation Administration approval for the first-of-its-kind "Safe Skies" Program, allowing California Highway Patrol officers to carry a firearm and provide extra protection when flying on an in-state flight in the normal course of their duties. No state in America has done more to protect its citizens and vital assets from terrorist threats.