Are Muslims Endangered?

Heightened ethnic and religious hatred might be rearing its ugly head in California — but some politicians are eager to stand in its way.

State Assemblymember Judy Chu introduced and saw passage of Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 64 in early April. The resolution condemns hate crimes against “Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, South Asian Americans and Sikh Americans.”

“The fact that hate crimes and discrimination continue to be perpetrated against American Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs at a higher number than ever before is unacceptable,” wrote Chu in AJR 64.

Chu spoke about the resolution at a joint press conference on April 2 with a major supporter, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). A representative from Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office and community leaders from the ethnic groups mentioned in the resolution also attended.

California is the first state whose legislature has passed such a resolution condemning discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.

The resolution has also received some Jewish support.

“We’ve written a letter to the author expressing our support for the resolution, and we support any action taken publicly by our leaders to denounce hate crimes,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League. “I would hope that Muslim activist groups like CAIR would reciprocate and denounce the rise in global anti-Semitism as well.”

Susskind, her own organization no stranger to working publicly against all manner of hate crimes, noted that the true importance of resolutions like AJR 64 is to send a “countervailing message” that hate is not endorsed by the society at large.

In support of the claim that acts of discrimination against Muslims are occurring “at a higher number than ever before,” CAIR also released a study on May 3 called “Unpatriotic Acts” which noted that the number of reported anti-Muslim incidents tripled between 2003 and 2002.

“Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in Arizona, New York, California, and New Jersey experienced the greatest increase in reported incidents, ranging from a jump of 233 [in California] to 584 percent [in Arizona],” according to a statement released by CAIR about the report.

CAIR’s data also claims that U.S. government policies such as those under the PATRIOT Act negatively and disproportionately affect Arab, South Asian and Muslim communities.

As with any study of self-reported incidents, many other variables could affect the numbers, such as increased reporting or increased attention to harassment. But regardless of the specific numbers in any such study, Susskind also emphasized that simply the act of reporting a hate incident is important because it reinforces the belief in the community that there are in fact groups actively working against the hatred.

Redlands, a Cross and the ACLU

It seems time for the City of Redlands to remove a cross from the public sphere.

Since 1963, Redlands has sported the same official seal on everything from its police badges to its business cards to its city vehicles. One corner of that emblem displayed a glowing cross and church. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California received anonymous complaints about the appropriateness of the image from two local residents and sent a letter on March 11 to the city asking that the design be changed.

“[The City of Redlands was] a public entity with a sectarian religious symbol prominently displayed on its seal, and that violates the establishment clause [of the First Amendment],” said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU and author of the letter to the city.

“If it said, ‘In God we trust’ it might be a closer call, but if, as in the Redlands seal, it has a Latin cross glowing and hovering above a church, I think the message that Christianity is being endorsed is unmistakable,” Wizner said.

The City of Redlands, already facing a $1.2 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, chose not to fight the ACLU in court after reviewing the strong precedent against it.

“[The city] realized that the only loser if they fought this would be the taxpayer,” Wizner said.

If it had pursued the matter in court and lost, Redlands would have had to pay both sides’ legal fees.

Even the Alliance Defense Fund, a group which openly derides the ACLU’s positions on practically every issue, declined to assist the City of Redlands to fight the ACLU in this case due to the long odds of success. Though some local Christian private school students protested, the city has already moved forward with a plan to replace the picture of a church and cross with one of a home and star.

Despite the City Council’s work to remove the iconography from all city seals by the April 30 deadline, Redlands Mayor Susan Peppler still hoped to placate a group of vocal dissenters who support the public display of the cross. She said she would explore alternatives to fight the ACLU — so long as they don’t cost the city any money.

Reaction Mixed on Riordan’s School

Expect big changes in California’s educational system. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s appointed secretary of education (and former L.A Mayor) Richard Riordan has been pushing the advancement of so-called “micro-spending” initiatives in California public schools, devolving control over 80 percent to 90 percent of a school’s money from the district office to the school’s principal.

His plans are largely based on the thinking of a former adviser from his mayoral days, William Ouchi. Ouchi’s 2003 book “Making Schools Work” examines school districts with and without micro-spending programs and concludes that children benefit with more local control.

The plan has met with some criticism, especially for its lack of emphasis on actually increasing the funds available to poorer schools. John Perez, United Teachers Los Angeles president, has publicly stated ambivalence toward the plan, which he believes misses the major points necessary to improve education: increased funding for poor schools and decreased class sizes.

Should Riordan’s restructuring of California public education funding succeed, public schools will function under a radically different funding system. Jewish parents may want re-examine their stake in public schools, for better or for worse.

“The latest demographic study that the Jewish Federation ran of the Jewish population here in Los Angeles indicated that 64 percent of Jewish children of school age in the Federation area were attending public schools,” said Gil Graff, executive director of The Bureau of Jewish Education.

Graff is not convinced, however, that public micro-spending will impact Jewish private school enrollment. Though the plan will ideally lead to higher achievement for students, Graff said that many Jewish parents routinely choose to forgo excellent public facilities elsewhere in the country, “not because they consider the public education to be of poor quality, but because they consider it to be lacking in Jewish education, which is what they’re seeking.”

Graff added that even in districts where there is a fair amount of local power, unlike in the sprawling LAUSD, many Jewish parents distinctly seek that religious and cultural background only possible at a Jewish private school. Nonetheless, Graff emphasized the common-sense notion that all Californians, including Jews, have a massive stake in the future success of public education in California.

Though Riordan has been speaking about the merits of micro-spending power since his appointment as California’s Secretary of Education in November of 2003, no specific timetable has been made public. It seems likely that many portions of the plan will have to be approved by the California legislature.

New Form of Anti-Semitism

British Jews are facing a new form of anti-Semitism so unlike its past incarnations that it should be known by a new name, Judeophobia, according to a new study by a leading Jewish think tank.

Coming after conferences on anti-Semitism in New York, Amsterdam, Paris and Vienna, the book, "A New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st-Century Britain," is something of a symposium unto itself.

It includes essays by 17 writers, ranging from Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, to journalists, lawyers, novelists, trade unionists, academics and financial professionals. Put together by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the book contains a wide range of views. But a closing essay by editors Barry Kosmin, the institute’s director, and criminologist Paul Iganski teases out themes on which many of the essayists agree.

Despite a few high-profile incidents of synagogue and cemetery vandalism and occasional attacks on Jews, "the new anti-Semitism" does not aim at the physical harm or elimination of Jews, the editors argue. For the most part, the new threat comes not from the far right but from the intellectual left and focuses heavily on criticism of Israel — a distinction the British Jewish community has failed to address, they say.

"This is a different kind of anti-Semitism from Auschwitz, and the Jewish community has to learn that," Kosmin stressed. "Jews are looking for Nazis, when the problem is Stalinists."

The book suggests that academia, the trade union movement and leading media outlets, such as the BBC and the Guardian and Independent newspapers, are guilty of what the institute calls "institutionalized Judeophobia." A concept adapted from U.S. black power activist Stokeley Carmichael, institutionalized Judeophobia results in hostility to Jews — especially as personified by the State of Israel — even if no individual within the organization is necessarily anti-Semitic.

"A New Anti-Semitism?" has an entire section on the media, with a number of authors taking the liberal media to task for its coverage of Israel and for the way many journalists have gone on the counterattack against Jewish criticism of such reporting.

"’Criticize Israel and you are an anti-Semite, just as surely as if you were throwing a pot of paint at a synagogue in Paris,’ the diplomatic editor of the Observer wrote in a particularly offensive article that helped to set the debate going," academic Peter Pulzer writes in one essay.

Pulzer sets out a number of criteria to determine when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism. These include comparing Israel to the Nazis and attacking anonymous collectives, such as "the Jewish community," "the Jewish lobby" or "the Jewish vote."

Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for the Guardian, considers whether anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. "Some anti-Zionists are anti-Semites and should be fought like enemies," Freedland concludes. But, he adds, "others are presenting us with a cogent challenge to our core values," and it’s necessary to respond to them with intellectual honesty. "There is no more Zionist project than that," he says.

Not all the essayists paint gloomy pictures. Antony Lerman, editor of the Anti-Semitism World Report, says that "to see anti-Semitism as the determining factor in Jewish life is to ignore the broader context. There is no mass discrimination against Jews, no state-sponsored anti-Semitism, no suppression of Jewish culture in the communist bloc, no anti-Semitism encouraged by the hierarchies of either the Protestant or the Catholic churches," he writes. "Jews are experiencing unprecedented freedom and success."

The rebuilding of Jewish monuments and culture — not the desecration of cemeteries — is the defining feature of Jewish life in Europe today, Lerman says.

Such arguments are a far cry from those of academic Robert Wistrich, who looks at militant Islam and concludes, "This is a grim picture and these are dark days."

Sacks — who initially was reluctant even to discuss anti-Semitism — testified before Parliament that "we are witnessing the second great mutation of anti-Semitism in modern times, from racial anti-Semitism to religious anti-Zionism, with the added premise that all Jews are Zionists."

At least one Jewish campaigner against racism, Edie Friedman, is deeply suspicious of the editors’ thesis. The director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Friedman did not contribute to the book and has read only excerpts, but those excerpts concerned her, she said.

"The danger of coining phrases like ‘Judeophobia’ is that you could make people more reluctant to participate in society," she said. "I think we have to see the evidence before inventing new terms. And the evidence is based on ‘this dinner party I went to,’ and that’s not good enough."

The center-left intelligentsia is the greatest source of "institutional Judeophobia," the book’s editors say. That presents a challenge for a Jewish community that long has focused on physical security, rather than on what Kosmin calls a "Judeophobia about ideas."

"It is far easier to get heated or engaged with broken tombstones," Kosmin said. "But the problem is much more complex and subtle in our more complex, complicated society."

Japane wish American Reflections

If there is such a thing, I am your typical Japanewish
American Princess.

My Mom is Japanese American, my Dad is ethnically Jewish
and, in a wonderful embrace, I came to be. Growing up in a town in which racial
and religious combinations were not the norm, my two heritages naturally
blended into one. Kamaboko (fish cake) and matzah ball soup were just as normal
to me as they were odd to everyone else. On several occasions, my brother and I
would joke about being double-teamed by our parents, whose academic standards
were sky-high. Mom and Dad seemed to be the only ones on the block who
strategically transformed games of report cards and SAT scores into two-on-one
situations. But no matter how much I still accuse them of being ruthless, they
didn’t team up to be mean — they just wanted us to be the best we could be.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mom and Dad when they
decided to marry — particularly Dad. Sure, he was committing himself to Mom.
But what he was really committing himself to was a lifetime of fish heads and
pickled weeds (as he calls Japanese food), chopsticks and a New Year’s
superstition — if you don’t arrive for breakfast by 8 a.m. sharp, you’ll have
an unlucky year. He was entering a world in which strong opinions weren’t
always vocally expressed, and oishikunai (unappetizing) dinners ruined entire
evenings. Life was all about the family — and all about the family meal.

Dad likes to tell me that he and Mom were like night and
day, that their looks, foods and personalities didn’t match up. But what
mattered most did match. Beneath the superficialities, they discovered
deep-rooted similarities like the centrality of family, the value of education,
a curiosity about the world around them and a strong belief in doing the right
thing. No matter how odd a couple they might have seemed to others during their
high school and college days, they in fact belonged together.

Like Dad, Mom also encountered another culture. Visiting
Dad’s family meant stepping out of her house, into his, where food was half as
important and conversation was twice as loud. Mom tiptoed between bursts of
song and unrestrained vocalized opinions at the dinner table. But no matter how
much her culture initially clashed with Dad’s, it was nothing that time
couldn’t resolve.

In fact, in time, the two cultures cross-sectioned so much
that they eventually flipped sides. In a cabinet beside my parents’ bedroom, an
otafuku (a charm symbolizing motherhood) sits next to a Sandy Koufax mug. The
great marriage of Japanese woman to Jewish man displayed in our own bookcase!
And yet the irony of this odd juxtaposition is that Sandy Koufax was Mom’s
childhood idol and otafuku was omiyage (a souvenir) Dad brought back from a
trip to Japan. If cultural harmony can exist inside a cabinet, it sure as heck
can exist in the world — can’t it?

Mom and Dad didn’t raise my brother and me in the Jewish
religious tradition. To make up for it, Dad likes to remind us that we are in
fact Jewish — even if just by culture. He loves to point out Jewish-sounding
names like “Schulman” and “Leibowitz,” tell me I get my “good looks and poysonality”
from hi, and comments after whistling “Nice Work If You Can Get It” that the
Gershwins — two Jewish guys from New York — “could sure write ’em!” He also
never misses the opportunity to nudge me and say, “How about finding a nice
Jewish boy?” I think most of the time he’s just kidding — but I’m not always

Since there aren’t very many Asian Jews, I often wonder if
my unusual ethnic combination is simply weird. After all, it’s not every day
that I run into an edamame-eating Woody Allen movie-lover like myself.

 In the hope to discover I’m not alone, I’ve recently
scrounged for Asian/Jewish history. I discovered that three groups of Jews from
Spain, Portugal, Iraq and India lived in the Indian cities of Kerala and Bombay
during the 19th century, and Persian Jews lived in Kaifeng, China, as far back
as the 15th century.Â

In both India and China, cultural mixing took place — the
Jews of Cochin developed a version of the Indian caste system, and the Persian
Jews intermarried so much that they became physically indistinguishable from
the Chinese. Not to mention the Jews who fled from concentration camps to China
during World War II. These Asian Jews, and particularly the offspring of
intercultural marriage, must have felt what I feel now — both joy and distress
for being different.

My problem lies therein. I hate standing out in a crowd,
proving my American nationality, and justifying my nonreligious Jewishness. I
hate the discrimination, the classification, the ambiguity. But I love being
different. I love telling folks I am both Japanese and Jewish, that my nose may
be small and cute, but my hair is wild and frizzy.

After ranting to a friend about the absence of Japanewish
history, he in turn replied, “But that’s what makes you so interesting.”

I’m almost convinced I don’t really need a history, that I’m
strong enough without one. Put it that way, and I realize I’ve been running in
circles for the missing puzzle piece, not realizing that the puzzle was already
complete. But maybe the exercise has been good. Maybe I’ve just been running
through the cycle of self-discovery like everybody else.

Sure, I hope to find my place somehow, sometime. And if it’s
in a Japanewish American homeland, even better. But, until I find it, I’ll just
keep wandering. It’s too hard to know everything. And anyway, isn’t life more
exciting when you don’t? Â

Ellen Fuji is an L.A. native, a freelance writer and an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Jews Report Less Workplace Discrimination

Religious discrimination in the workplace may be less of a problem for Jews than for other religious minorities, according to a new nationwide study.

Of the nearly 675 people surveyed — most of whom are affiliated with one of five religious minorities in the United States — 66 percent said that some form of specific discriminatory behavior based on religion had occurred at their workplace, and one in five had either experienced religious discrimination themselves or knew of a coworker who did. The study was conducted by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York. But Jewish respondents reported the lowest degree of discrimination — even lower than Christians — and the highest level of comfort on the job.

It is not clear from the study how many of those Jews surveyed are observant Jews.

Part of the reason for these findings is that most Jews in America are likely to have been living here for at least two generations, Georgette Bennett, the president of the 7-year-old Tanenbaum Center, explained at a recent news conference .

“Jews have been here longer than a great percentage of the sample,” of which 42 percent were foreign born, “and they tend to be assimilated into the larger culture,” Bennett said.

In the study, American-born workers were more comfortable on the job than foreign-born workers.

Indeed, the study grew out of an awareness that as more immigrants come to the United States from Asia and the Pacific Islands, India, Pakistan and Africa, the growing presence of minority religions is changing the face of the contemporary workplace.

The exploratory study conducted telephone interviews in the spring of 1999 among a sample designed to overrepresent five religious minorities in the United States: Judaism (102 people), Islam (102), Hinduism (107), Buddhism (103) and Shintoism (12).

Those questioned also included 188 Christians and 28 people who did not identify with any of the above-mentioned religions.