On Wisconsin, Fight, Fight, Fight

During his 1948 presidential campaign against underdog Democrat Harry S. Truman, Republican Thomas E. Dewey was on the campaign trail. As a crowd surged toward the back of his train, an irritated Dewey told the crowd, “That’s the first lunatic I’ve had for an engineer. He probably should be shot at sunrise, but we’ll let him off this time since nobody was hurt.” Lee Tindle, the 54-year-old engineer, told a reporter, “I think about as much of Dewey as I did before, and that’s not much.” Democrats chalked “Lunatic Engineers for Truman” on train after train, and hounded the candidate with references to it until the end of Truman’s winning campaign.

When Republican Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan tried to privatize trash collection after his election in 1993, the city union that represented sanitation workers had them politely visit the homes of the people they served. Their reception was extremely warm, and soon city hall was besieged with calls to keep the system in the hands of the public. Riordan’s plan ended up in the trash bin.

In December 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a group of nurses protesting his decision to maintain large staffing ratios in hospitals. He blithely called them “special interests” and said, “I always kick their butt.” Soon he was facing a challenge from the 5-foot-tall and very effective head of the nurses’ union, Rose Ann DeMoro, who ultimately made him eat his words. The governor learned that conservative rhetoric against unions was no match for the public’s approval of police officers, trash collectors, nurses and others who keep the lights on and the doors open.

This month, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker rammed through a radical bill to gut collective bargaining for his state’s public employees. Just like Schwarzenegger, Walker underestimated the hornet’s nest his attack on public employees would create. Over the course of several weeks, tens of thousands of protesters crowded the state capitol. By the end, farmers were driving tractors in support of the unions. Despite Walker’s attempt to split the police from the other unions, most law enforcement sided with the protesters. As of this week, anti-Walker organizers had collected nearly half of the signatures needed to recall eight Republican members of the state senate. A signature drive to place a recall of the governor on the ballot will begin in January under a state law that guarantees no recalls for one year after taking office.

Labor may not be what it used to be, and Republicans keep thinking that unions will fold like a cheap suit when attacked. But while Democrats in government do indeed tend to cave in to Republican bullies, the unions are the party’s fighting core. Their fighting spirit, as seen in Wisconsin, has done more to revive the Democratic Party than the entire national party leadership since 2008.

It’s easy to underestimate unions. They are demonized by Republicans and often kept at arms’ length by Democrats. The national media pay little attention to them. A crowd of 80,000 people in Madison is likely to get less coverage than 25 Tea Partiers. It would take divine intervention for the Sunday talk shows to put a labor leader on the stage. (That would take time away from the thoughts of John McCain.)

But let go of the stereotypes. Union members are not just the men with blue-collar jobs that we imagine. Even in the early days, women were central to their development (see the story on the anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire on Page 14); now they include men and women, blue-collar and white-collar workers, many with a college degree and from diverse backgrounds. A 2009 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that nearly half of today’s union members are women, and nearly half of union members have a college degree. One out of eight are immigrants. Latinos now make up more than 12 percent of the unionized work force, with African Americans at 13 percent. The labor movement is probably the only place in American politics where white men with blue-collar jobs are joining forces with blacks and Latinos and women, with white-collar workers and immigrants. That fact alone should worry governors like Walker trying to fight recalls.

In a number of states, Republicans now control both the governorship and the legislature. They are cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations (for the people who bankrolled their elections with the freedom offered by the Citizens United decision). They are doing this in order to create a fiscal crisis that will allow them to justify cutting programs for working people and crushing unions. Republican regimes are moving to make it harder for working-class and minority voters to participate, through voter ID laws. This is serious stuff.

Walker is the best known, but not even the worst. That honor belongs to Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, who is about to sign legislation that will give him close to dictatorial power over local governments. The law would strengthen the power of emergency managers, who would be able to step in and overrule elected local officials and even eliminate local governments and school districts. According to a March 9 article in the Detroit Free Press, “the law would include new triggers to allow the state to step in. For example, a city or school district that misses a payday or ends a year with a deficit of 5 percent or more” could find itself subject to state control.

So much for the “home rule” that cities and towns earned more than 100 years ago. Talk is starting of a Michigan recall campaign, and in Ohio there is movement for a statewide ballot measure to overturn union-busting legislation.

Unions are not perfect. There are unions whose influence disturbs me. (Don’t get me started on the state prison guards.) Sometimes unions fight hard for protections I don’t much like. Unions sometimes seem not to give a fig about public opinion, and sometimes that hurts them. But they are the only ones within the Democratic coalition willing to get their boots scuffed up when the game is on the line.

If unions themselves may not always be popular, the people they represent are, and we need them to protect us from the scarifying assault on democracy that is emanating from the 2010 mid-term elections. Somebody has to keep the Koch brothers and other corporate raiders from taking over our democracy.

If the Wisconsin battle has proved anything, it is that we are way better off with unions, because they are willing to stand up and fight for the simple right to maintain a middle-class standard of living for ordinary people.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.

Letters to the Editor: Federation, Egypt, Sonenshein, Soros

Federation Funding Policy Clarified

Rob Eshman’s opinion piece “Just Say Yes” (Feb. 18) misrepresented a number of key points.

1) Our Federation’s Funding Policy on Israel Programming was the result of three months’ deliberation by a diverse group of leaders. It was built upon the foundation of policies already enacted by Bay Area institutions to help navigate potentially controversial programming choices. 

2) Jewish institutions have always drawn boundaries based on their values. For example, Jewish institutions do not permit programs that promote
extremism, violence, bigotry or converting Jews. Moreover, all funders have policies about what they will and will not fund based on alignment with their
mission. So the issue is not about drawing boundaries but rather where those boundaries should lie with respect to Israel programming and
Federation dollars raised across the community to support both Israel and local needs.

3) Eshman argues that the policy would “ban monies from supporting artists” who are tied to groups that “may have cooperated with some aspects of the BDS movement,” in whole or in part,
such as Tony Kushner and Theodore Bikel. In fact, the policy states that presentations that are not used to promote a BDS agenda are within the guidelines. That would include a Bikel concert,
a Kushner play, or an evening on their lives in the arts. Reasonable people can differ but a fair presentation of the policy is warranted. Exactly one year after its adoption, we are pleased with how it has helped to
hold up the big tent and advance lively discourse and good programming choices without stifling debate.

Jennifer Gorovitz,  CEO,
Jewish Community Federation
San Francisco              

Rabbi Doug Kahn, Executive Director
Jewish Community Relations Council
San Francisco


Rob Eshman responds:

If I neglected to specify the exact timeline or development process of the JCRC policy, it was only because I did not think it as pertinent as the final policy in place. I have no quarrel with the notion of boundaries, I merely called into question the ones the San Francisco group chose. Mr. Kahn’s third point seems to be that Federation money can fund artists as long as they don’t promote opinions on Israel with which the Federation disagrees. That’s just how I like my brilliant Jewish artists — muzzled.

Voice of Reason

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for being a voice of reason and balance (“Siren Song,” Feb. 8). We agree with you that we should celebrate and support people who strive for freedom from oppression.

Let’s deal with events as they develop and not zoom to the most problematic outcomes.

Judith and John Glass
via e-mail

Additional Jews in elected office

Like most other California politics professors, I deeply admire Raphael Sonenshein’s work. But once in a while, even he forgets those of us Jewish elected officials who toil in the almost invisible community college system (“Harman’s Departure: What Does It Mean for Jews?” Feb. 18).

I am among three Jewish elected members of the Los Angeles Community College District Board, and we represent over 4.5 million residents of the largest community college district in the nation. We oversee nine colleges and 10,000 employees. 

Our colleges provide important educational access for hundreds of thousands of people each year, and we are proud of the construction program that has brought modern, high-tech buildings to our campuses — buildings which have gained us international recognition for our environmental leadership.

Next time Sonenshein adds up the number of Jewish local elected officials, please add me and my colleagues on the LACCD Board of Trustees.

Mona Field
Past president, LACCD Board

Violating rights is not true nonviolence

When Rachel Roberts describes shouting down Israeli officials as “nonviolent protest” (“Muslim Criminals, Jewish Activists?” Feb. 18), she deliberately conflates two distinct activities.

What the Muslim students did in Irvine, and what A Jewish Voice for Peace did in New Orleans, was “nonviolent” in the sense that no rocks or punches were thrown. But trying to shout down and shut up a speaker because of disagreement with his message (which Roberts calls “speak[ing] up for what they believe”) is profoundly anti-democratic and anti-liberal. In that sense, it does violence —metaphorical, but real — to norms of civilized behavior.

It cannot be confused with nonviolent protest which makes its point but does not trample the rights of others. Everyone respects this sort of genuine “nonviolent protest.”

When protesters break the law, they should expect legal consequences. That’s fundamental to the theory of “civil disobedience,” and fundamental to a liberal democracy governed by the rule of law. Roberts complains that the A Jewish Voice for Peace-niks were treated more leniently than the Irvine students. Arguably, the problem is not that the Muslims were arrested, but that the Jews were not.

Paul Kujawsky
via e-mail

Not about the Jews

Kol ha-kavod to Rob Eshman for his leadership and courage. For two weeks in sequence, he has used his “This Week” editor’s column to focus on how the Jewish community has been, on the whole, reacting to the revolution in Egypt. It is natural to feel and express concern. The way ahead for this important country and its region is unclear and fraught with peril. And so, of course, possible effects on Israel are also fraught with peril. Nonetheless, as Eshman wrote on Feb. 4 (“The ‘F’ Word”), this is “not about us” — not about the Jews. We are quite appropriately at the center of our own world, but we are not at the center of the world itself, God’s world. Freedom is a human birthright, as we know and keep teaching others through the Passover story. So let’s stretch ourselves to be hopeful and idealistic along with being sober-minded and analytic. Let’s pray for Egypt and her people along with praying for Israel and the Jews.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Los Angeles

I’m writing to say that I’ve found myself compelled to share this article (“Israel: Stumbling Block or Shining Light?” Feb. 11) with as many people as I can possibly reach because it strikes such a powerful, rational chord that, regardless of what “side” a person is on (right / left / center), one cannot help but be on the side of Israel and freedom, all in the same breath, here in America. Also, on a selfish note,

I’d genuinely love to be ringside at such a debate and to see Soros explain to the American people as a whole his thinking, in light of the obvious facts Suissa so eloquently points out. Tell me — how can we get Soros to debate Suissa?!

Tristan Benz
CEO (Citizen Executive Officer) concerned about Israel, Freedom and America
via e-mail

2008: The contest for the Jews

With Hillary Rodham Clinton’s

Negotiating with Syria, still with the Rev. Wright brouhaha, Museum of Tolerance expansion

Talks With Syria

M.J. Rosenberg opens with the unqualified claim that former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold is “appalled” by Israel’s negotiating with Syria. (“Israeli Talks With Syrians Make Sense,” May 29). False. Gold has expressed no such view.

Indeed, he actively participated in negotiations with Syria nearly a decade ago.

The only basis the author cites for this claim is a quote in which Gold warns against one possible outcome of these talks: A complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. But to reformulate that as opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks altogether, even being “appalled” by them, exceeds even the most creative interpretation.

Far worse, the author joins political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the libelous charge that certain Israeli officials goaded the United States into invading Iraq. Rosenberg states this outright about Gold, in particular, at least twice in the article. That is not only false but spectacularly so. Gold’s only known statement on the issue was a position paper taking great pains to dispute that very claim about Israel’s role (see “Wartime Witch Hunt,” at www.jcpa.org/jl/vp518.htm).

Jeff Helmreich
Los Angeles

M.J. Rosenberg argues that Israel would be wise to negotiate with Syria to stop Hezbollah attacking it, showing he has learned nothing about Israeli negotiations with other terroristic, unreconstructed Arab parties.

Talking to Yasser Arafat and Syria’s Hafiz Assad achieved nothing, even when massive concessions were offered. And in Arafat’s case, where concessions were made, Israel ended up with a terror regime on its doorstep and the loss of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians to terrorism, more than all the Israeli civilians lost to terrorism in the 47 years that preceded Oslo.

Rosenberg might fantasize about Syria leaving Lebanon and reining in Hezbollah, but why would the Syrian Baathist regime be willing to do this? If a groundswell of Lebanese revulsion and international condemnation didn’t achieve this in 2005, it’s hard to see how negotiations with Israel will achieve it today.

The conflict with Israel is the Syrian regime’s warrant for power and oppression. It shares (and increasingly encourages at home, despite its putative secularity) the Islamist goals that drive Iran, and it prefers absolute power over economic reform and opening up to the West. Until that changes, Israeli concessions will only bring dangers, not security.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

Museum of Tolerance Expansion

[Daniel] Fink’s letter misrepresenting the Museum of Tolerance needs to be addressed (Letters, May 29).

The Museum of Tolerance is not a Holocaust museum. It is the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its mission is to educate, using the history of the Holocaust. It exposes intolerance, racism, terrorism and modern-day genocides, and it empowers all to take responsibility for their own words and actions. One should never forget but remember by the example of how we live our lives.

As someone who has been involved with the Museum of Tolerance for many years as a volunteer/docent, I take exception to Fink’s assertion that the museum wishes to “build a commercial catering facility” on its premises.

I see how young and adult visitors alike are made more aware of their potential to prejudge and are moved by their experience. The museum has an outstanding education and diversity-training program for law enforcement, educators, professionals and school and college groups that reaches far and wide. Its contribution to many walks of life makes an enormous difference. I am so proud to be affiliated with this institution.

Joyce Trank
Culver City

The Wright Flap

Raphael Sonenshein errs in characterizing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as “the black candidate,” as he is mixed race — and that may be the point (“The Wright Flap and the Black Candidate,” May 9).

The senator has played every side of the race issue: mixed race, black, African American, post-race, racial evangelist. From adopting the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a virtual blood relation and throwing his (Obama’s) own grandmother under the bus for Wright, to rejecting Wright when Wright didn’t play by the (Obama) rules.

Sonenshein errs equally if not more seriously in presuming that an endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by the Rev. John Hagee, who is at least a supporter of Israel, is equivalent to Obama’s 22-year relationship with Wright, who considers Israel a terrorist state.

More to the point, Hagee has sent a formal written apology to Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. Wright has not apologized for anything.

Even without the apology, Sonenshein’s premise is overreaching, and he does not address a fundamental question: What is more potent? Obama’s facile dismissal of Wright’s vicious anti-Israelism or Wright’s embrace of Louis Farrakhan’s hatred for the Jewish state.

The issue is not whether a superficial dismissal of his crazy (suddenly) “former” pastor by Obama placates Jewish supporters, but actually whether Wright poisons the minds of many thousands of African Americans against Israel — and that Obama has avoided this issue like the plague it is.

If Obama is as qualified to be president as Sonenshein believes, he should be far more concerned that his chances have been virtually torpedoed by Wright — while somehow discounting any effect of other unsavory associations — while Hagee will, in fact, have no such effect on McCain, despite the columnist’s obvious attempt to distract by arguing that it should be otherwise.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
Los Angeles


In an April 25 letter refuting The Journal's reporting that Scott Radinsky isn't Jewish ("Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players," April 18), Ephraim Moxson, co-publisher of Jewish Sports Review, wrote that Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. The Journal contacted a representative for the former Dodger pitcher, who confirmed that neither Radinsky nor his mother are Jewish.