On a Los Angeles FM radio talk show, the following aired recently:
A caller identifying himself as Mohammed said, “I believe that so-called Israel should be annihilated totally, wiped off the map ... I hope that Iran has the gall to nuke and exterminate them so they go back to Europe.
“And as long as there is one Palestinian man, woman or child, there will be no peace in Palestine ... as far as I’m concerned, so-called Israel should be exterminated from the face of the earth. That’s my personal opinion. They have no right to exist….”
Augustin Cebada, the show’s host, did not interrupt or argue. He let Mohammed finish, then said, “OK, maybe those are your opinions, and there’s probably a lot of people out there who agree with you. We have free speech in this country….”
Cebada later took a call from Dan, who objected to what he’d just heard: “When a caller calls with that kind of hatred, that kind of Nazi rhetoric, that Israel should be wiped off the map, that’s what fuels the fire, and you people did not respond by saying, ‘This is the kind of hatred we don’t need.’ And that’s what’s fueling the hatred, isn’t it?”
This time, Cebada cut the caller off, saying: “There’s a lot of hatred in your voice, Dan, in your tone. This program offers a forum so people can express what they’re feeling….”
KPFK, Pacifica Foundation’s longtime, Progressive, listener-supported L.A. radio station, aired that exchange on Jan. 7, 2009, on a Wednesday night bilingual talk-show called, “La Causa” (“The Cause”), which has a mix of English and Spanish.
The show is presented as a forum on issues important to Latinos, one of many community-minded shows the station offers. But this one has a particularly sharp edge: It excoriates what it identifies as police oppression and harassment of Latinos and advocates for “Aztlan” — a separatist Chicano nation to be carved out of territory Chicano militants claim was illegally seized by European colonists. Aztlan would be created in place of what is now a large part of the American West and Southwest.
Cebada, co-host Rafael Tlaloc and their callers draw parallels between Latinos in the United States and Palestinians in the Middle East: Just as American descendants of Europeans “should go back to Europe,” so, too, the descendants of European Jews in Israel should leave the Middle East and go live in Europe.
Though it presents itself as a program by and for Latinos, “La Causa” spends a lot of time on the subject of the Middle East, all of it fiercely critical of Israel. Referring to the recent military actions in Gaza, the show’s hosts characterize Israelis as perpetrators of “genocide,” “massacre,” “slaughter,” “war crimes,” “ethnic cleansing” and “atrocities.”
Cebada and Tlaloc have said Israelis are “acting like Nazis.”
A sampling of recent comments on “La Causa”:
“Rahm Emanuel is a Trojan Horse making sure that Obama does not push for peace in Palestine that would free the people of Gaza.” Emanuel was “forced” on the Obama administration by “certain interest groups.” (Dec. 17, 2008)
“Israel controls the media here; Jewish AIPAC controls the media, so the only real news we can get is from Al-Arabiya….” (Jan. 7)
“The U.S. doesn’t get to see the horrible things taking place [in Gaza], bombing of schools and hospitals. [Israelis] kill a lot of children; they don’t care….” (Jan. 14)
“This whole thing about Israel being a democracy is a farce. Total BS…. A charade…. And our tax dollars pay for the slaughter.” (Jan. 14)
“[Gaza] is total imprisonment, a concentration camp…. The Nazis would have been envious of the Israelis at this time….” (Jan. 14)
Cebada did not respond to repeated requests from The Journal for an interview. He has said on air that he’s 46 and has been a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. (The LAUSD has no record of anyone with the name “Augustin Cebada” ever having worked as a teacher or in any other capacity.)
Photos and audiotape of Cebada from a 1996 appearance at a July 4 pro-Chicano rally in Westwood can be found on the Internet. Dressed in a Brown Berets uniform and presenting himself as “information minister” of the group, Cebada told his listeners, “We [Chicanos] are not going to be pushed around…. We are the majority, and we claim this land as ours….”
In recent months, Cebada has been active in the Echo Park Neighborhood Council. A local newspaper, the Eastsider LA, compared the council’s January meeting to the “Jerry Springer” show. The meeting came to order then almost immediately fell into “total disorder,” according to the report, with “insults and threats” flying back and forth between Cebada and Jose Sigala, who was there representing Councilman Richard Alarcón.
The height of the chaos came when Cebada “banged on a hand-held drum” and called Sigala a “fat, bald-headed Mussolini.”
Cebada uses the same kind of rhetorical flourishes on “La Causa.” California’s governor is called “Arnold Schwarzenazi,” and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a “groveling, sniveling lapdog.”
When referring to Israel, Cebada usually calls it “that semitheocracy, so-called democracy.” He tells his listeners that Arab citizens of Israel can’t vote. (They can and do: More than 50 percent voted in the recent Israeli election.) He says that only Jews can enter the Israeli Defense Forces. (There are non-Jews in the IDF.)
The show’s hosts would likely argue, as many do these days, that being against Israel is not the same as being against Jews. Others would counter that anti-Zionism, in its current form, is a socially acceptable cover for anti-Semitism. Whatever one’s view, the hosts of “La Causa” blur this distinction.
They use Zionist, Jewish, Israeli and even Ashkenazi interchangeably, as when they say, “The Israeli people, the Jewish people” or mention the relationship between Villaraigosa and “the Zionists,” when the reference is clearly to Jews in Los Angeles.
At times, “La Causa’s” hosts talk about Jews in disparaging ways when discussing situations that have no connection to Israel.
On Feb. 4, Cebada said, “Well, supposedly Jewish interests control the media in this country, there’s even a book written by a Jew that says that Jews control Hollywood ... the media’s controlled by Jews, so we only get the news they want us to hear.”
The hosts regularly call Bernard Madoff “that Jewish scam artist.” Villaraigosa is constantly excoriated for supporting Israel and for “dancing around with a yarmulke on his head,” apparently referring to the September 2007 Chabad telethon, when L.A.’s mayor danced the hora while wearing a kippah.
On Feb. 4, a caller named Jeremy asked the hosts why they “keep repeating this line about Villaraigosa dancing around with a yarmulke on his head? Why is that a cause of consternation for you?”
Tlaloc answered that Villaraigosa was elected “on the backs of Mexicans and hasn’t done anything to help them. Instead, he’s gone to Israel and is complicit in the genocide that’s happening in Gaza.” Jeremy again asked why the yarmulke bothered them so much, and Cebada abruptly ended the phone conversation.
KPFK was founded in 1959 as the second radio station of the Pacifica Foundation. According to its Web site, KPFK is “blessed with an enormous transmitter ... [It is] the most powerful of the Pacifica stations and indeed is the most powerful public radio station in the Western United States.”
There is no public record of how many listeners “La Causa” attracts. One KPFK host told The Journal that he suspects that not even KPFK knows for sure. What is known is that KPFK’s transmitter on Mount Wilson and another in Santa Barbara give the station a wide FM reach.
KPFK does not get money from advertising. It receives some funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is partially supported with government funds, and from its listeners, as well as foundations. It normally has three fund drives each year.
The station’s official mission statement says that it seeks to promote “a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; [and] ... to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.”
“La Causa” would not be the first KPFK show to test the boundaries of the station’s stated mission.
In early 1992, a 30-hour marathon, “Afrikan Liberation Weekend,” drew a response from the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] after an on-air host accused Jews of being major perpetrators of the slave trade and Jewish doctors of inventing AIDS in order to infect blacks.
In 1994, the ADL, Hillel Foundation and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture charged two other KPFK programs, “Freedom Now” and “Family Tree,” with making “slanderous and anti-Semitic attacks.” The host on “Freedom Now” accused the ADL of, among other things, founding the Ku Klux Klan.
In the Los Angeles Times, David Lehrer, then-ADL regional director, is quoted as saying, “We hope that KPFK and Pacifica will fulfill a positive and constructive role in our community and not be a vehicle for the dissemination of hate.”
KPFK’s general manager at that time, Clifford U. Roberts, cancelled the two programs, saying that they “were using language ... counter to our mission.”
So the question remains, do the sentiments expressed on “La Causa” represent a larger disconnect between the Jewish and Latino communities?
Gustavo Arellano, author of the nationally syndicated column, “¡Ask a Mexican!” and a host of a KPFK show called, “4 O’Clock Tuesdays,” acknowledged that there’s “always been an anti-Semitic subconscious streak in the minds of Hispanics, and we can thank the Torquemada-era Catholic Church for hardwiring that into our minds. ... But I don’t think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exacerbates it.
“Most Latinos care much more about politics in their home countries or in the United States than what happens in the Middle East,” Arellano said, adding, “I’d say, through an informal survey, that most Mexicans don’t like Israel’s actions against Palestinians, but they also don’t approve of [Palestinians’] suicide bombings or anti-Semitic bile. Unlike Cebada ... most Latinos can distinguish between Judaism and the military actions of Israel.”
Many in the Jewish and Latino communities have worked to create bonds between the two. Among those is Dina Siegel Vann, director of the American Jewish Committee’s [AJC] Latino and Latin American Institute, who works to forge political alliances with the Latino community, especially when dealing with domestic issues like education, health care and education. She believes relationships between Latinos and Jews have “gotten better” as a result of outreach by AJC, as well as other Jewish organizations, including the Israeli government.
Siegel Vann acknowledged, however, that at recent meetings of the Congreso Latino (Latino Congress), which brings together leaders of national Latino organizations, she’s felt a change in attitude. She said that “the atmosphere has been a little more radical ... in terms of U.S.-Venezuela relations and the Middle East.”
Arturo Carmona, executive director of COFEM — a Mexican American organization that provides the Latino community with public policy advocacy, as well as educational and cultural programs — said that among Latinos, especially during the last few months, the Middle East has been “talked about at home among families. You see pictures of people dying in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and we talk about it….”
Carmona, whose organization works cooperatively with ADL, said that what’s needed in the Latino community is a “greater awareness of the issues. Otherwise, I sense that people form negative opinions about [Israel].”
Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said that many Latinos “think there should be a broader dialogue among the various players in the Middle East…. They want to make sure that the Palestinian side is heard…. In other words, let’s have a fuller and more balanced discourse.”
KPFK is decidedly and proudly progressive, but when other KPFK programs take Israel to task, they seem careful not to criticize the Jewish community or to imply — as callers to “La Causa” repeatedly do — that there are Jews hatching nefarious plots aimed at world domination.
Over the years, KPFK has been a strong advocate of minority rights, women’s rights and other liberal causes. Not surprisingly, the station has had many Jewish subscribers and listeners, like Sara Elena Loaiza.
Loaiza is both Latina and Jewish and has spent much of her life bridging the two communities through Latino Consultants, which she founded in 1995 to represent a wide variety of Latino clients and interests. Asked to listen to back episodes of “La Causa” on KPFK’s Web site, her response was that of someone who felt betrayed by an old friend.
“It’s disheartening because we’re supporters of KPFK,” Loaiza said. “We’re supporters for a lot of reasons — for their environmental coverage — they’ve got a lot of interesting programs we’ve supported in the past.
“But [“La Causa”] crosses a line. It absolutely does,” she said. “While I understand that this program is trying to be as raw as possible, it’s hurtful…. It’s like, ‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing. This is KPFK and I’m hearing this?’”