September 28, 2011
Opinion: Dance with who brung you
That Zev Yaroslavsky is the most important local elected Jewish official is beyond dispute. For over three decades he has been a voice of reason and courage for, to and in the Jewish community.
That three significant Jewish agencies would lend support to an effort to undermine Supervisor Yaroslavsky and his constituents is beyond comprehension.
Yet last week, in the middle of the fight over redrawing the county’s supervisorial districts for the next decade, three major Jewish organizations (American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles) unquestioningly bought the MALDEF/Gloria Molina/ACLU line of argument that the Latino community was insufficiently represented in electoral politics, business and media. The three organizations and their Latino colleagues issued a joint statement that they had came to a “consensus” that the logic of ethnic representation should prevail and trump all other concerns that normally effect the decisions on where to draw district lines (e.g. population balance, contiguity of cities, varying communities of interest, etc.).
Yesterday’s vote of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors fortunately rejected the push by Supervisor Molina and her allies to create a second majority Latino district ostensibly to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act. The rationale for the Molina plan was that the failure to endorse it would “limit the rights of Latino voters.” The days’ long debate was held with the threat of a lawsuit hanging over the Board if it didn’t acquiesce to the proposed gerrymander and with occasional assertions of racism hurled at those who dissented from the Molina position.
It has been a contentious debate with the contiguity and strength of the Third Supervisorial district (presently represented by Zev Yaroslavsky) in some jeopardy. The Molina plan would have stretched the new Third from Sylmar to Huntington Park (presently the Third is most of north central LA) with much of the Jewish community divided between three districts. Additionally, it would have added to the isolation of the Asian-Pacific Islander community (a seldom discussed side effect).
An often ignored fact is that the Latino percentage of the county’s population has only increased by 3.2% over the past decade and the plan that was adopted on Tuesday was essentially what MALDEF had requested and the court had ordered in 1990.
Apparently, at the conclusion of a day-long retreat last week, Latino and Jewish “leaders” issued a five point statement—-four of the statements are the kind of milquetoast that is the usual fare at gatherings of this type (oppose anti-Semitism and anti-Latino sentiment, stand together to face and prevent vitriolic rhetoric, etc.)—-only the one on “fair representation” of Latinos has ramifications in the real world.
It is a measure of the paucity of Jewish institutional leadership in LA that these three major organizations would, either unwittingly or purposefully, sign on to a statement that undercuts the single most prominent local political leader in the Jewish community at a time when he was in a nasty confrontation to preserve the demographic and geographic integrity of the district in which a plurality, if not the vast majority, of LA’s Jewish population resides. Their sin is compounded by their endorsing a worldview that is anathema to the Jewish community’s interests—-that proportional ethnic and racial representation is the measure of fairness.
The political ineptitude is mind boggling. The three leading Jewish organizations became a tool to be used against the community itself.
To buy into the Molina/MALDEF/ACLU assertions one would have to believe that population numbers alone constitute the measure of what a group’s presence “ought to be” in politics, business and the media——a worldview that has been rejected by thinking Jewish leaders for decades. We don’t believe in quotas—-not in politics, not in business not in the media!
In fact, Jewish leaders have not been alone in finding the Molina argument specious. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in the case of Cano v Davis, having to do with Congressional redistricting in Southern California in 2002 rejected nearly identical claims of Latino under-representation. The court denied the offensive view of the world that assumes the non-Latinos won’t vote for Latinos and therefore need special “majority minority” districts to succeed:
There are challenging questions regarding the applicability of voting rights doctrines developed in a fundamentally different context than the rapidly changing multi-racial and multi-ethnic community that is present day Southern California.
Latinos are, as a practical matter, a far more formidable political force than they were in the 1980’s.
The court rejected MALDEF’s assertions.
The three agencies seem to have been overly eager to find “consensus” in their day long retreat last week. They forgot whom they represent and the principles that have undergirded Jewish community relations efforts for decades—be honest, forthright and forthcoming but
Common ground is nice, but not if it undermines the very foundation on which your community stands. They managed to cut the ground out from under the very community and a leader they purport to represent at a time when they were most needed. They have done serious harm and owe the community an apology.
David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates (www.cai-la.org), a human relations organization chaired by former L.A. mayor Richard J. Riordan. He formerly was the director and counsel of the Anti-Defamation League.