Jewish Journal


May 22, 2013

On Having Jewish Mayors in Great American Cities



Eric Garcetti, the new Mayor of LA (photo by Reuters)

In recent months, I’ve been involved, as an advisor, with Maariv Daily’s attempt to select the 100 most influential Jewish people in the world. My role was limited. As the 'professional Jew', I had to help the editors avoid grave mistakes, to suggest writers, to help put in place a package of additional material about the Jewish world. I also wrote a long essay analyzing the selection: the “most influential Jews” were picked not by an editor or a small group of newspaper employees, but rather by a fairly large and fairly impressive group of distinguished people. Of course, I can’t yet reveal the outcome of the vote – this will happen when Maariv releases the results and publishes the special supplement in which the list will be presented. I wonder though, what would have happened had this list been compiled today, rather than a couple of weeks ago: would mayor-elect Eric Garcetti make it into the list?

Garcetti is the new mayor of the great city of Los Angeles. The new Jewish mayor of this city. The first Jewish mayor of this city. I can’t tell you if his Jewish mayoral peers of two other great cities – Bloomberg of New York and Emanuel of Chicago – are among the '100 most influential Jews'. But I hope it is OK for me to share with you the (obvious) facts that their names were definitely mentioned during the selection process.

It is a nice coincidence that Vice President Joe Biden, just yesterday, gave a raving speech about Jewish Americanism. “The truth”, Biden said, “is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are that it’s fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage”. He also said that “no group has had such an outsized influence per capita as all of you standing before you”. An interesting choice of words. Jonathan Chait believes that “Biden’s intentions here are obviously as friendly as can be, but the execution is awkward”. He writes that Biden’s speech “is likely to be quoted by anti-Semites for years and decades to come”.

Biden was right though, as the outcome of the LA mayoral race shows us yet again. And in choosing to be blunt about it, to boast it rather than whisper it, to make it an achievement worthy of public praise rather than being apprehensive about it, Biden was not necessarily “awkward” – it's very possible that he made a conscious choice.

Think about Hollywood-

Not long ago, I wrote some comments on the Seth MacFarlane Oscar night Jewish debate. Remember? MacFarlane made some jokes about the supposed Jewish control of Hollywood. Here's what I wrote back then-

The way I see it, there is the fact: Many Jews play a major role in the movie business; and then there are different options regarding how we want to communicate this fact to other people (namely, the non-Jews).

We might as well admit it: the Jews don’t really want other people to be ignorant about Jewish Hollywood. They want the respect and admiration associated with the great achievements of the Jews of tinsel town. Naturally, they don’t want these achievements to become a weapon at the hands of bigots. And MacFarlane, surely, was stereotyping the Jews, and was perpetuating a view that can become a burden to the Jews.

In the MacFarlane post I laid out three options that I see regarding “Jewish Hollywood”:

1. Don’t talk about it in hope that no one will notice it.

2. Talk about it, but prevent other people from talking about it.

3. 'It’s a free country, and we have nothing to hide'.

Biden made his choice last night, loud and clear, when he talked about the changes for better in the way people think about different matters: “I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good”.

All to the good? That may have been an overstatement – Biden tends to overstate his case from time to time. The point, though, is not measuring the contribution of Jews in every industry; the point is Biden’s choice to turn the anti-Semitic propaganda on its head, to gain a Jiu-jitsu victory over anti-Semitic claims. Yes, Jews are influential; yes, Jews are overrepresented; yes, Jews have outsized impact – and we don’t hide it. We aren’t afraid to talk about it, we don’t feel embarrassed because of it or afraid because of you anti-Semites who hate it. We don’t because we think it's good- good for America and good for the world.

So today, it’s hard to not see the connection between the Biden speech and the Los Angeles election outcome. 'Have no fear of making Garcetti a symbol of Jewish pride and of Jewish contribution' was Biden’s message. There’s no better place than the Jewish Journal to demonstrate such confidence and buoyancy.

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