Posted by David A. Lehrer
The following op/ed appears on the Jewish Journal‘s opinion page today:
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 don’t forget who your constituents are.
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.
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September 23, 2011 | 6:58 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The following appears in today’s OC Register:
Today, the jury returned its verdict in the case of the “Irvine 11.” The case involved students who disrupted the speech of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren at UC Irvine in February 2010. The jury properly found the students guilty of the disruption and of conspiracy to commit the disruption and issued an appropriate penalty.
Not surprisingly, leaders of the Muslim community and voices on the left are upset, claiming that a grave injustice has been done to the community and that the First Amendment rights of the 10 defendants have been abrogated
If one views the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w96UR79TBw ) of the speech, it is transparently clear that the university sponsors of the event committed to a dialogue with the large and hostile Muslim Student Union contingent that was in the room. The organizers repeatedly said there would be a question-and-answer session after the presentation and literally pleaded with the students to allow the ambassador’s speech to proceed.
As the court record and numerous documents make clear, the Muslim Student Union membership wanted to disrupt, not engage with, the ambassador. Prior to the lecture, the Muslim Student Union members signaled both their intention to disrupt and their contempt for the notion of civil dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
They asserted that, “Oren and his partners should only be granted a speakers platform in the International Criminal Court and should not be honored on our campus.” At a meeting of the MSU’s general assembly the goal of the protest was unambiguously declared to be “disrupt the whole event” with the aim to “shut [it] down with individual disruption.”
In the words of UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, “They shouted him (Ambassador Oren) down.”
In the year and a half since the event, much silliness has been written about what the First Amendment means. Salam al Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee has argued that the tactics employed by the students, the “heckler’s veto,” is really just an “exercise in free speech ... these students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means ... we cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right.”
This week, the local office of the Council on American Islamic Relations claimed that the students were the victims of an “abuse of prosecutorial discretion” having been singled out because they were Muslim “in a growing anti-Muslim environment.” The CAIR spokesperson intimated that the suffering of Muslims is so grievous that normal, civil dialogue and discourse is out of the question: “the mode of expression these young men chose is essential to their freedom to express themselves,” – participating in a civil Q&A session is, apparently, out of the question; the only way they can appropriately express themselves is by shutting down their opponents.
As Prof. Chemerinsky, with his constitutional law scholar hat on, has rightly asserted, “There is no right to a heckler’s veto.”
UCI is an educational institution and these students (and many of their supporters) clearly need an education in free speech and the compromises it entails. Listening to and allowing the expression of ideas that one can’t abide is part of the bargain; silencing opponents – no matter how aggrieved one may feel – isn’t. To make our system works, it must be crystal clear that those who don’t play by the rules have to bear the consequences; if there are no consequences to squelching the rights of others, society becomes a cacophonous free-for-all and the loudest, most raucous, voices would be the only ones heard.
The conscious decision to disrupt and harass a guest speaker on a university campus, after repeated warnings, demanded a response from the university and the community that such conduct was simply not acceptable.
UC Irvine and the Orange County District Attorney deserve credit for the extra tutorial on the Constitution and the law that they gave to the Irvine 11.
September 8, 2011 | 4:08 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The Huffington Post carries a piece by Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund). Saenz’s article is a response to the op/ed we published in the Daily News two weeks ago which questioned the appropriateness of invoking the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the present debate about redrawing the supervisorial lines for Los Angeles County.
Our argument was, in a nutshell, that the law—-originally written nearly a half century ago to deal with discrimination directed at Southern Blacks—-had questionable applicability to the present day situation in the multi-racial and diverse setting of Southern California. It is a law, we said, that in its success “had [resulted in] diminished need.”
The facts of the current political scene in California reveal that Latinos are hardly a disenfranchised minority that needs the federal courts to redeem and protect their rights. We offered data—-collected by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (e.g. Latino electeds in California increasing by 89.2% from 1996 to 2010)—-as evidence of what is transparently clear to any observer of the present political scene; most voters transcend race and ethnicity to vote for whoever they view as the best candidate. From Mayor Villaraigosa to Sheriff Baca to Assessor Noguez, Latinos can and do get elected from broad non-Latino majority districts.
Now comes Saenz to make three points in rebuttal, only one of which is on target.
In answer to our argument that the VRA has questionable applicability in present day Los Angeles County Saenz points out that the law has been amended on several occasions over the past nearly five decades and now specifically includes protections for Latino Americans. Facts we never argued against and which are, frankly, irrelevant. It has been amended and updated but Southern California is sui generis and, as courts have held, is unlike most other parts of the country.
We are the most diverse community in the country, with officials of every stripe being elected from every corner of the county—-as it should be. As we noted in our piece, it was a federal appellate court with three judges appointed by Democratic presidents who opined that 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,” (Cano v Davis). A point that seems self-evident and, in fact, controlling. This is neither the LA of 1975 nor the Alabama of 1965 and failing to acknowledge that reality reflects a view of the world filtered through a prism of frozen and ossified victimization that allows no progress to be acknowledged.
Saenz’s second major point is that the Cano decision we cited is “a ten-year-old decision written for a different era and for vastly different circumstances.” That argument implies that times have gotten worse for Latino elected officials over the past near decade since it was decided, that the Ninth Circuit’s assessment of discernable progress of Latinos from 1980’s to 2002 was a chimera. If that’s so, someone ought to tell the 1,311 elected Latino officials in California (as of 2010). Saenz’s assertion is patent nonsense to anyone without a stake in impending litigation.
The only valid point that Saenz makes is his correction of our attribution of a thoughtful op/ed against ethnic redistricting to the wrong Gloria. We incorrectly cited Supervisor Gloria Molina as the author when, in fact, it was Senator Gloria Romero. Correction duly noted and accepted—-all Glorias are not the same.
Nevertheless, Gloria “R” was right in her LA Times op/ed speaking about the MALDEF lawsuit which then sought to impose an ethnic redistricting plan,
But ultimately we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way—-they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old fashioned way: by earning them.
Finally, Saenz’s imputation of “unconscious bias” to our mistaken attribution of the Romero op/ed is both insulting and pernicious (especially when directed at two individuals with over sixty years of experience in the civil rights field). It reflects the all-too-useful tool of accusing others of bigotry so as to claim the moral high ground. As the brilliant observer of the race and ethnic scene, John McWhorter, has observed, such promiscuous use of a serious charge has become “a recreational crutch, assuaging the insecurity at the heart of the human soul. A sad keystone of human nature is the balm of feeling superior. Gossip is a relatively innocuous manifestation;
fashioning one’s self as eternally battling a white America mired in ‘racism’ is a more noisome one.
Saenz’s assertions are both wrong and offensive, both to us and to the voters of Los Angeles County.