Unexpected Allies

July 23, 2013
BY Meredith Jacobs

The Jewish community must be proactive in its outreach efforts. As Eizenstat points out, the workplace is still segmented. Hispanics are still seen as subordinate. There are fewer opportunities for interaction and a natural building of friendships as may occur, for example, with the upper-income Asian American community.

There are Jewish-Hispanic communities. We share the experience of being a Diaspora. And, we understand what it is like to immigrate because of insecurity or duress. Stephanie Guiloff, associate director of the Latino and Latin American Institute, explains that many Hispanics now living in the U.S. have a complicated relationship with their countries of origin. The American diasporas are sources of financial remittance to their homeland communities, but while there is a sense of pride, there is at times a desire to have distance and to integrate into American society. Here, with our connection and support of Israel, the Jewish community can serve as a successful model.

Sam Witkin, executive director of Project Interchange, the nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization that has taken 6,000 opinion leaders and public policy makers from 72 countries to Israel (including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor), speaks of the shared values between the two communities.

“They are an immigrant society,” he said. “Israel is an immigrant society.” On a recent mission with Latino leaders, Witkin brought the deeply religious group to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although the tour guide was trying to hustle the group along, Witkin noticed one, the deputy chief of NYPD counter terrorism was still praying and insisted the group stay until everyone was finished. “This guy came up to me and said, ‘Sam, this is a remarkable experience for my profession. I never dreamed I’d pray in this place,’ ” Witkin recalls. “Tears were streaming down his face.”

Vann Siegel’s staff examines issues that are important to the various Latino communities and understands both the positive and negative stereotypes Hispanics have of Jews. Here is where opportunities are found.

Results of the 2011 study by polling firm, Latino Decisions, included Latino stereotyping of Jews as having too much power in arenas like business, finance and media. But also uncovered were the communities’ belief that Jews are honest, committed to family and social justice. “This shows that Latinos are frustrated and want a seat at the table,” explains Guiloff. “This becomes an opportunity, it becomes I want to encourage you, I want to be partners and work with you.”

The key is partnership — not show, not paternalism. So when the AJC sponsors workshops on topics ranging from philanthropies and politics to how to talk to the media, the panels include Jewish leaders and Latino counterparts.

“How do we borrow the Jewish cultural imperative for education?” asked former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros during the conversation with AJC’s Harris. While immigration was the go-to issue, it is education that,according to Cisneros, will make the difference between the Latino community being contributory or “large and left behind.” And, considering the size of the population and even more impressive growth trends, is there any wonder they say, “the way the Latino community goes, so goes the U.S.”

“Really serious conversations about collaborations on educational models, prototypes, magnet schools, charter schools, accession to college, scholarships … is to me, critical,”said Cisneros. “Similarly with immigration. The Jewish community is not a novice to immigration. It has 100 years plus of history of coming to settlement housing and defense organizations that help make the case. It’s now time to talk concrete collaboration. The Latino community needs voices of respect in the U.S., voices that don’t sound like Hispanic names and look like Hispanic faces saying we need immigration reform.”

And in return, we may get voices that don’t sound Jewish, asking for continued support of Israel.

There is still work to be done. “We believe Latinos don’t worry about foreign policy — it’s an area we’d like to work on,” says Siegel Vann.

She cites strategies as more missions with Project Interchange and sending the message that Israel is a strategic ally to the U.S. “If you care about U.S. standing in the world and the Middle East, about security, if you are going to be an empowered minority, you have to be concerned about foreign policy — that has to be on the table. You can’t just talk about domestic issues.”

Ultimately, she says, “The right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is nonnegotiable.”

“You can’t be partners with someone who wishes you dead,” adds Guiloff.

Asian Americans

Eizenstat has spoken with AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, about reaching out to Asian Americans. While he admires the commitment AIPAC has made to reaching out to the Hispanic community (hiring several full-time, non-Jewish, Hispanic staff members who bring with them a sensitivity for the best way to address community on behalf of Israel, reaching out to Hispanic lawmakers and identifying future Hispanic leaders and bringing them to Israel), he believes the Asian American community is being ignored. “If the new immigration bill comes to bear there’ll be an increase in more skilled workers and more high tech-trained people,” which Eizenstat argues will cause an even more rapid growth.

The 17 million Asian American immigration population has doubled since 2000, making the Asian American community the fastest growing. Yet, it is still small enough that it is often dismissed. “We are like Americans on probation,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. “Asian Americans represent a powerful consumer base, expected to reach $1 billion by 2018. The median household income is $63,000. Not all Asian American communities are highly educated and monetarily successful. There are actually 18 ethnic groups in the Pan-Asian community, including Chinese, Filipino and Indian, explained Moua. Among those, some are living at poverty level, others are hitting achievement levels lower than white benchmark groups while some are not hitting employment benchmarks. Speaking at AJC’s Summit on “The Changing Face of American Demographics,” she described “Twin Pillars” — perpetual foreigners versus model minorities.

“To lump and aggregate them into the broader achievement category is to not understand the reality of the Asian American Pacific Island population,” Moua warned.

In the last presidential election, Asian American’s represented 3 percent of all votes cast with 71 percent for Obama and 28 percent for Romney. Sixty-five percent of the community reported they received no contact from any political organization. “No one is fighting to keep or gain Asian American voters,” said Moua.

Issues on the agenda for the community include immigration, racial discrimination, health care and the environment.

But it is the anti-hate movement where the Jewish and Asian American communities collaborate. Getting to the root causes of hate and hate speech, the use of the immigration debate to propagate hate and the uses of anti-immigrant images in media are areas where Jews, Latinos and Asians come together.

According to Project Interchange’s Witkin, AJC hopes to do more in the Asian community — specifically the L.A office.

China is on the radar for Israel. Back in May, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to China for high level meetings, Moshe Arens, former Israeli defense minister and foreign minister, was reported by JNS as saying, “China’s importance in the world is growing from year to year. … there are two superpowers: the United States and China.”

Women

To the list of Latino, African American and Asian American communities, Eizenstat would add women. “I think women are very important. Frankly, how Asian Americans, African Americans can see that Israel is the land of equality and opportunity for women — prime minister, head of Bank Leumi, women have strong leadership roles in the IDF. But this is where Women of the Wall is problematic.”

NCJW’s Kaufman brought a group of top-level feminist leaders to Israel this past spring to see Israel through a gender lens. Led by the Israel Action Network (a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America) and in partnership with the Jewish council for Public Affairs, NCJW showed the women Israel “warts and all.” Kaufman explained NJCW used its reputation and high regard in the progressive world to gather the group of non-Jewish women and introduced them to top-level women of all sectors, both Israeli and Palestinian, and showed how Israel is “a place totally committed to democracy and gender rights.”

The women, she said, were amazed at how liberal Israel is when it comes to reproductive rights, insurance coverage for IVF and the LGBT community. “They came away with a rich appreciation and an understanding that Israel, similar to our democracy, struggles with issues, just like we do. They were surprised at the extent to which Israel works on its democracy and that good, bad, ugly, they saw that women were in the struggle — just like we are in America.”

She explained the reason that JFNA covered 75 percent of the mission’s funding as countering the deligitimization of Israel. Bringing opinion leaders in the progressive community arms them with truth, so that when confronted with BDS arguments, they respond, “Not so fast.” Said Kaufman, “The favorite term after the trip was ‘It’s complicated.’ ”

“I can’t tell you how important I think this is,” she said. “There is nothing like being on the ground in Israel with your colleagues. As long as you’re not trying to beat them over their head about this. When it comes to Israel, let the facts speak for themselves. When you bring people to Israel, they see the struggle they have every day just to be a democracy.”

The Jewish imperative

But for Nathaniel Berman, 33, attorney and rabbi’s son, volunteering to do interfaith and intergroup work with AJC and the ADL is about more than Israel. He sees this work as the way he and others of his generation understand Judaism — to use Jewish values and text as a way to build bridges. He believes that groups that are self-contained, that are just about Israel are not sustainable. Groups that work only on their own issues push other groups further to the fringes. Groups are stronger that work with other groups on common issues.

“We’re not in crisis mode,” he says of the Jewish community. “We’re now in a position to help others.”

Still being a numerical minority, “we can say we understand what it’s like and here’s how we channel our faith and pride. We’re Jews and therefore we care about your issues. To me, that’s a very powerful way to be connected to my faith.”

 

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