JCPA meets with minorities here to air policy issues

Even if Jews can’t agree on supporting affirmative action, they can still form coalitions with other minorities to fight for social and economic justice.

With that in mind, about 50 members of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs met with minority community leaders Sunday in San Francisco to discuss public policy issues.

The JCPA, formerly known as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, hopes to promote common ground with minorities, after a failure to reach consensus on affirmative action programs.

“That ambivalence was having a chilling effect on our coalition building,” said Lawrence Rubin, executive vice chairman of the New York-based JCPA, the umbrella agency for local Jewish community relations councils and some national Jewish policy groups. The JCPA board and task forces convened here Sunday and Monday.

“We decided that [impasse] ought not to be our focus. We could still look at poverty and criminal justice and not be stymied by tensions over one thing.”

During Sunday’s meeting at the Westin St. Francis, San Francisco activists Theodore Wang and Martha Jimenez spoke forcefully on the immigrant experience for Asians and Latinos, the two fastest-growing minorities in the United States.

Both drove home the point that Americans are under-informed about their communities.

“We remain a misunderstood minority, despite our success in America,” said Wang, policy director for Chinese for Affirmative Action. “The latest scandal of Chinese espionage shows we are still considered foreigners and not to be trusted in positions of power.”

Wang challenged the Jewish community to collaborate with Asian-Americans at the local level to improve public education and develop fairer college admissions procedures.

Jimenez, executive director and managing attorney of Public Advocates, spoke of rampant bias among many Americans who associate all Latinos with illegal immigration.

Such negative perceptions shackle Latinos who have the same goals as other Americans — “safe communities, decent housing and decent jobs,” Jimenez said.

Asking for help in recognizing the policies that put Latinos at a disadvantage, Jimenez called for “Hispanic-Jewish coalitions to jointly work for equal opportunity.”

Attendees drew clear parallels between the experience of Asians and Latinos and the plight of Jewish immigrants earlier in the century.

“We heard the echoes of the concerns that used to come from Jewish immigrants,” said Rubin. “We hope these talks will reinvigorate the Jewish community in the struggle of social justice for all.”

African-American community leaders urged the JCPA to speak out on racial profiling and the practice of pulling over black motorists based on disputed statistics that blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites.

Jody Armour, a professor of law at University of Southern California, said at the conference that such police action is part of a larger suspicion of the black community.

He cited other examples of mistreatment such as cabs refusing to take black fares and security guards shadowing black customers. However, Armour said that less than 2 percent of blacks ever commit crimes.

The stigma of racial profiling has discouraged blacks from participating in public events and in “core community activities” such as jogging, sightseeing and hanging out, Armour said.

San Francisco’s assistant chief of police, Earl Sanders, still finds that in elevators and on the street people keep a distance from him because he’s black.

“If an officer is using profiling in law enforcement, that officer does not have a clue how to conduct policing in a democratic society,” Sanders said.

Other JCPA task force discussions here touched on social security, the Israeli election results, drafting a statement on international human rights, and Ethiopian and Iranian Jews.

Additionally, the JCPA heard speakers on the pros and cons of charter schools, taxpayer-funded schools run independently of school districts by parents, entrepreneurs or civic groups. Nearly 700 charter schools with 100,000 students currently exist.

An audience member asked about what happens to charter schools arranged by those with fundamentalist Christian agendas. Eric Premack, director of the Charter Schools Development Center at California State University at Sacramento, responded that he had not heard of such schools, at least in the California area.

Rubin said the JCPA needs to hear about public affairs issues at the source to find “consensus issues” and make policy recommendations to local JCRCs.

Ultimately, he hoped, the JCRCs will act by forming intercommunity coalitions. “The public health of our country has a direct relation on the Jewish community.”

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