California Jewish lawmakers send colleagues anguished letter asking for support

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, a group of state-level politicians who advocate for issues of concern to the Jewish community, have written an emotional letter to colleagues asking for their “support and solidarity.”

The open letter was released Wednesday, the start of the 2024 legislative session, which was cut short when a protest led by the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace and other organizations prevented the state Assembly from conducting business.

In the letter, the caucus members ask their peers to understand the depth of the trauma American Jews have been feeling since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and to lament a “shocking” lack of empathy from “individuals and organizations that we have considered allies.”

“It has impacted many of us on a deeply personal level, and we find ourselves asking fundamental questions — including about the security of our families and our community — that we could not have imagined several months ago,” the letter states.

The five-page letter speaks to the feeling of abandonment that many Jews have expressed since Oct. 7.

“The far right and far left in America view each other as existential enemies, yet the one thing they seemingly can agree on is that Jews are a unique problem responsible for various evils in the world,” the letter states. “Our community is trapped between white nationalists who hate us because they believe we are behind a plan to diminish the influence of white people and far-left ideologues who hate us because we are somehow the epitome of white oppressors.”

All but one of the 19 caucus members signed the letter: Assemblymembers Dawn Addis (Morro Bay), Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (Orinda), Marc Berman (Menlo Park), Laura Friedman (Burbank), co-chair Jesse Gabriel (Encino), Jacqui Irwin (Thousand Oaks), Josh Lowenthal (Long Beach), Gail Pellerin (Santa Cruz), Blanca Rubio (Baldwin Park), Chris Ward (San Diego) and Rick Chavez Zbur (Los Angeles), and Sens. Ben Allen (Santa Monica), Josh Becker (Menlo Park), Steve Glazer (Orinda), Josh Newman (Fullerton), Susan Rubio (Baldwin Park), Henry Stern (Calabasas) and co-chair Scott Wiener (San Francisco).

The only member of the Jewish caucus whose name does not appear on the letter is Matt Haney, who represents San Francisco in the Assembly. Haney’s office did not immediately respond to J.’s request for comment.

The caucus letter named priorities for the new session, including setting up a select committee on antisemitism to explore policy solutions, addressing the “toxic anti-Jewish environment” at California’s public universities, keeping anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias out of K-12 classrooms, creating better standards for reporting antisemitic incidents in schools and colleges, boosting Holocaust education, and putting more money into the security grant program. The program covers physical security measures for synagogues and Jewish organizations, such as fences and better lighting, and training on what to do during a violent attack.

The letter also makes a case for empathy across the board.

“We want to name and mourn the devastation that is occurring in Gaza,” it states. “Far too many Palestinian civilians, including a heartbreaking number of children, have been killed — civilians who are not Hamas and who did not commit the October 7 massacre. While Hamas has cynically used these civilians as human shields and intentionally placed them in harm’s way, we believe Israel must do everything possible to protect civilian life while it defends itself.”

The letter reaffirms the caucus commitment to a two-state solution and condemns Islamophobia but does not call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

That was the demand of hundreds of protesters who, according to the Sacramento Bee, filled the Capitol rotunda and the Assembly gallery, where they hung banners and chanted. According to the Bee, the protest was organized by JVP, IfNotNow and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.

Eventually the Assembly session was adjourned and the lights were turned off. The state Senate session was not interrupted.