As an Arab Muslim woman teaching in California for the past decade, I have heard more hate and disinformation about my culture and faith than I care to remember.
Social media is where most disinformation starts. It spreads across California every day, ranging from conspiracy theories about climate change to rumors designed to undermine confidence in public health protections, or the hate speech that fueled the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi.
Thankfully, California is increasingly fighting back. Gov. Gavin Newsom this year signed Assembly Bill 587 into law, which requires social media companies to publicly explain their efforts to prevent hate speech, disinformation and extremism. Platforms must provide detailed reports of how they police themselves twice per year to the California Attorney General’s office.
State Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Burbank Democrat, said the goal of the bill is to encourage social media companies to reflect on the role they play in public discourse and the damage they cause.
Today, the leaders of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus condemned Kanye West’s spreading of antisemitism and specifically called upon sportswear manufacturer Adidas to sever their business ties with the recording artist.
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), the chair of the Jewish caucus and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the vice chair spoke to reporters at a Zoom press conference with Teresa Drenick, the deputy regional director of the Central Pacific Region at the Anti-Defamation League.
“We’re here today because of a series of reprehensible statements and social media posts and comments by Kanye West, now known as Ye, that have directly attacked the Jewish community and have threatened harm in the most unambiguous terms against the Jewish community,” Gabriel said. “We’re here because words have consequences. And what we have seen is that these comments, these antisemitic vitriolic comments by Kanye West have emboldend other extremists. And when we saw this in a very profound and visceral way here in Los Angeles, where extremists held a put up a banner over the 405 Freeway, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Southern California and also through appalling antisemitic propaganda that was up in Jewish and neighborhoods.”
SACRAMENTO, CA - Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Chair and Vice Chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, released the following statement today on behalf of the Jewish Caucus:
“Words have consequences. Kanye West threatened Jews, and now other extremists are openly threatening our Jewish community with hateful banners on the 405 freeway and distributing appalling antisemitic propaganda in our neighborhoods.
SACRAMENTO, CA — We, the members of California Legislative Diversity Caucus—comprised of the California Legislative Black Caucus, California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, California Asian American & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, California Latino Legislative Caucus, California Legislative Jewish Caucus, and the California Legislative Women's Caucus—are appalled at the anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and homophobic statements made in conversation between Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon, Gil Cedillo, and Los Angeles County Labor Federation Pre
During a shabbat service this January at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, a gunman stormed into the synagogue, taking the congregants hostage for more than 11 hours. As the gunman made threats and demands, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker kept his congregation calm, waiting for the right moment to strike the perpetrator with a chair and usher the victims to safety. Thanks to Cytron-Walker’s expertise, everyone escaped safely.
In interviews following the incident, Cytron-Walker attributed his swift, decisive action to security training he had received from local nonprofit organizations.
More than a thousand miles away, California lawmakers took note.
The California State Legislature unanimously passed a measure in late August to strengthen protections for Californians facing hate-motivated violence. The bill, known as AB 1664, would expand the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides funding for security enhancements at institutions at risk of hate-motivated violence.
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), who authored the bill, said that it was introduced to the legislature in response to the standoff at Congregation Beth Israel. Gabriel cited a recent report from the California Attorney General that found a nearly 90 percent uptick in hate crimes in the state over the last decade as further reason to expand security protections at vulnerable community centers.
“In a world where hate crimes and antisemitism are on the rise, we need more than thoughts and prayers to keep us safe,” said Gabriel. “This new law will provide critical resources to protect vulnerable communities and sends a powerful message that California stands firmly with those targeted by hate.”
A unique initiative championed by a Jewish East Bay state senator will invest $25 million in journalism across California, focusing on “news deserts,” or communities lacking in robust independent reporting.
The program is the result of efforts by Steve Glazer, a Democrat representing portions of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and his staff. Glazer also sits on the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.
Journalism “is critical to a functioning democracy,” Glazer said. “This initiative attempts to overcome the concerns about government interference in the media. It does this by supercharging journalistic endeavors that keep government and government leaders accountable for honest services.”
The initiative comes as communities across the United States, particularly in rural areas, continue to see local newspapers dwindle as a result of declining revenues, among other factors.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a social media transparency measure that he says protects residents from hate and disinformation posts spread through social media platforms.
A.B. 587 will require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment and extremism on their platforms and report data on their enforcement of the policies.
The newly signed legislation will also require platforms to file semiannual reports to the state’s attorney general’s office that will disclose their policies on hate speech, extremism and disinformation.
The state’s attorney general’s office is also required “to make all terms of service reports submitted pursuant to those provisions available to the public in a searchable repository on its official internet website.”
The bill was first introduced by state Rep. Jesse Gabriel (D) and was co-authored by a group of state representatives including Buffy Wicks (D) and Jordan Cunningham (R) and state Sens. Richard Pan (D), Henry Stern (D) and Scott Weiner (D).
Abill to extend the California Nonprofit Security Grant Program permanently — and more than double the maximum amount that nonprofits, including synagogues, can apply for — has passed the Legislature and now awaits action from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Introduced by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat who represents a good chunk of the San Fernando Valley and chairs the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, AB-1664 sailed unanimously through both the Senate and the Assembly in votes on Aug. 23 and 24.
The bill was co-sponsored by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, which lobbied for $80 million for the program that allows organizations to bolster their security features. There is a serious need for the funding among California organizations, JPAC executive director David Bocarsly said.
“The reason it was important for us to establish the program in the first place [in 2019] was to clearly demonstrate that the State of California is invested in [the NSGP] and supporting the safety of all vulnerable institutions in California,” Bocarsly said.
If signed by Newsom before a Sept. 30 deadline, the bill would raise the limit on funds an organization can apply for to $500,000, from $200,000. It would also add security training as an eligible security measure for funding under the program, and would limit the amount an awardee can use on “construction and renovation” to $100,000.
The NSGP was established by a bill co-sponsored by Gabriel and other members of the Jewish caucus in the wake of a fatal shooting at Chabad of Poway in San Diego County. A previous version of the program had existed through the federal government, but it supplied applicants across California with only $4.5 million between 2015 and 2019.
With San Francisco having emerged as the epicenter of California’s monkeypox outbreak — with nearly 400 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, the day after the city’s state of emergency went into effect — local LGBTQ Jewish leaders are stepping to the forefront.
One prominent gay San Franciscan, state Sen. Scott Wiener, began urging city leaders early on to declare the state of emergency, saying it would “create significant flexibility around testing, contracting for services and administration of vaccinations.”
Wiener, a member of California’s Legislative Jewish Caucus and its Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, noted that “San Francisco was at the forefront of the public health responses to HIV and Covid-19, and we will be at the forefront when it comes to monkeypox. We can’t and won’t leave the LGBTQ community out to dry.”
Two Jewish members of the state Assembly representing the Bay Area, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and Marc Levine, have introduced legislation that would change hate crime laws by meting out the same punishment for using different “terror symbols,” such as swastikas, nooses and burning crosses.
AB 2282, motivated by the posting of pro-Nazi stickers in Marin County in November 2020, would also expand the number of places where the law is applied to include public property, parks and facilities; school campuses; places of worship and cemeteries.
Under current law, fines and minimum jail times vary depending on the hate symbol used. AB 2282 would apply the same ranges for sentencing and fines, no matter what the symbol.
A number of recent incidents have targeted local Jewish communities, such as the antisemtitic flyers dropped in several Bay Area cities earlier this year by adherents of Goyim TV, a group led by Petaluma’s Jon Minadeo Jr.
Last October, flyers reading “Hitler was right” were posted on a large menorah fixture at a messianic synagogue in Carmichael. Flyers advertising the Aryan Nations hate group were later left at homes and at Deterding Elementary School in Carmichael. Nicholas Sherman, 34, of Sacramento, was convicted of a misdemeanor count of making terrorizing threats for placing flyers bearing images of swastikas on school grounds, and a felony hate crime for desecrating a religious symbol by posting the flyers on the menorah. Sherman was sentenced to 180 days in county jail.
“The bill is focused on terror symbols that are used to, obviously given the name, terrorize people and used in hate crimes,” Bauer-Kahan told J. “Part of what we are trying to do is ensure that there is protection against the use of these terror symbols in more locations … as well as ensuring that we are consistent across the different symbols.”