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Jewish foes of Proposition 209 aim to continue equality fight

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO, April 14 (JTA) — In the wake of a federal court decision to uphold California’s Proposition 209, Jewish opponents of the anti-affirmative action measure say they will redouble efforts to stem any inequities resulting from its becoming law. “Certainly this is discouraging news, but it’s not going to stop our prodigious efforts to ensure opportunities for everyone,” said Tracy Salkowitz, executive director of the regional American Jewish Congress, which joined a multiethnic coalition opposing the measure in November. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel last week unanimously upheld the proposition, also called the California Civil Rights Initiative, which bars the state from showing preference to women and minorities in hiring, awarding contracts and college admissions. The three-judge panel ruled that the measure does not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Gov. Pete Wilson and other supporters hailed the appeals court ruling. Opponents of the proposition plan to appeal the ruling. “I think it’s at the heart of what it means to be a Jew in a multiracial and multicultural society that we honor the story from the Haggadah of our quest for freedom,” said David Oppenheimer, a professor of law at Golden Gate University Law School who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in the suit on behalf of AJCongress. “We’re not free until all people are free, and 209 is a terrible step backwards in the struggle for freedom.” Rabbi Alan Berg of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, Calif., echoed the sentiment, adding that whatever happens with Proposition 209, Jews can seize the opportunity to consider the issues it raises — and act on them. “The question is can we as Jews be more involved in creating opportunity situations, opening doors everywhere? I think we can,” Berg said. “What we can do is build coalitions aggressively, coalitions that have as their goals economic opportunity and educational opportunity.” From its inception, Proposition 209 became a hotly debated issue in the Jewish community. Much of the organized Jewish community came out against the measure. Informal surveys showed that more Jewish voters statewide opposed it than supported it. But the Jewish community has been far from monolithic on the controversial measure. In fact, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Sen. Quentin Kopp (Independent-San Francisco), is Jewish. Kopp has insisted that the bill will do nothing to undercut affirmative action as it was outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Another Jewish supporter, attorney Lawrence Siskind, has agreed. In an October debate on Proposition 209 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, the former Reagan and Bush Justice Department appointee asserted that “affirmative action won’t be banned by CCRI.” To him, the measure refers to “outreach efforts and a careful re-examining of hiring and admission criteria. We still need those today. This is a debate about preferences, not affirmative action.” Now that the debate is being continued in the legal realm, others believe that Proposition 209 may bring dire consequences. “I think that putting 209 into action is going to result in more, not less, discrimination,” said Mark Schickman, president of the San Francisco Bar Association and a vice chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco.

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