Jewish-Latino connection not hot, not cold

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 1 – In politics, a clever quip suggests that Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans.

On Monday, however, with the Republicans in town, the conference room at the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City was packed with Jewish and Hispanic panelists and voters who regularly eschew the Democrats and cast their ballots for the GOP.

In a program co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and the Cuban-American National Council, conversation revolved around shared concerns about immigration, school vouchers and hate-crimes legislation — with little agreement among the partisan participants.

Elliot Abrams, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, acknowledged that the coalition between the two ethnic groups is not particularly “intense.”

“The Jewish community concerns are inward ones,” he said, pointing to concerns about continuity, intermarriage and assimilation.

Common ground, however, can be found in what Abrams termed “American dream” issues, like immigration and access to education.

Colorado State Rep. Dorothy Gotlieb, the state’s Republican majority whip, said that coalition work is hampered by a “split in the two communities that works in the same way,” such as a split within both ethnic groups over vouchers for parochial schools.

Al Cardenas, Florida’s Republican Party chairman, said that a “natural affinity” exists between the two minority groups, but that “we have not spoken in those terms as often as we should have.”

Maria del Pilar Avila, executive vice president of the New American Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of Latino business leaders, acknowledged the differences in the size of the two minorities and their assimilation time frames, but said her organization nevertheless looked to the Jewish community for inspiration when it formed last year.

Nobody at the event suggested that the two communities could forge as strong a bond as the one that existed between Jewish and black activists in the 1960s. Nor did they suggest that Latino-Jewish relations will have much effect on black-Jewish relations.

“It’s not an ‘either-or’ situation,” said Richard T. Foltin, a legislative director for AJCommittee, who helped plan the event. Regarding the relations between Jews and other minority groups, Foltin said, “A lot will depend on demographic realities around the country and on the national level.”

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