Jewish community leaders here are reacting with surprise and dismay to the firing by the national Anti-Defamation League of its top regional representative here.
David Lehrer said he was “shocked and stunned” by his dismissal, coming after 27 years of service as director of ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region.
The firing of one of the most enduring and popular Jewish professionals in the Los Angeles area highlights tensions between national headquarters in New York and independent-minded branches on the West Coast, frictions which have afflicted other national Jewish organizations, sources said.
The importance of what would ordinarily be an intra-organizational personnel action was shown by a lengthy article in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times. The article quoted angry reactions by Jewish leaders, as well as by Muslim spokesmen with whom Lehrer sought to establish working relationships.
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, which first reported the story in its Dec. 28 issue, was devoting its next cover story on Jan. 4 to the case, under the banner “You’re Fired.”
In New York, ADL officials would not comment directly, but national spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum released a statement, saying that “the Anti-Defamation League is always reviewing its operations, including that of its regional offices.
“Recognizing the importance and the needs of the Los Angeles community and ADL’s commitment to the community, we are undertaking steps to strengthen our leadership and development efforts. To this end ADL’s longtime director, David Lehrer, will be leaving the league.”
Lehrer, 53, said he was summoned to New York on Dec. 21 and told of the dismissal by Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.
According to Lehrer, Foxman said that he didn’t like the quality of the lay leadership in Los Angeles, and, as the statement indicated, the regional development and fund-raising efforts.
However, the Jewish Journal reported that under Lehrer’s leadership, the local ADL’s annual budget has grown from $2 million to $6 million and that in 2001 fund raising was up 30 percent over 2000.
Some 30 members of the regional president’s council met Wednesday to consider the situation. They were also slated to meet Thursday with a delegation of national ADL staff members flying to Los Angeles, said Cecelia Katz, president of the Pacific Southwest Region.
Foxman remained in New York but was joining the discussions via telephone.
Katz did not rule out the possibility that an appeal would be made to reinstate Lehrer, if Lehrer himself so wished.
In a written statement, Katz called Lehrer “synonymous with Mr. ADL in Los Angeles and California” and said, “We deeply regret that David is leaving the directorship of the regional ADL.”
She said a search for his replacement would be conducted by the regional office in conjunction with the national ADL.
Typical of the reaction outside the local ADL was a statement by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the area’s top Jewish politician, who called for a review of the national ADL decision.
“I am blown away,” Yaroslavsky told the Los Angeles Times. “David Lehrer’s outstanding reputation and his summary dismissal without warning do not compute. A lot of us are resentful because this decision was made by someone in New York without apparent consultation with the lay board of directors locally.”
Local Muslim leaders, with whom Lehrer helped to draw up a code of ethics to avoid mutual stereotyping, also expressed their regrets.
“Probably he is paying the price for the more balanced view he took toward Muslims,” Aslam Abdullah, vice president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told The Times.
During his tenure, Lehrer forged broad ties with politicians, the media, law enforcement and ethnic communities.
He worked on programs to bring non-Jewish students of color to Israel, helped educate thousands of local teachers about bigotry, and developed ties between Latinos and Jews.
He also expanded ADL’s reach by establishing satellite offices in Santa Barbara, San Fernando Valley, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.
Foxman’s firing of Lehrer plays into the widespread local conviction that the top professionals who run national Jewish organizations from New York are unwilling to grant meaningful decision- making latitude to their regional outpost in America’s second-largest Jewish community, even when dealing with purely local issues.
For instance, the same disaffection played a role when the Los Angeles regional chapter of the American Jewish Congress split from the national organization in March 1999 and transformed itself into the independent Progressive Jewish Alliance.
In general, West Coast chapters also tend to take a more liberal stance on national and international issues than their New York headquarters.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.