The Latino-Jewish Challenge


Last week’s census data on the explosive growth of the Latino community and a poll released this week by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding points to a significant challenge for Jewish community relations officials in the years to come.

Now 16 percent of the overall population and growing rapidly, the Latino community is coming into its own culturally and politically — and by rights should be a critical ally of a much smaller Jewish community.

Our ancestors, too, fled persecution and hardship and found freedom and economic opportunity in America; our community, too, had to overcome widespread prejudice.

As activists interviewed in this week’s Jewish Week point out, building Latino support for Israel may pay important dividends for the Jewish community in the years to come. While there are some troubling signs in the FFEU survey, including the 48 percent who say America is “too supportive” of the Jewish state, there are also significant opportunities in a community that has shown strong interest in working with Jewish groups.

But in outreach to Hispanic groups, it can’t be just about Israel. Supporting Israel, along with the fight against anti-Semitism, remain core concerns for the organized Jewish community; if we expect ongoing Latino support, we need to understand and address that community’s core issues — starting with comprehensive immigration reform.

A Jewish community that was once reflexively pro-immigration has become more diverse in its views — although it is important to note that a number of major Jewish groups, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee and HIAS have made such legislation a priority.

The fact remains, however, that we are unlikely to bolster Latino support on Israel — and win that community’s help in combating growing anti-Israel activity by some Latin American countries — without addressing the issue in a fair, balanced way.

The rise of Latinos, Asians and other minorities as significant components of a diverse America points to the ongoing importance of the community relations agenda for a tiny Jewish community. Focused pro-Israel activism is the issue that garners the most attention — and money — in Jewish life. But community relations groups around the country are doing critical, often under-appreciated work in building alliances around domestic issues and forging friendships that will ultimately benefit every Jewish cause — including but not limited to the cause of protecting the critical U.S.-Israel relationship.