2021-07-28 | JIMENA in the Press

SEPHARDIC COMMUNAL LETTER DENOUNCING ANTISEMITIC STATEMENTS MADE BY CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER

July 28, 2021

To Governor Gavin Newsom, California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, and Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel:

We, the organizations listed below, represent Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities in the state of California. We are writing to express our denunciation with multiple antisemitic statements made by California Democratic Party (CDP) leader Hussam Ayloush.

As an institution whose mission is to be a “leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding” and whose Los Angeles Executive Director, Hussam Ayloush, currently serves as an Assembly District Delegate to the CDP, we are deeply concerned by CAIR LA’s role in influencing California’s Democratic Party with revisionist lies about Israel and the Jewish people, and the Middle Eastern Jewish community in particular. These lies are contributing to the rising tides of antisemitism our communities are currently experiencing, and are making the CDP an increasingly hostile place for many Jews – particularly those of North African and Middle Eastern descent.

We feel it is critical to open this letter by asserting that the vast majority of Jewish people are indigenous to Israel. As Mizrahi Jews, our ancestors lived continuously in the Middle East since the dawn of Judaism itself. In the mid to late 20th century, state-sanctioned antisemitism—frequently taken under the banner of anti-Zionism—led to the ethnic cleansing and displacement of close to one million Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews from countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. About 650,000 of these Jews fled to Israel as stateless refugees and the remainder scattered to countries around the world, including the USA, with an estimated 200,000 residing in California. Today, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews comprise over half of Israel’s Jewish population.

Since 2014, former CDP Executive Board member Hussam Ayloush has gone on record with antisemitic, genocidal calls for the state of Israel to be “terminated.”[1] We are deeply disturbed to learn that Mr. Ayloush has also referred to those who support Israel as “heartless hateful bloodthirsty humans[2]” and compared them to Nazis[3].

Mr. Alyoush has repeatedly refused to recognize the positions, needs, and interests of California’s diverse Jewish communities who are predominantly Democrats and avowed Zionists. We are deeply troubled by Mr. Alyoush’s influence over CDP positions and policies as it relates to Israel and the Jewish people and we believe that it is not only irresponsible but extremely dangerous for a party leader to call for the destruction of any nation, even those whose policies they disagree with.

We are also deeply concerned that Mr. Ayloush’s ongoing and repeated characterization of Zionism as a “political ideology whose tentacles are rooted in racism[4]” is directly contributing to antisemitic, revisionist histories of the Jewish people. As a coalition of 40 international Sephardic organizations have clarified in a letter to Jewish Voice for Peace[5], “Zionism has been the yearning of Jews throughout more than 2,500 years of diaspora. Today the majority of the Mizrahi and Sephardic community resides in Israel, and the vast majority of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, in Israel and in diaspora, are self-identified Zionists.” In seeking to obscure these realities in service of his own ideological ends, Mr. Ayloush is promulgating an antisemitic message that seeks to portray Jews as foreign interlopers in Israel and the larger Middle East. This lie is directly contributing towards the catastrophic rise of antisemitism our state is currently experiencing.

Mizrahi Jewish communities in our state watch with growing concern as the same antisemitic sentiments and rhetoric that led to the oppression and ethnic cleansing of one million indigenous Jews from the Middle East seem to be infiltrating California’s influential civil rights organizations and the CDP, particularly after the recent war between Gaza and Israel.

Members of our Mizrahi communities remember how antisemitic sentiments sprouted into full-fledged, state-sanctioned anti-Zionism in countries throughout the Middle East. Not unlike the current climate we are living in, Zionism in the Middle East and North Africa was hardly ever defined, and this ambiguity enabled terrible acts of antisemitism to occur under the mask of anti-Zionism. We recently watched in horror as Iranian Jewish Americans in our state were violently targeted by “Pro-Palestinian” activists who were shouting antisemitic slurs on the streets of Los Angeles. For many in our Jewish Middle Eastern communities these violent acts of antisemitism elicited visceral fears and memories of similar events many experienced in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

At a time when hate crimes against Jews account for over half of religious-based hate crimes in the USA and when antisemitism continues to be the most prevalent religious-based hate crime in California up a disturbing 72% since 2016, it is essential for the Democratic Party and all civil rights organizations in the state to draw clear redlines against language and activities that explicitly and implicitly target California’s Jewish communities.

The CDP Code of Conduct[6] states:

The CDP expects all leaders, members, employees, and others associated with the CDP to act professionally, respecting the personal rights and dignities of all individuals involved with the party so as to create a productive, inclusive environment for all.

All individuals should feel welcome and safe within the CDP, regardless of their sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, age, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, military or veteran status, body size, domestic violence victim status, or any other legally protected classifications.

The CDP’s behavior standards are not limited to CDP conventions and other meetings. Harassment will not be tolerated at any and all events sponsored by or affiliated with the CDP, as well as in CDP-related calls, texts, emails, and social media like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat.

We believe that Mr. Ayloush’s harmful rhetoric violates the CDP Code of Conduct, and we strongly urge the leaders of the CDP to take appropriate action to help ensure that state party leaders are not allowed to denigrate the “ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed” of others, and that the CDP remains a welcoming and safe place for Jewish Democrats, including Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

Sincerely,

Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh,
Co-President
30 Years After

Jasmin Niku
Co-President
30 Years After

Susan Azizzadeh
President
Iranian American Jewish Federation

Gina Bublil-Waldman
President
JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa

Sarah Levin
Executive Director
JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Rabbi/Director
Sephardic Education Center

Neil J. Sheff
President
Sephardic Education Center

Rabbi David Wolpe
Max Webb Senior Rabbi
Sinai Temple

[1] “The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR),” Anti-Defamation League Webpage, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/backgrounders/the-council-on-american-islamic-relations-cair

[2] Hussam Ayloush, Facebook post. August 3, 2014 https://www.facebook.com/hussam.ayloush/posts/10152354069969825

[3] Hussam Ayloush, Tweet. August 4, 2014 https://twitter.com/HussamA/status/496388844443287552

[4] Hussam Ayloush, “A Slur on Muslim Community.” Orange County Register, December 1 2002 https://www.meforum.org/campus-watch/8156/column-a-slur-on-muslim-community

[5] Sephardic and Mizrahi Communal Response to Jewish Voice for Peace. January 23, 2019 https://www.jimena.org/sephardic-and-mizrahi-communal-response-to-jewish-voice-for-peace/

[6] California Democratic Code of Conduct. https://cadem.org/code-of-conduct/