LA City Council’s Anti-Semitic Jokes and Stereotypes at Jewish Heritage Event

@THE GUSS REPORT-It was a brutal suggestion, to say the least, from a member of the public at Friday’s LA City Council Jewish Heritage Month event, where Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke a few minutes earlier at the same podium: 

“I suggest we build some concentration camps and put (illegal aliens) in there until we get the wall built… The (Budget and) Finance Committee, I want a black man on. We got five (sic) Jews. He was right, the Jews are running it. That’s why everything is all screwed up. The money part. Because they’re running it.” 

The question the comment raises is whether that perspective was normalized and prompted by anti-Semitic jokestold earlier in the meeting by LA City Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Paul Krekorian about Jews being in charge of the city’s finances. 

The event itself was clunky, as Councilmember Bob Blumenfield declared “what a turnout!” as cameras showed a half-empty City Hall auditorium behind him, followed by stereotypes of klezmer music and a few dozen references to delicatessens, with Blumenfield playfully but pointlessly mocking the Yiddish reading by Caroline Luce of UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, after she was introduced by Stephen Sass of the Jewish Historical Society. 

But it was Englander’s tired anti-Semitic reference to Jews controlling city coffers that made even Mayor Garcetti and City Controller Ron Galperin, seated with Israel’s Consul General, cringe: 

“The Mayor mentioned that we have three city-wide electeds that are Jewish. But the three Jewish Councilmembers, it doesn’t escape me, are also the majority of the Budget and Finance Committee to oversee the city’s shekel…” 

Garcetti, who was seated next to the podium where Englander made the statement, winced as he shamefully turned toward Englander and said, “great…great.” It was right out of the Hitler and Farrakhan propaganda playbooks, as addressed by the Anti-Defamation League, where it addresses the same anti-Semitic sentiment without Englander’s misguided intent to use it as humor, and shows that the belief remains a contemporary one in some bigoted circles: 

"…the anti-Semitic notion that ‘the Jews’ dominate and command the U.S. Federal Reserve System and in effect control the world’s money has surfaced across the extremist spectrum. Contemporary economic anxieties and distrust of government have given new life to this timeworn myth.” 

Englander, the only city official who didn’t bother to wear a necktie for the event, was not alone in joking about Jews controlling the City of LA’s financesThe Budget and Finance Committee’s Chair, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, added the similarly cringe-worthy: 

“My name is Paul Krekorian and I am here to represent the goyim minority of the Budget and Finance Committee.” 

Ouch. 

Krekorian, who recently took center-stage during the City Council’s Armenian Genocide remembrance event, made no such jokeswhen it came to that. 

Eric Preven, my CityWatchcolleague (who won an LA Press Club award last year), took on the role as the only adult in the room on the subject, and challenged what Englander and Krekorian, whose constituents include wide swaths of Jewish Angelenos, used as humor: 

“I was deeply offended by Mitchell Englander’s comment during the presentation where he characterized the Budget and Finance Committee of the City of LA as being run by Jews. Then everybody laughed. And Krekorian did a little sub-joke later that was one notch less offensive. But both are offensive, and here’s why. I am Jewish, and I love the Jewish culture. But I do not like stereotypes surrounding the greed that people have come up with. It’s inappropriate. The Jewish people who I know and love are about our families, and education and peace…I just can’t imagine how we can see the idea of (this) as a joke…” 

Some of the City Council’s comments, though inoffensive, point to a lack of substance and raise the question of why this person was part of the presentation altogether, including Councilmember David Ryu, who was born in South Korea, dusting off his tired joke that was already told when Blumenfield introduced him earlier, “It may come as a shock that I am not Jewish. But, as my colleagues know, I’m very Ryu-ish.” 

Crickets. 

Perhaps when LA City Council and Mayor Garcetti take on this event next year, assuming guests in attendance this time don’t boycott it, they will do less winging it and stick to a pre-approved script that doesn’t perpetuate ancient anti-Semitic myths favored by hate groups and bigots to this day.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.