Latino-Jewish Relations Can Contribute to the Strengthening of American Democracy

By Dina Siegel Vann, Fernand Amandi and Mike Madrid

Collaborative relationships among minority populations are critical for deepening understanding, building coalitions for joint advocacy, and strengthening American democracy. Yet a vital partnership spanning decades between American Jews and Latinos is encountering challenges, indicating that longstanding constructive cooperation may not pass on easily from generation to generation.

A new American Jewish Committee (AJC) study of Latino leaders, ages 18-40, reveals ambivalence toward Jews, their place in American society and the degree of discrimination they endure. While 87% of Latinos interviewed say racial, ethnic or religious discrimination is a significant problem in the United States, and 75% report that they themselves have experienced discrimination or know of someone who has, only 6% cite Jews as the group currently experiencing “the most serious/most urgent level” of discrimination. Moreover, 37% say discrimination targeting American Jews has improved, while 14% say it is worse than ever and 35% say it has not changed.

The views expressed by the 125 emerging Latino political, business, media, academic leaders in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York provide valuable insights into the thinking of young Latinos, how they may approach relations with American Jews, and what can be done to repair and strengthen the relationship.

For American Jews, the apparent disconnect with daily realities is disconcerting. Amidst widely reported antisemitism across the U.S. 26% of Jews say they have been the target of antisemitism, and 38% say they have altered their behavior to conceal their Jewish identity in public out of fear of antisemitism, according to an AJC State of Antisemitism in America report.

Understanding the disconnect is critical to rebuilding and strengthening Latino-Jewish relations in the U.S. Historically, the Latino-Jewish partnership was based on commonalities as immigrant and minority communities that thrived in the U.S. while maintaining close links to brethren in other countries – Jews to Israel and Latinos to countries south of the U.S. border.

Younger Latinos may not be aware of that history, of the myriad ways their parents and grandparents engaged with Jews in fighting for civil rights, combating hate, and uniting on other issues.

Indeed, young Latinos seem ambivalent regarding American Jews. Fifty-two percent say they have a positive association with Jews, 32% are neutral and 15% say association is negative. Less than half, 47%, think Jews and Hispanics have a natural connection and 33% say there is none.

Still, our study found encouragement for rekindling the relationship. 74% chose the term “antisemitism” when asked what to call discrimination targeting Jews, and 13% provided expressions of hatred towards Jews that showed awareness of discrimination without using the “antisemitism” word.

Also encouraging are the 66% who say they “personally have a responsibility to engage on and speak out against” discrimination against Jews in the U.S.

Interaction between the two communities is not as extensive as it could and should be. Younger Latinos do not perceive Jews as a group fitting the image of an underprivileged, persecuted minority. Only 40% of the Latino leaders interviewed said Jews are like other minorities in the U.S. and 50% consider Jews more like Whites than other minorities.

The Latino and Jewish communities must bridge these gaps, especially when both minorities are targets of hate. We need to stand together as one against bigotry and violence in America Acting now is imperative.

First, we must ensure Latinos understand the Jewish community is diverse. Many of the 250,000 Jews from Latin American countries living in the U.S. can be interlocutors and cultural translators, conveying commonalities and a sense of shared histories and values.

Second, local Latino Jewish Leadership Councils, based on the national council AJC helped found in 2017, should be established to broaden opportunities for interaction. The national council, comprised of 35 prominent figures in the Latino and Jewish communities across the country, has been working to further strengthen Latino-Jewish cooperation in advocating for issues of shared concern and values cherished by both communities.

Third, raising awareness of antisemitism in all its forms and its implications for all sectors of American society, that bigotry and violence targeting one minority can adversely affect others as well, should be a priority. In this regard, the impression among young Latinos that the Holocaust is not relevant today must be corrected. There is a connection between persecution of Jews and Latino experiences with discrimination.

Acting now is imperative. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the U.S., increasing by 23% since 2010, totaling more than 62.1 million people in 2020. Latinos and Jews need to engage one another as allies in combating divisiveness and hate and the quest for democracy in America.

Dina Siegel Vann is Director of the American Jewish Committee Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs; Mike Madrid is founder of Grassroots Lab; and Fernand Amandi is principal at Bendixen and Amandi International. The latter two coordinated the study.

Category: Op-Ed, Politics
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