JCRC will fight anti-affirmative action initiative

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The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council is launching a campaign to fight the California ballot measure that would end affirmative action on the state level.

Last November, the JCRC approved a policy statement supporting affirmative action but stopped short of taking a stand on the then-proposed California Civil Rights Initiative.

But on Monday of last week, the JCRC voted 35-10 with four abstentions to oppose the November ballot measure. It joins JCRCs in the East Bay and San Jose and other organizations, including the Bar Association of San Francisco, in voicing its opposition.

In addition to issuing a statement, the JCRC plans to hold town-hall style meetings in San Francisco and each of its regions — North and South Peninsula, Marin County and Sonoma County — to explore both sides of the issue and to develop educational materials for synagogues and organizations.

"Everyone agrees that the Jewish community has a historic and crucial stake in determining the kind of society America is and that people are measured on individual merit rather than by a group identification," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC executive director.

If passed, the CCRI would immediately abolish all race and gender preferences enacted by state and local governments for school and college admissions and in hiring.

JCRC leadership agreed affirmative action and preference programs are not without fault. What the JCRC opposes is the sledgehammer approach of wiping out all affirmative action policies at once.

"I liken affirmative action policies to taking medicine," said JCRC vice chair Mark Schickman, echoing former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin. "I don't like taking either one in the abstract. But you shouldn't ban either of them. Both are sometimes necessary."

The JCRC supports affirmative action when it is aimed at enhancing opportunities for those groups that have been historically denied equal opportunity. It opposes quotas.

Its opposition to CCRI relies on legal and Jewish ethical arguments.

From a legal standpoint, CCRI poses the danger of changing 30 years of case law, said Schickman, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. It opens broader loopholes for Bona Fide Occupation Qualification, which legally allows for preferential hiring by race or gender in specific instances.

In addition, "There is a legal fallacy that you need CCRI to [abolish] out of control affirmative action policies," Schickman said. The courts are weeding out unfair preferential policies already, he added.

A number of JCRC voting members said their opposition to CCRI stems from the Jewish history of oppression as well as social justice concerns.

"I feel a religious mandate to oppose CCRI," Schickman said. "Jews flourish in a pluralistic society and one which celebrates diversity. The impact of CCRI is opposed to the notion of diversity.

"This is the civil rights issue of the '90s. It's the whole lesson of the Exodus for the Jews. No matter where we are and what our position is, we know what it's like to be the oppressed class."

In addition, a number of Jewish women have benefited from affirmative action policies.

"I definitely noticed a gender gap" in the voting, said Judith Chapman, JCRC chair from Menlo Park. "Women were much more strongly opposed to CCRI. They felt strongly that this was an issue of grave concern to women."

Schickman agreed. "Nobody can suggest that women have equality yet.

"The glass ceiling still exists in wages and in positions," he said. "It's better than it was 30 years ago. But as long as that divergence still exists, it means there still is a reason for these programs to be in place."