group discussion in a lecture hall
Talking Across Difference workshop with Rachel Eryn Kalish of Workplace Connections. (Courtesy/JCRC-Jeremy Russell)

Community forum tackles shifting political realities in Trump era

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President Trump and the actions his administration has taken on immigration, foreign policy and education served as the backdrop for a daylong forum last weekend at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.

The March 19 event originated after community organizations such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, an event sponsor, received a deluge of inquiries about what the Jewish response to Trump’s foreign and domestic policies should be.

“Today wasn’t intended to be partisan, and we were not looking for political party-affiliated speakers,” JCRC executive director Abby Porth said. “Across the political spectrum, we want to have thoughtful, interesting, elevated conversations about what the community cares about.”

About 200 people attended the forum, which was produced by the JCRC, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and JCHS. At a panel moderated by state Sen. Scott Wiener, Louis Freedberg, executive director of the education agency EdSource, spoke about the perils facing California’s public education system under the leadership of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a strong proponent of charter schools and publicly funded vouchers.

In our role as a community convener and champion of democratic values, JCRC – in partnership with the San Francisco…

Posted by JCRC of San Francisco on Monday, March 20, 2017

Freedberg also said that of the state’s 1,000 or so school districts, only 50 have passed sanctuary resolutions, which promise to protect undocumented students and not cooperate with federal immigration authorities unless required to do so by law.

The keynote address, titled “Looking Into the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy on Israel,” was given by David Makovsky, a fellow at the think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a peace envoy in the office of former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Using baseball metaphors — he praised the San Francisco Giants for having “great teams” but admitted he was a St. Louis Cardinals fan at heart — Makovsky outlined his vision for how to proceed with any American-led diplomatic efforts on Middle East peace. The most productive way forward, he said, would be to dispense with the notion that it’s possible to hit a home run and solve the entire conflict.

“In the last 16 years there have been three attempts to ‘hit the home-run ball’ to solve this whole conflict at once,” Makovsky said. “Whenever you try to hit home-run balls, the odds are that you will strike out. … There’s just too much history and too little geography.”

Makovsky said he reached that conclusion after participating in several years of talks with the State Department. “My own experience with the U.S. government teaches me that we shouldn’t try for the five for five right now, we should try for that solid single,” Makovsky said. “That might be possible, but there are no guarantees.”

That “solid single,” as Makovsky put it, would look something like both sides recognizing a partner in the other. “You can go in a direction without ending up at a destination,” he said. “I really believe that’s where the hope is: to show that sense of possibility, to maintain the viability of a two-state solution, even if you can’t implement it tomorrow morning.”

Another panel at the forum was moderated by CBS legal and political analyst Melissa Caen and featured Dan Schnur, an expert in political strategy and government reform at the USC Annenberg School, and S.F. City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Between panel discussions, the attendees participated in training sessions, which focused on confronting anti-Semitism, supporting sanctuary city policies and learning how to be an effective advocate.

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a former J. staff writer.