Levine stands speaking before fellow legislators
Marc Levine, chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, addressing the State Assembly in 2016

California’s Legislative Jewish Caucus is pointless

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The March 17 edition of J. featured a lengthy article about the 16-member California Legislative Jewish Caucus. The attention conferred is unfortunate, unjustified, even unsettling to those who don’t worship identity politics and inaccurate history.

Contrary to J.’s assertion, this is not “the nation’s first legislative Jewish caucus.” The San Diego Jewish World committed the same error in an April 25, 2015 story referring to the California state senator “who heads the first-in-the-nation Jewish legislative caucus” and then went on to contend that Jews in Congress need and should form a Jewish caucus, noting that Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, then chair of the Democratic National Committee, agreed “100 percent.” (Wasserman-Schultz was last year deposed as Democratic National Committee chair.)

In fact, a Jewish caucus was formed in the state Legislature in early 1975, as reported in the April 1975 edition of California Journal. The members included then-state Sen. Milton Marks of San Francisco and then-Assemblyman Michael Wornum of Marin County, plus 10 others. By the time I was elected to the California Senate in 1986, the chairman of the caucus was Assemblyman Tom Bane, a Jew-by-choice from Los Angeles, whose wife, Marlene, was a Democratic Party political fundraiser. I thoughtlessly became a member.

The Jewish Caucus cost taxpayers no money and met a couple of times a year, usually after some legislation particularly affecting Jews or Israel had been introduced. A National Association of Jewish Legislators was formed in 1977. State Sen. Herschel Rosenthal of Los Angeles later became its president. I never joined, and I have no idea of its purpose, activity or longevity.

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus ended in April 1992. By then, Assemblyman Dr. William J. Filante, an ophthalmologist and Republican from Greenbrae, was its chairman as well as vice chairman of the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, which was chaired by Bane. The president pro tem of the state Senate was Sen. David Roberti of Los Angeles. The redistricting of legislative districts had occurred by California Supreme Court order in 1991, impairing Roberti’s re-election chances, so he moved to the San Fernando Valley to run in an April 1992 special election caused by the resignation of a Jewish Caucus member convicted of corruption.

Filante thereafter signed a letter to 18,000 households in the district as chairman of the Jewish Caucus. The letter, which condemned Roberti as unethical, was prepared by Marlene Bane, a supposedly unpaid campaign manager for a Republican running against Roberti. State Sen. Leroy Greene, a Jew from Carmichael in Sacramento County, immediately demanded a Jewish Caucus meeting, announcing he was resigning until Filante was removed as caucus chairman. Sen. Marks and I joined the request. At the meeting, Greene made a motion, seconded by me, to dissolve the Jewish Caucus. It passed. (Roberti won re-election; Filante died that December after election to Congress.)

Now, 22 years later, a new generation of Jewish legislators, suffused with righteousness in an era of bemoaned disunity, endorses compartmentalization by religion and national origin. Last year it wasted taxpayer money on a “retreat” and endorsed four legislative candidates (all Democrats), which illustrates the need for its abolition.

There’s now a Latino Legislative Caucus, a Legislative Black Caucus, a Legislative LGBT Caucus, an Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and a Legislative Women’s Caucus. Have we left out anyone? (Not to mention the Aviation Caucus, the Environmental Caucus, the Rural Caucus, the Technology & Innovation Caucus, the Mental Health Caucus, the Ending Poverty and Inequality in California Caucus, and the Outdoor Sporting Caucus, all with resultant staff and taxpayer costs.)

The separate legislative caucuses of Democrats and Republicans (I was an Independent during my 12 years in the Senate and not a part of either one) are enough for a fractious society. Jewish separatism is against the best interests of America, California, the Jewish people and Israel. It ultimately divides and derogates. It deserves no glorification.

Quentin Kopp
Quentin Kopp

Quentin Kopp is a retired California Superior Court judge, former state senator and San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, and member of J.’s board of directors. He lives in San Francisco.