Calling Gov. Gavin Newsom a “friend and ally” to the Jewish community, members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus spoke out in a unified show of support for the governor on Tuesday.
Newsom is facing a recall effort that while animated by elements of the right-wing fringe is increasingly looking like a serious political challenge.
With just under 1.5 million valid signatures needed to trigger a recall vote, the petition had close to 1.2 million authorized signatures as of March 19, according to the secretary of state’s office. Recall proponents said they had turned in more than 2.1 million and were waiting for verification.
Newsom’s supporters are raising money and bumping up ad spending on behalf of the first-term governor and former San Francisco mayor. “Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom” was fifth among Facebook advertisers in total spending for the week ending March 21, according to the site’s Ad Library Report. National Democrats including President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have issued public statements advocating support for Newsom.
Members of the 18-member Jewish caucus, all Democrats, convened online to voice support for the governor on issues relevant to the Jewish community and to the caucus. Newsom has been a “trusted friend, ally and partner,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel of Woodland Hills. He pointed to the governor’s decision to increase security spending after the 2019 Poway shooting, authorizing a $15 million infusion into the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
Newsom announced the funding during an event in Sacramento alongside Holocaust survivors.
“The governor seized that moment to stand with our community,” Gabriel said.
The caucus is urging Newsom to commit again to spending on the NSGP this year, though he did not allocate money for the program in an early budget draft.
The Jewish legislators said they oppose the recall effort in part because of its ties to fringe political movements and because they view it as superfluous, with Newsom up for re-election in 2022.
“This recall is a waste of time and this recall is a waste of money, at a time when we should all be uniting together to get ourselves out of this pandemic,” said Josh Becker, a recently elected state senator representing San Mateo County. A special election would cost the state up to $100 million, Gabriel estimated.
Newsom has shown “steady, reassuring leadership” during the pandemic, Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica said, naming vaccine distribution and California’s $7.6 billion relief package that includes support for small businesses.
“Let’s just call it what it is,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine of the North Bay, referencing the Exodus story days before the start of Passover. “We’ve heard about the pandemic being deemed a plague. But this recall will be yet another plague upon all Californians.”
While many of the outspoken recall backers have focused on public health lockdowns and other elements of the pandemic, the petition does not mention those issues; instead it rails against Newsom’s policies, citing immigration first and claiming that he “favor[s] foreign nationals…over our own citizens.”
“People in this state suffer the highest taxes in the nation, the highest homelessness rates, and the lowest quality of life as a result,” the petition says.
Like other Democrats, the Jewish lawmakers sought to tie the recall campaign to the 45th president, who is deeply unpopular in California.
“It’s been a long time since I’d thought of Donald Trump,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman of Palo Alto. “I can tell that the leaders of the recall think about Donald Trump every day.”
The current campaign to oust the governor officially began last June, amid statewide restrictions due to the pandemic and widespread protests following the killing of George Floyd.
The effort gained steam at pro-Trump protests after the election where extremist elements often were brought together in support of fringe theories. At “Stop the Steal” rallies in Sacramento, for example, supporters gathering signatures for the recall operated alongside right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, anti-mask activists, QAnon believers and California secessionists.
Support for the recall campaign also grew over time as Californians chafed at what they saw as oppressive Covid restrictions and gaffes by Newsom, such as attending a dinner party at the elite French Laundry restaurant.
The Anti-Defamation League has raised concerns about some of the Nazi imagery used by recall proponents, including images of Newsom with a Hitler mustache and comparisons to Nazi Germany. In November in Solano County, the group Committee of Correspondence interrupted a board of supervisors meeting to protest public health measures, using Nazi salutes and calling mask requirements supported by Newsom an “illegal usurpation of our rights.”
“The murder of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, is not a subject for glib analogies,” ADL regional director Seth Brysk told J. at the time.
The recall effort’s top funders are the California Patriot Coalition, a group whose mission is “to restore constitutional governance” to the United States, according to its website, and a PAC called Rescue California.
Caucus members took pains to avoid painting all of the roughly 2 million recall proponents as fringe activists.
“Most people are frustrated this year,” said Levine. “But if you want government to work better, this is not the group of characters you want to throw in with.”
“We’re not in any way disparaging the millions of Californians who signed this,” said Gabriel. “We’re not saying that anyone who supports it is advancing antisemitic views. We are opposed to it for a lot of important public policy reasons.”
Berman, however, believes fringe views are “not a bug” but “a feature” of the recall effort.
“The false equivalencies, and comparisons to the Holocaust — what was done to my family and the families of other people on this call, and the murder of millions of Jews across the world — that’s not what the Jewish caucus stands for,” he said.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who has been targeted by online extremists in connection with his support for LGBTQ-related legislation, said the Jewish community in particular is attuned to some of the radical ideas associated with the campaign.
Given “millennia” of experience, Wiener said, “we are very good at sniffing out these kinds of people.” Newsom, he said, “has stood with the Jewish community through thick and thin.”
Wiener, a fellow San Franciscan, called the governor an ally “not only to the Jewish community but to other marginalized communities as well.”
The only time California saw a successful gubernatorial recall campaign was in 2003, when voters ousted Democrat Gray Davis, replacing him with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.