Latinos, Jews in Landmark Conference in Texas

— Elie Bennett

Ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich in Surprise Visit to Event

Over 100 Jewish and Latino leaders from across the US conducted a milestone dialogue conference today in San Antonio. The event was chaired by ex-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and veteran Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, both from San Antonio.

More after the jump.
 
The gathering’s honorary chair was San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. It was organized by Cisneros’ and Scheinberg’s group, Bridges & Pathways (www.bridgesandpathways.org), and was co-hosted by The Netanya Academic College’s S. Daniel Abraham Strategic Dialogue Center and The World Jewish Congress. Other partners included the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, B’nai B’rith International and the Anti Defamation League.

Cisneros outlined three key subjects for discussion: education, immigration and national security, especially as it relates to US foreign policy regarding Israel.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a likely Republican Presidential contender, accepted a late invitation to address both electorally influential groups, the Jewish and Hispanic voters. Gingrich walked a tight line between his immigration-friendly audience and many of his conservative supporters who favor tighter immigration regulations.

“Someone who illegally entered America last Tuesday should not have the right to stay,” he said, but acknowledged that “very few expect the U.S. to deport 11 or 12 million people who have lived here for years, work hard and pay their taxes. Our approach must deal with reality on the ground while enforcing rule by law.”

Cisneros said that “one of the most important things to be done is to encourage Latino influentials to visit and see for themselves the miracle that is Israel.” Mayor Castro accepted this challenge and announced his own plans for a first visit to Israel in July 2011, heading a delegation of business and civic leaders from San Antonio.

Rabbi Scheinberg urged the leaders present to “replicate this important forum all over America, in tens of cities.”

Although consensus prevailed amongst the participants, evenly drawn from both groups, a new poll initiated by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, headed by Rabbi Marc Schneier, did underscore some important differences.

Where 56% of the Jews surveyed instinctively supported Israel and found US policies not sufficiently favorable to Israel, far fewer Latinos shared these views. Jews and Latinos alike believe that anti-Semitism exists within the Latino community in America, whereas neither group senses significant anti-Latino feelings within the communities.