The Anti-Defamation League is issuing a statement condemning comments made by Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez. Regional director Kevin O’Grady, who has an office on Fourth Street and Broadway in Santa Ana, said that Alvarez and the City Council should be ashamed and embarrassed over remarks made last night that reinforce old stererotypes of Jews and Jewish-Americans.
Here is the statement: “The Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach condemns Santa Ana Councilmember Claudia Alvarez for her outrageous anti-Semitic tirade. During Wednesday evening’s Santa Ana City Council meeting Alvarez compared Jewish property owner Irv Chase to Adolf Hitler and accused him of “ethnic cleansing.”
ADL Regional Director Kevin O’Grady said, “Councilmember Alvarez’s comments were appalling. Ms. Alvarez invoked century’s old anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as financially exploitative and made offensive and inappropriate Nazi comparisons.” O’Grady continued, “ADL calls on Councilwoman Alvarez to issue a public apology to the Chases, the Jewish community and the community at large. There is no room for anti-Semitism or bigotry of any kind in civil discourse. It is especially troubling that this outburst came from an elected official. We were pleased to see that two of Councilmember Alvarez’s colleagues on the city council renounced her statements and we call upon Mayor Pulido and the other members of the City Council to denounce the Councilmember’s offensive and hurtful remarks.”
The Voice of OC reported: “Alvarez made the reference (to Hitler) and publicly accused Irving Chase and his son Ryan Chase of conducting an “ethnic cleansing” campaign in the city’s downtown core, saying they were essentially plotting to eradicate Latino merchants who have owned businesses in the downtown for decades.
Specifically, Alvarez said: “So if Hitler rents you a place and gives you a good deal, do you take it?”
Both Chases stormed out of the meeting upon hearing Alvarez’s comparison.
“Did you just call me Hitler?” Irving Chase shouted. Screamed Ryan Chase before they left: “My grandparents are Holocaust survivors!”
Alvarez stood by her remarks after the meeting, saying that ethnic cleansing was exactly what the Chases were doing. The term usually is reserved for conflicts involving genocide, such as World War II and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.
She went on to say that Irving Chase uses his Jewish identity as a defense against the ethnic cleansing allegation, which has been made by Latinos in downtown to describe what they see as gentrification.
From the Register’s story: “Discontent over the taxes that fund the two-year-old PBID has become fused in many minds with another, related controversy. The other concerns efforts by the Chases to diversify what has been for decades an almost an entirely working class, Latino shopping street by attracting new merchants and shoppers. The effort has led to fears that some longtime tenants of the Chases could be displaced.
“Ryan and Irv Chase … are very much interested in continuing the ethnic cleansing that is going on downtown,” Alvarez said as she began her comments on the PBID, setting the tone for what was to come.
Alvarez, who works as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office, made an effective argument for why the PBID should be disestablished. In the eyes of at least two of her council colleagues, however, she debased the evening by drawing a comparison between Irv Chase, who is Jewish, and Hitler.
Alvarez said she had inquired about why Downtown Inc. has its offices in one of the Chases’ buildings and was told it was because the organization got “a great deal” on the rent. “So if Hitler rents you a place, gives you a great deal, you take it?,” she said.
At that point, Irv and Ryan Chase walked out of the council chambers to shouts of “get out of town” and “stop taking our money” from anti-PBID partisans.”
Councilmembers David Benavides and Carlos Bustamante distanced themselves from Alvarez’s remarks and apologized for those who might have been offended.
In politics, name dropping “Hitler” usually means you’ve lost the argument and it’s hard to determine how a city that is more than 85 percent Latino and prides itself on diversity would equate Downtown, Inc.’s attempts to diversify as “ethnic cleansing” unless Alvarez’s statement alluded to the ethnic cleansing of every other type of minority other than Latino. Equating the Chase family with Hitler and with the term “ethnic cleansing” from the dais possibly places the city at risk for a defamation lawsuit.
Alavrez, who once referred to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a “horrible accident,” may have misunderstood what ethnic cleansing actually means; ethnic cleansing is a deliberate policy whereas one ethnic or religious group seeks the removal of another ethnicity or religious group by violence or terrorism. The purpose of ethnic cleansing is to render an area ethnically homogenous. Think of ethnic cleansing in Germany and Poland during the holocaust, or the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda last decade. Once has to wonder if Alvarez really believes that Irv and Ryan Chase are actually practicing ethnic cleansing in regards to the private property they own and the documented cases of assistance they have provided to Santa Ana’s Latino community over the years. For a city that prides itself on diversity, Alvarez may have an unusual definition of what diversity really is.
The Alvarez comments actually overshadowed a missed opportuntity for the city council to demonstrate a committment to diversity when they passed over an opportunity to name the plaza on Fourth and French Street after gay activist Harvey Milk. The council chose the name “Plaza Santa Ana.” Councilmember Sal Tinajero, known for helping recognize Harvey Milk Day in the city didn’t utter a word in support of naming the Plaza after the renouned gay activist known for equality and civil rights.
We’ll also note, with humor, Councilwoman Michele Martinez’s suggestion that Downtown Inc diversify and follow the Brown Act? Would she give the city council the same advice?