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Racism and Anti-Semitism in the County

I am writing to clarify what I think about anti-Semitism and discrimination in Orange County. In the Feb. 13 edition of The Times, I was quoted on these issues in such a way that my observations and conclusions could be easily misinterpreted. In the March 5 Letters to the Editor, there was just such a misreading of my opinions by Stephen Lawton.

First, in response to Lawton, I never said that there was no anti-Semitism in Orange County, and nothing could be further from the truth or my opinion. There is a significant amount of anti-Semitism in our community. It has been here for a long time, it is troubling, and it must be confronted wherever it rears its head. Anti-Semitism is ugly, unfair and ubiquitous, as are other forms of bigotry. It judges people not on their merits but on their religion.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission is dedicated to the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination. We have a laudable record of aggressive response to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.

One of the key ways we overcome bigotry is to bring together people from different groups around their common interests. Nothing is more effective than firsthand personal contact to shatter stereotypes, break down prejudice and build understanding. The commission works diligently in the varied communities of Orange County to help people understand those who are different and to have respect for other groups’ customs and beliefs.

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In an effort to document and respond to hate violence, the commission is working with all Orange County police departments to establish a protocol for defining and handling hate incidents. The Harmony Festival in Westminster was a positive pro-active program initiated by our commission to overcome hate incidents perpetrated against blacks, Jews and others.

The black and Jewish communities of our county come together in a dialogue that we sponsor with the American Jewish Committee to help counter some of the strained relations that developed over the last few years. The commission also sponsored a similar dialogue between Arabs and Jews.

In a sweeping prejudice-reduction program titled “A World of Difference,” our commission joins the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to utilize the electronic media to teach about respect for differences between people.

Orange County has been known as an all-white bastion of bigotry. Over the last 10 years there have been dramatic changes in the ethnic makeup of the county. Today it is a diverse urban community where there is still too much racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. BUT , there are important steps that have been taken to combat this bigotry, and one of the significant efforts has been the establishment and continued funding of the Orange County Human Relations Commission by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. In establishing the commission, the board set out to “eliminate prejudice, intolerance and discrimination” in Orange County. Our commission is seen as one of the most effective in the state of California.

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It is part of our job in Orange County to put out the word that this is a community where anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry are not welcome, and where the top political leadership is willing to take action to eliminate them. This is our charge. It is in trying to get out this message that I have been misunderstood to be minimizing the level of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

RUSTY KENNEDY, Executive Director

Orange County

Human Relations Commission

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