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Jewish Lobby Presses California Lawmakers to Combat Antisemitism
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 1 month ago on
May 17, 2024

State Sen. Aisha Wahab (left) meets with members from JPAC, a Jewish-issues advocacy group, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Sacramento. (GV Wire/David Taub)

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Hundreds of members of a Jewish lobbying group met with more than 100 California legislators, with combatting antisemitism at the top of the list.

At the annual Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California Capitol Summit in Sacramento, several state elected leaders — including 2026 hopefuls for governor — spoke to the group, agreeing that antisemitism has no place in the Golden State.

“JPAC is the voice of California’s Jewish community at the state capital. We’re a coalition of now 32 Jewish organizations from across the state that work together to uplift Jewish communities, issues and values to the state government and lobby on behalf of those issues,” said the group’s CEO David Bocarsly.

JPAC’s event began with a legislative reception Tuesday night, at the Grand Sheraton hotel, blocks north of the Capitol. The group said more than 50 legislators attended — from both parties, multiple ethnicities, Jewish and non-Jewish. Most of the Central Valley delegation of Assemblymembers and state Senators were invited, but none attended.

The thrust of JPAC’s lobbying advocated for eight specific bills, most dealing with countering antisemitism and hate. The bills included Holocaust and genocide education (SB 1277), investigating districts for bad conduct (SB 1421), and providing additional refugee services (SB 85).

Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus wrote the bills. All but one of the bills are currently active. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee held SB 1421 back.

The full JPAC list can be read here. None had to do with supporting Israel, Palestine, or taking a stance in the Israel-Hamas war.

Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus speak at JPAC. (GV Wire/David Taub)

A Busy Day at the Swing Space

On a warm Wednesday afternoon, JPAC was not the only group lobbying the state Legislature. Outside the Swing Space — the new office building as the Capitol a block away is renovated — JPAC, and groups representing housing, labor, and other industries lined up, snaking around the building.

While each floor had plenty of tables and chairs for lobbyist to wait and lounge, no one was in love with the elevator system. There are no buttons inside the cars. Floors must be selected on the outside.

Small groups of JPAC members met with more than 100 legislators to advocate for its legislative agenda. Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, was the only Central Valley member to meet personally with JPAC. Others in the delegation, including Assemblymembers Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, and Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, sent senior staffers to the meeting.

Lobbyist wait in the “Swing Space,” the new legislative office building in Sacramento.(GV Wire/David Taub)

Inside a Lobbying Meeting

JPAC allowed access to its meeting with state Sen. Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, the only Muslim woman (and one of two Muslims overall, with Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R-Corona) in the state Legislature. Both JPAC and the senator requested no audio or video recording.

During the 20-minute meeting, Wahab offered a sympathetic ear. She talked about being the daughter of Afghan refugees — Wahab was born in New York, but her parents died when she was young. She was raised by an Afghan family in the Bay Area.

Members of the four-person JPAC group, led by Cari Uslan, the CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, complained about how universities handled the pro-Palestine protests.

Anecdotes of antisemitism, including those from schools, astonished Wahab.

She heard stories about how students are afraid to wear necklaces with the Star of David, or the constant verbal harassment they face. Teachers are wearing pro-Palestinian shirts in class, and treating Jewish students differently when assigning work about civil rights.

Wahab talked about other groups — Arab, Asian, Indian — experiencing bias. She said they may not be as organized and don’t report as much or advocate for legislation. Wahab said she wants policy that effects positive change.

One JPAC member said that Israeli families are leaving the Bay Area for Texas or Florida. That surprised Wahab, too.

In a lighter moment, Uslan pitched SB 85, the refugee bill. Wahab said she had her support. After all, Wahab is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

JPAC’s Advocacy

David Bocarsly JPAC (GV Wire/David Taub)

“JPAC is the voice of California’s Jewish community at the state capital.”JPAC executive director David Bocarsly

David Bocarsly is the fast-talking, yarmulke and earing wearing JPAC executive director. He said his group thinks a lot about the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel — leading to a war that has decimated the Gaza Strip.

“We want to make sure that our elected officials stand with the Jewish community. And after October 7th, we were helping to ensure that Jewish and non-Jewish elected officials all stood with us, made public comments in support of the Jewish community in support of Israel,” Bocarsly said.

He appreciated Gov. Gavin Newsom’s trip to Israel weeks after the attack.

JPAC also advocated for budget spending items, including $80 million for synagogues and other houses of worship to provide security.

“We’ve also been specifically focused on addressing antisemitism and hate in California because we know that it’s risen at astronomical levels since October 7th. And as the war continues,” Bocarsly said.

JPAC does not contribute to any political campaign, just lobbies on behalf of pro-Jewish issues in Sacramento. Bocarsly differentiated his group from the American Israel Political Action Committee, a national group that advocates on more pro-Israel issues. AIPAC is one of the top-20 financial contributors to mostly federal campaigns.

Trying to Win Support for Governor?

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis made the boldest statement at a Wednesday morning speech, denouncing how the state’s public universities handled pro-Palestinian protesters.

Later in the day, the California State University system placed Sonoma State president Mike Lee on a leave of absence. Lee cut a deal with campus protesters, which in part would boycott certain deals with Israel. The CSU system rescinded Lee’s deal. At UC Irvine, police dismantled an encampment.

Kounalakis is running for governor in 2026. So is State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who also delivered a morning speech dedicated to fighting antisemitism.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is surrounded by supporters after a JPAC speech. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Thurmond, who is Jewish, told JPAC he would combat hate.

“We will never let any act of antisemitism stand in a school, and we will go out and we will address it directly at any school in the state,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said “many of our students do not know that the Holocaust was real.” He supports Holocaust education.

“We must make sure that our students not only know, but never forget. Because hate and atrocity towards one group can be hate and atrocity towards any group. Our troubles are completely connected,” Thurmond said.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta made a similar lunchtime speech. He is contemplating running for governor, but has not made a commitment.

Bonta said he stood with JPAC.

“This moment is full of pain and hurt and trauma,” Bonta said.

Bonta mentioned the campus protests in passing when discussing the hate and antisemitism Jews have experienced since Oct. 7. He called the incidents “terrifying.”

“Violence and harassment targeting religious communities and nationalities will be met with a swift response and with accountability,” Bonta said.

He discussed guiding school districts to teach inclusive ethnic studies courses.

In response to a question posed by GV Wire, Bonta’s office issued a statement on Friday, saying: “The Attorney General works to ensure that all Californian’s rights are protected to be safe from hateful attacks, protected from violence, to be free to speak their mind, and to live their life without discrimination. The California Department of Justice is working hard to combat the rampant spread of hate throughout California’s communities.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom sent in a video statement, saying antisemitism has no place in California or anywhere.

“You are not alone, and we are committed to making the world a better, safer place for everyone, including you,” Newsom said.

Newsom discussed his Golden State Plan to Counter Antisemitism, focusing on security at houses of worship and nonprofits, Holocaust survivors are supported, and improving hate crime reporting.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (above) and state Attorney General Rob Bonta (below) spoke to JPAC on Wednesday). (GV Wire/David Taub)

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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