Mayor, Governor Should Stick to Job

July 31, 2006

By Dr. Maher Hathout
Daily News, 7/31/06

On Sunday, July 23, both Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger braved the gripping heat wave to speak out at rallies to express solidarity and support for the state of Israel. They did not attend any interfaith vigil calling for a cease-fire in this senseless violence in Lebanon.

Their participation in the pro-Israel rally was widely covered by all forms of media, surprisingly without questions as to why local and state officials are dragging themselves and their constituencies into international conflicts in the Middle East.

We ought to ask the legitimate questions pertaining to the events:

1. Neither Los Angeles, nor the state of California, is a sovereign independent state. Why should they be dragged to take sides in a tragic international conflict?

We elected the mayor and governor to represent all the constituencies in the most diverse state and city probably in the world, not to take the side of, or to be used as propaganda tools by, a specific group of citizens who have strong affinity to foreign governments.

Instead, Villaraigosa and Schwarzenegger should get busy working on the fabric of our pluralistic society with harmony between all its different components, rather than bringing the fights of the Middle East onto the streets of Los Angeles or Sacramento.

2. Both Villaraigosa and Schwarzenegger are on the top of the leadership at our city and state levels, respectively. How could they be sure that the majority of the citizens they represent want to support or have solidarity with a state whose government is involved in disproportionate use of force, destroying the infrastructure of another sovereign democracy, rendering 1 million civilians homeless, killing more than 600 people (the majority of whom are children), exercising collective punishment, bombing at least two ambulances and killing members of the United Nations?

What kind of polling or surveying were performed to know the prevailing sentiments of their large constituencies of Latinos, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans who, by experience, know the bitter taste of oppression and brutal force?

3. How many forums did they attend to express solidarity with the people of Beirut and Gaza? How many meetings did they have with Muslim Americans, who probably have another narrative that is never heard by our decision-makers?

4. Villaraigosa and Schwarzenegger are not experts on the Middle East. How much do they know about the history of occupation of the Palestinian territories or about the brutal invasion of Lebanon in 1982?

It is the responsibility of elected officials to educate themselves. Public officials should meet with people with whom they agree and disagree. Most importantly, though, is that public officials should know what they were elected for, what their jurisdiction is and what not to drag themselves or their constituents into. Villaraigosa and Schwarzenegger are terribly wrong. They should focus on the problems they were elected to address - homelessness, civic engagement, education, human relations, to name a few. The list of priorities of the governor and mayor are plenty, and they do not include pandering to special-interest groups.

Maher Hathout is chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior advisor of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Write to him by e-mail at



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