The Orange County-Long Beach regional office of the Anti-Defamation League Thursday condemned remarks made by Santa Ana Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, calling her words an “anti-Semitic tirade.”
Alvarez compared major downtown property owner Irving Chase, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler and insinuated that Chase and his son, Ryan, were plotting to steal the livelihoods of Latino merchants.
“Councilmember Alvarez’s comments were appalling. [She] invoked centuries-old anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as financially exploitative and made offensive and inappropriate Nazi comparisons,” said Kevin O’Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“ADL calls on Councilwoman Alvarez to issue a public apology to the Chases, the Jewish community and the community at large,” O’Grady said.
The ADL is a worldwide organization that fights hate crimes and hate speech against Jews.
Alvarez publicly accused the Chases of conducting an “ethnic cleansing” campaign in the city’s downtown core. She said the Chases were essentially plotting to clear out 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?” She added that “I will try my darndest to make sure the Chases don’t take another building,” which drew loud applause and hoots from property owners.
Irving Chase, in an interview with a Voice of OC reporter Thursday, accused Alvarez of being an anti-Semite but said he was shocked that she would be so public about it.
“I think she’s a bigot, I think she’s a racist,” Irving Chase said, “but I never expected her to say those things in a public place.”
Irving Chase said his parents, Sol and Fay Chase, are Holocaust survivors from Poland. He said his mother was imprisoned at Auschwitz and most of her siblings died at the hands of the Nazis. His father survived by hiding with Polish Catholics in the mountains.
Chase said Alvarez had “whipped up a hateful mob” at Wednesday night’s council meeting. As the father and son stormed out of the council chambers, hecklers could be heard shouting “Get out of town!” and “Stop taking our money!”
Alvarez remarks also referred to the special property tax district that funds Downtown Inc., the organization that promotes, secures and cleans up the city’s downtown core. Ryan Chase is the president of Downtown Inc., and both Chases sit on the organization’s executive committee.
Many of the downtown’s property owners are behind on their property tax bills, which have doubled and even tripled since the adoption of the tax.
“It’s classic anti-Semitism. You take the Jew and you accuse him of conspiracy,” Irving Chase said. “What was really scary to me was the crowd.”
Said O’Grady: “Given the Jews’ experience with Hitler, to say that a Jew is like Hitler is as offensive as you could get when speaking to a Jewish person. And so that alone would be anti-Semitic.”
Alvarez, who is a deputy district attorney, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Susan Kang Schroeder, who is District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ chief of staff, said the office had no specific comment on Alvarez’s remarks.
“She made those comments in her official, elected position as a city councilperson, not in her role as a deputy district attorney,” Schroeder said.
The Chases haven’t decided whether to take steps against Alvarez, possibly including a slander lawsuit, Ryan Chase said.
“I don’t know how to respond to it. Do you go to the ADL? Do you start bringing protestors to Santa Ana?” Irving Chase said. “I’m not going to do that. I have too much respect for the town and the other council members.”
— ADAM ELMAHREK