Rick Sanchez was fired by CNN last week. The October 2nd New York Times reported that Sanchez was terminated, “…a day after telling a radio interviewer that Jon Stewart was a bigot and that ‘everybody that runs CNN is a lot like Stewart.’ The latter comment was made shortly after Mr. Stewart’s faith, Judaism, was invoked.”
The Times also reported that during the interview Sanchez “repeatedly suggested that he had experienced subtle forms of discrimination in his television career,” alleging “a lot of elite Northeast establishment liberals viewed him as someone who belongs in the second tier and not the top tier.” The conversation became sharper when, as The Times reported, “One of the co-hosts of the radio show brought up the fact that Mr. Stewart was a Jew, saying to Mr. Sanchez that he was a minority, ‘as much as you are.’ Sanchez responded ‘Yeah, yeah, very powerless people.’ He let out a high-pitched laugh, and stated, ‘Everybody that runs CNN is a lot like Stewart. And a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish – are an oppressed minority? Yeah.”
According to the Times, “Under the channel’s former president, Jonathan Klein, he [Sanchez] was rewarded with more air time, most recently a two-hour block in the afternoons.” The Times went on, “Mr. Klein was fired last week.” I will add, by another one of those Jews to whom Mr. Sanchez was alluding.
Why do I mention all this? Because some time ago Mr. Sanchez invited me to appear on his program. The major question he asked me was whether Jews have a dual loyalty, to Israel and the U.S.? The question was not intended as friendly. I answered it the same way that I had answered the same question by a group of Christian Congressmen at a prayer breakfast when I was a member of Congress. I told them, you never ask that question of Italian, German or Polish-Americans (I should have also included Cuban-Americans) who treasure their ancestry, traditions and the countries from which their ancestors came; you only ask it of Jews. Let me tell you why the security of Israel means so much to many Jews. We know that when Hitler offered in the 30s to allow the Jews to leave Germany, if any country would take them, few countries agreed to accept the Jews and then only in small numbers. Indeed, in 1939 the U.S. under F.D.R. turned away the 900 or so Jews on the SS St. Louis who had earlier been turned away by Cuba (from which country Mr. Sanchez hails; he was not born at the time). F.D.R. refused to allow them to land in the U.S., and even sent a Coast Guard cutter to make sure no one jumped overboard and tried to swim ashore. So the Jews were sent back to Europe, where the majority perished in concentration camps. If Israel had existed then, it would have taken in every single Jewish refugee, no matter how sick or old or incapacitated or poor. Then I said to my fellow Congress members, raising my right hand, and this is literal, “I swear to you, if Israel ever invades the U.S., I shall stand with the U.S.” My fellow members of Congress applauded.
Now with regard to special treatment for minorities, I oppose and have always opposed programs that provided for race, ethnicity or religion-based solutions, e.g., quotas or set-asides. I have and continue to oppose such solutions to end discrimination. Jews have never been eligible for such set-asides or quota programs. Indeed, when quotas were used, e.g., at colleges and universities, it was to limit their presence. Ridiculously, Sephardic Jews who have Spanish names were eligible for federal set-asides, not as Jews, but as Hispanics, like Mr. Sanchez, who is Cuban. That violates the equal protection clause of our Constitution, and I did not permit racial, ethnic or religious quota programs to be established in my administration. I did provide set-asides for the construction industry and for vendors who had limited capital that qualified them as small businesses, irrespective of who owned them. There were many who disagreed with my philosophy and brickbats were often thrown my way; the nicest being that I was insensitive; the worst that I was racist.
I was delighted in 2007 when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a decision: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” I thought to myself, the Supreme Court has finally come my way. I was pleased when Rev. Al Sharpton, once an adversary and now a friend, whom I work with on different matters of common concern, was quoted as saying about jobs and employment in the current recession, “We’re not looking for a race-based program. We’re looking to make sure everyone is involved.”
In 1978, my first year as Mayor, Rev. Sharpton demanded I give all the federal summer jobs to minorities, which I refused to do. That caused him to block access to my office and caused me to have him arrested.
I hope that Mr. Sanchez gets another job soon, and that he is selected because of his talent and not because he is Hispanic. Cuban-Americans should continue to be intensely involved in the affairs of Cuba. That does not convey dual loyalty on their part. It conveys their intense identification with the land of their ancestors and their traditions which is part of what America, the land of immigrants, is all about.
CNN was right in its decision. Sanchez displayed prejudice in his remarks.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.