MISSION VIEJO — The Anti-Defamation League plans to ask South Orange County Community College District trustees to tone down public meetings that recently have been marked by angry disputes and vitriolic comments, some of which have offended local Jews.
Amid a continuing furor over Trustee Steven J. Frogue's controversial views, the purported lack of control over debate has spiraled into confrontations off campus as well--including an alleged assault last week in which a woman working to remove Frogue from office said she was intimidated and spat on.
Frogue is the target of the recall campaign partly because last year he advocated a seminar featuring a speaker who argues there was an Israeli role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Another proposed speaker questioned the historical accuracy of the Holocaust during World War II.
The seminar, which was later canceled, upset Jewish groups. But Frogue has been drawing vocal support at trustee meetings ever since, including from some individuals suspected of being affiliated with white supremacist groups.
What has most recently concerned Jews--and members of the effort to recall Frogue--are comments made at the trustees' meeting on Jan. 20.
One speaker, rising to express support for Frogue, called the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered, "nothing but 6 million lies."
"It's become a racket," the speaker said. "Everywhere you go, every time you pick up the paper, turn on the radio, the TV, here's some Jew screaming about this and that and everything else."
Another speaker said: "We just said the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States, not to the flag of Israel."
There were outbursts of anger from other members of the audience and loud arguing and name-calling.
Now, the ADL is planning to attend the next trustees' meeting on Feb. 17 to appeal for restraint.
"We shouldn't tolerate this type of language and that type of conduct," said Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County and Long Beach. "This isn't Germany in 1933. This is Orange County in 1998.
"Certainly, they have a right to their opinion, but there's something called 'you're out of order.' It keeps getting uglier and uglier. It's getting worse instead of going away."
She said she will ask trustees to rule rowdy audience members out of order, require that civilized language be used and prohibit insults and ethnic slurs.
The Rev. Buckner Coe, a Frogue recall proponent, said: "It's pretty frightening stuff, particularly if you're Jewish and have relatives who died in the Holocaust."
Frogue is a member of a 4-3 majority that favors drastic changes in the way the district runs its two campuses, Irvine Valley College in Irvine and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, an issue that has caused strife at the colleges.
Some trustees and top administrators at the district believe that the controversy over Frogue is being stoked by college professors and deans who were displaced in a large-scale, board-directed administrative shake-up over the last year.
ADL officials claim that some speakers at the Jan. 20 meeting are associated with groups that have held "white people rallies" and hosted Ku Klux Klan speakers and oppose immigration.
At that meeting, Trustee Marcia Milchiker, who is Jewish, said she was unsettled by the comments.
"These people were saying racist, horrible, hateful things," Milchiker said. She said she believes Frogue should resign to spare the district continued political controversy and save the costs of a recall election.
Neither Frogue nor the three trustees who have supported him--including board President John S. Williams--returned phone calls requesting comment Friday.
Campus police were present at the Jan. 20 meeting, but were not called on by trustees to take any action.
Edward Cushman, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, called on trustees to impose more "respect and public decorum" in meetings.
"From what I understand, there's been an absolutely shocking and appalling lack of respect," Cushman said. "Certainly, it's the responsibility of the president to have control over these meetings and not allow abusive comments, angry comments to occur."
The federation's Jewish Community Relations Council also is furious about the anti-Semitic comments.
"We, as the public, should not tolerate that, and the presiding officer is the person who has the power to impose order on the meeting," said Beverly Jacobs, who chairs the council.
The rancor at trustee meetings has reportedly spilled out into the county.
Harriett Walther of Santa Ana said she was at the county registrar of voters office Jan. 27 to obtain voter registration forms for the Frogue recall effort. Nearby, she said, a man who was looking up campaign records turned toward her after hearing her mention the Frogue recall committee.