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A group of California lawmakers have banded together to form a new legislative caucus focused on issues they believe matter to the Jewish community.

The Legislative Jewish Caucus will also form a political action committee to raise money to support Israel-friendly candidates, said Sen. Marty Block, the San Diego Democrat who chairs the new group.

"This isn't a religious based organization. We see this as an ethnic organization," he said.

"My guess is very few of the members would define themselves as being terribly religious, but we all consider ourselves to be part of the Jewish people."

The Jewish caucus includes five Senators and four Assembly members who identify themselves as Jewish, as well as a handful of other lawmakers who are not Jewish but want to participate, Block said. All participants so far have been Democrats, but Block said the group would welcome Republicans.

The Legislature has several caucuses organized around various identities, including race, sexuality and geography. The Jewish caucus will work to fight discrimination against all minorities, Block said, partly based on religious beliefs that favor equality, "but also out of a personal concern that if folks are treated unequally, Jews will be among those who are treated unequally."

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, is heading the caucus in the lower house. He mentioned it earlier this month during a memorial for South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

"At every meeting of the caucus we have had members of diverse ethnic and faith backgrounds and they have expressed great interest and support for what we're doing," Levine said.

"It's wonderful to see members form other communities who want to be a part of this nascent caucus."

Block said the group plans to hire a government staff member to work on bills and an outside fundraiser to help the group launch its political action committee.

PHOTO: Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, in the Senate chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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