On April 16, the Durham City Council passed the Israel Resolution making Durham the first city in the United States to boycott police trainings specifically with Israel – the only Jewish majority country on the planet.
It matters because, as I write this, there are efforts under way to bring the same boycott to the Washington D.C. City Council, as anti-Israel activists seek to ban nationwide the collaboration between U.S. law enforcement and the Israeli police.
On November 8th, 2017 the deceptively named Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) organized protests in 15 different cities across the U.S. to demand that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) end the “DeadlyExchanges.” The cities included: St. Louis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston, New Haven, Denver, Seattle, New York, and Chicago among others.
This past April, the campaign marked its first success in this effort in Durham, NC where I work and where my family attends synagogue. The mainstream Jewish Community undertook an effort to block the boycott. Now the city has finally begun responding to public record requests I made well over 100 days ago.
With this information, we now know that on April 4, Mayor Steve Schewel set aside just one hour in the morning on his calendar to “Write [the] Israel Resolution” that would be published the very next day. On April 9, four days after the Council’s statement was published, Mayor Pro Tempore and City Council member Jillian Johnson described this policy to a local synagogue president as “the Israel Resolution.”
The selection and use of this title belies the Council’s revisionist assertion that rejecting police militarization with all countries was the only issue or even the main issue.
How Did the Government of Durham Come to Boycott Israel?
In 2017, the local chapter of JVP circulated several versions of a hateful, anti-Israel petition. Multiple versions of this petition allege that training American police in Israel “helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the U.S,” a modern version of the blood libel of old, which accuses Jews of using the blood of Christian children to make matzoh (bread).
Six out of seven Durham City Council members signed various versions of JVP’s hateful petition. Then, on April 16, the night the Israel Resolution was passed, City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton referred to the resolution on Israel as a “compromise” with JVP.
Why Did Mayor Schewel Waive Council Guidelines for JVP?
To turn their petition into city policy, JVP wanted to present their demands to the Durham City Council on April 5, but missed the “ten calendar days” sign up period. Mayor Schewel waived the rule on April 2 for JVP, thus allowing them to speak on April 5. By waiving the sign-up rule and privileging anti-Israel activists, Mayor Schewel prevented the mainstream Jewish community from having the time we were entitled to mobilize and prepare.
Now we have just learned that JVP reported that Schewel is one of their donors. If this is true, many will fault the Mayor for not disclosing this fact to the public and for altering City Council guidelines for an organization he financially supports. If JVP is correct in naming Mayor Schewel as a donor, Mayor Schewel should resign.
I requested public records that reside in Jillian Johnson’s personal email account because of the Council’s widespread use of personal email to conduct public business. It took Durham 137 days to fulfill this crucial request. It is striking that Durham fast-tracks anti-Israel legislation, but slow-tracks our ability to figure out how and why they did it.
In a January 5 email, Elyse Crystall of JVP wrote to Beth Bruch, Tom Stern, Sandra Korn, Noah Rubin-Blose, and Gabriel Baldasare –also of JVP– and to Jillian Johnson (Johnson appears to have been blind copied). Crystall, a UNC professor, was concerned at the time about who would fill the open Durham City Council seat. Crystall wrote, “Has there been any discussion on the stance of potential new city council member Pilar Rocha-Goldberg vis a vis our campaign and resolution? Her resume/bio includes mention of her being active in Beth El synagogue. A red flag for me. A potential obstacle for us.”
It should be noted that a number of JVP members happen to belong to Beth El – the very synagogue Rocha-Goldberg was attacked for attending.
I recently met with Rocha-Goldberg regarding JVP’s alarming email. Rocha-Goldberg is a woman of color from Colombia and President and CEO of the El Centro Hispano, an organization that advocates “for equity and inclusion for Hispanics/Latinos in the Triangle Area of North Carolina.”
Rocha-Goldberg described this JVP email to me as “anti-Semitic.” I agree. Opposing a candidate because of the synagogue she prays in is simply anti-Semitic. She added, “They only saw my affiliation to the synagogue and nothing else…It is insulting, disrespectful and discriminatory…Nobody approached me about my beliefs or my feelings about my Jewish background.”
Johnson made no public rebuke of JVP’s anti-Semitism and Johnson’s email response failed to address JVP’s anti-Semitism. Johnson and the Durham City Council then went on to pass an anti-Israel resolution at the behest of the very JVP members included on the email.
I asked Rocha-Goldberg how Jillian Johnson should have responded to the anti-Semitic email. She replied, “Thank you for your email, but as a council member, we don’t accept this type of arbitrary and discriminatory correspondence.” Rocha-Goldberg explained, “We need to be able to believe in our leaders in the government, to be equal and transparent and not to accept any kind of discriminatory language.”
One of the oddest parts of JVP’s anti-Semitism against Rocha-Goldberg is that JVP regularly accuses others of targeting people of color and immigrants. Yet Ms. Rocha-Goldberg is a Jewish, Latina woman of color from Colombia.
This report, and other articles I published in The Tower, have been written as part of the efforts to track the JVP campaign’s progress, learn from past mistakes, and hopefully prevent the next “Israel Resolution” in Washington D.C., and elsewhere.
[Photo: JVP Watch / YouTube ]