Lawsuit Update: Friedman vs Durham City Council

Background: Durham Passes the Israel Resolution

A year ago, on April 16, 2018, the Durham City Council passed the “Israel Resolution” making Durham the first city in the United States to boycott police trainings specifically with Israel. This initiative began on April 5, 2018 when local activists led by the anti-Zionists of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) presented a petition to the Council demanding that Durham ban police training specifically with Israel. It took the City Council just 11 days to do so. 

Since then, three lawsuits have been filed against Durham on this matter.

Friedman vs Durham City Council

One of the lawsuits filed, “Friedman, Deborah vs Durham City Council,” had a hearing today in Durham County Superior Court. Deborah Friedman is a resident of Durham County. Judge Cynthia King Sturgis presided at this morning’s proceedings and three Voice4Israel board members attended. 

The suit alleges that the City Council held electronic public meetings without notifying the public, thus being in violation of open meetings law. At the heart of this lawsuit are two emails regarding the Council’s “Israel Resolution” that Mayor Schewel sent from his personal email account to the personal emails accounts of City Council members (Voice4Israel unearthed these emails using public record requests). Each of the two emails consists of a quorum or majority of City Council members. To put it simply, the Council met electronically and privately without public notice.

North Carolina State Law requires advance notice of public meetings. Public meetings, such as City Council meetings, are defined as consisting of a “majority of the members” and specifically include electronic meetings.

The attorney for the City of Durham, Henry W Sappenfield, argued today that the term email correspondence does not meet the law’s language or criteria because it is not usually “simultaneous.” In order to meet the law’s definition he argued, the conversation had to occur with some rapidity whether it be in an in-person conference, telephone conversation, or electronic interaction such as with social media services like Facebook. Sappenfield told the court that he considered emails to be discontinuous in time and therefore not simultaneous.

The lawyer for the plaintiff, Jonathan Jones, argued that the intent of the statue was broader and should include electronic conversations where responses could go back and forth over short periods. He bolstered his argument with several examples. In one example, Jones used an email sent by Mayor Schewel which was unearthed by a Voice4Israel investigation. In the email, Mayor Schewel wrote to the entire Council,  “We can’t ‘meet’ as a group via email outside of the sight of the public and press, and I think that’s a good law and practice. But we can correspond in two’s and three’s–fewer than a quorum.” 

A second example, which was also unearthed by Voice4Israel, was related to Jordan Peterson performing at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC). In this example, the entire Durham City Council corresponded via email to draft and sign a statement opposing Peterson that was not officiated at a formal, publicly announced meeting of the Durham City Council. This occurred even after the mayor had already said they are not supposed to meet via email. 

Both plaintiff and defense lawyers agreed there was little case law about the issue in question.

City Councils Need to Meet in Public So as Not to Harm the Public

The most compelling argument presented was the potential consequences of the judge’s forthcoming ruling and why. If the Judge were to summarily dismiss the lawsuit, this would allow City Council members in this judicial region to adopt the practice of meeting electronically to conduct various types of city business in ways hidden from the public and thus injurious to the public. Ruling in favor of the plaintiff would discourage or prevent any City Council from backhanded maneuvers to conduct City business in private, thus reducing the chance of decisions being made in secret without public awareness and without public feedback. 

The judge is taking the arguments under advisement. She will announce her results at some future time. We await the judge’s decision.

Former HRC Chair Says HRC Dismissing Concerns of Jewish Leaders

Phil Seib

Phil Seib sent the letter below to the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) on January 8, 2018 at 2:15PM. Mr. Seib served on the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) from 2012-2018 and is past Chair. 

This letter comports with the chief concern of the Jewish community that the Durham HRC is now condoning and endorsing discrimination against the Jewish people. 

Durham HRC Dismisses Jewish Leaders, Institutions, and Community  

Dear Chair, Vice-Chair and Commissioners,

I am writing you asking that the Commission re-consider the omission of the recommendation “The City Council should revise the language in the April 16th language to provide clarity based on the concerns and findings outlined here” found in the prior November 2018 draft report Findings, and Recommendations on April 16th Statement by Durham City Council on International Police Exchanges.

To point I am deeply disturbed by the reasoning of why the Sub-Committee felt this recommendation should not be included in the final draft of the report for consideration by the whole body of the Human Relations Commission in the reports final vote. With this action you are dismissing the main point of concern voiced consistently by all the major Jewish institutions in Durham including The Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill, Judea Reform, [and] Beth-El Synagogue. 

I take issue with the statement in the draft version dated January 6, 2019 in which it states:

“We do not feel that the HRC’s attempt to revise the statement would be of service toward ameliorating tensions or providing appreciable relief from perceived harm. In addition, it is our understanding that the City Council does not plan to revisit their April 16th “Statement by Durham City Council on International Police Exchanges.”

The HRC Increases Tension in Durham

Is this the same Human Relations Commission that I served from 2012-2018? As I read this statement it seems the Commission is saying that you will not add this recommendation primarily because those that have authority (City Council) to help ameliorate the tension in the Jewish Community caused by the proclamation refuse to revisit their proclamation. Additionally I am unsure how it can be concluded that including the recommendation would not ameliorate some tensions with in the Durham Jewish Community. 

To me this is deeply disheartening and problematic. There are several examples in the history of the HRC in which we held elected officials and authorities accountable even though those entities said that they were unwilling to revisit or change current policy. 

The three primary examples that come to mind are:

  1. Police Reform: During our initial research period we were told by Chief Lopez and the City Manager that they were not interested in changes to the way Durham Police Department operates and conducts investigations. It wasn’t until Mayor Bell, based on petitioning of the HRC leadership and leadership of other community groups, that the HRC was given authority to create recommendations of change to the way we police.
  2. The attempted deportation of Wildin Acosta: During the process of bring Wildin home to Durham several voices of authority and some elected Federal officials said it was an near impossible mission alluding to the hopelessness of our actions but yet the HRC and other community groups persevered in the face of such negativity to develop a Proclamation on our community’s values for all residents of Durham.
  3. Durham County Detention Center Reform – From the very start of the HRC’s research continuing to the HRC’s public forum and beyond our submitted report on changes needed to bring the DCDC HRC commissioners were told by elected officials and staff of the Durham County Sheriff’s Department that the majority of concerns raise would not be revisited by the Sheriff or the Detention Center staff. But in the face of all those direct expressions of DCDC leadership refusal to change conditions the HRC continued to hold officials accountable in our written report.

The HRC Is Losing Community Confidence and Is Failing

In addition I find this new statement problematic for the continued success of the HRC. This message can be perceived that the HRC will selectively challenge the established power structure based on the amount of possible push back by those in power. This weakens the trust given to the HRC by the Durham Community and in my mind creates doubts to the ability of the HRC to be an effective agent of change.

I implore the Commission to stay true to the mission, charge and history. There were several times those HRC recommendations caused disharmony within the Commission and each time the Commission held robust discussion on the particular recommendation culminating in a full member vote. I ask that you do the same with the retention of the prior draft’s inclusion of the statement “The City Council should revise the language in the April 16th language to provide clarity based on the concerns and findings outlined here.”

With much respect,

Phil Seib

A Second Punch in the Gut: Updated HRC Draft Endorses Discrimination Against Israel and the Jewish People

Durham HRC, Israel, Durham City Council

A Second Punch in the Gut

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the history of the Jewish people, we should by now be accustomed to government discrimination against Jews and Israel. Yesterday, an updated, January 2019 draft report was sent to Voice4Israel and the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill by the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC). It is another “Big Lie” in the long history of others blaming the Jews for society’s ills.

The original, 2018 November HRC draft report has been reversed entirely in key areas. Most notably, the first HRC draft asked the Durham City Council to remove the singling out of Israel from the April 16 statement the Mayor called the “Israel Resolution.” The entire, local, mainstream Jewish community supported the November HRC draft report (see the outpouring of letters here).

In yet another “punch in the gut” to the Jewish community, the current HRC draft, updated yesterday, reneges this recommendation. Of great concern is the shocking admission by the HRC that because the Durham City Council refuses to revisit this issue, the HRC decided to reverse their November recommendation that the City Council remove the singling out of Israel. In essence, the HRC seems to be saying that because the Durham City Council wants this issue to go away, the HRC will oblige by not asking for change. That is hardly a good faith effort to seek justice. Would the HRC treat any other group of people in such a manner?

Durham HRC Ignores Local Rabbis, Synagogues, and Jewish Institutions 

The HRC has ignored the pleas of twelve local rabbis, our synagogues, and Jewish institutions. Would the HRC ignore other religious leaders in such a manner?

The HRC readily acknowledges that it was unnecessary to single out Israel in the April 16 city council Israel Resolution. Therefore, its inclusion without municipal benefit is by this very nature discriminatory. Yet the HRC has shown no interest in the argument that singling out Israel for no purpose is anti-Semitic.

The updated HRC draft will be voted on at the HRC meeting tomorrow night, January 8, 2019, which starts at 7 pm in a relatively small room in the Golden Belt Office Center, 807 E Main St, Building 2, 3rd Floor Conference Room, Durham, NC, 27701

It is almost certainly going to be a pro-forma vote of approval. We have been given 10 minutes to respond. Pilar Rocha Goldberg (CEO of the El Centro Hispano), Jill Madsen (CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill), and Bishop Ronald L. Godbee (lead Pastor of Durham’s River Church) are scheduled to be our speakers.

The speakers will cover such things as reminding the Commission of the adverse effects of discrimination, that only the targeted minority group can determine what is discriminatory against us; that it is altogether wrong for a Human Relations Commission to endorse discrimination; that one of the Council Members and local activists clearly engaged in anti-Semitism; that the Commission never asked any participants in the police exchanges what they experience; and that the City Council appears to have violated State policy and state law in the manner in which they used personal emails for public business. In addition, meetings that by law must be openly declared appeared to be closed and conducted in secret.

Please Show Up!

We hope you will make a showing at the meeting. It may not be possible to get into the room, but sheer numbers in the hallway will demonstrate the depth of our community’s despair at this impending second punch in the gut.

Durham City Council Sued Over Alleged Violation of Open-Meetings Statute

Durham HRC, Israel, Durham City Council

Using public records obtained by a Voice4Israel investigation, a Durham resident filed a lawsuit yesterday alleging that the Durham City Council used email communications in violation of the open-meetings statute related to the writing and passing of the April 16 anti-Israel City Council statementMayor Steve Schewel and Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson initially called the April statement the “Israel resolution.” The lawsuit asks, “For judgement declaring…the  simultaneous email communication among a majority of council members were official meetings of the Durham City Council in violation of the Open Meetings Law and clearing that any action taken, considered, discussed or deliberations as a result is null and void.” For details, read these articles:

Durham Council Members Sued Over Alleged Violations of Open-Government Law

Indy Week article

Durham leaders face a second lawsuit about policing statement that mentioned Israel

Herald Sun article

Supporting the HRC Report in Durham

Voice4Israel and the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill jointly sent this letter today, on behalf of the mainstream Jewish community, to the Durham Human Relations Commission. 

The Case for Supporting the Report of the HRC Subcommittee on the April 16 Council Statement

Dear Members of the Human Relations Commission,

As we have noted with appreciation, the HRC draft report was written with great care and clearly based on research, evidence, and listening to many people on all sides of this issue. Its preparation is admirable. We wish the Durham City Council had applied such great care and sensitivity in their April 16 statement. If the Council had, we would have never needed to bring this issue to the HRC. The HRC subcommittee is a wonderful role model for how the City Council should strive to seek out and listen to all voices.

It bears emphasis that we stated our primary concern from the beginning: “The City Council reached a hasty decision that made the mainstream Jewish Community feel marginalized and unjustly singled out.” We believe they profoundly misunderstand what the modern State of Israel means to Judaism as much of the American Jewish community understands it and we invite City Council members to increase their outreach to Jewish institutions and local community members to foster meaningful relationships and restore trust between the Jewish community and the city of Durham.

To be “marginalized” means having the community despise what we love, based on lies. We embrace justified criticism of Israel, but big lies are intolerable. There is nothing that has happened in Durham or any other city that can be traced to exchange programs. The advocates of leaving the name of Israel in the document chose to exploit the very legitimate effort of the Council to write a policy regarding policing. They asked the Council to add their campaign against Israel to the drafting. Their plan had been formulated and implemented in a national anti-Israel group. Their assertion that the subcommittee draft that includes removal of the name, Israel, from the Statement supports an unjustified and hurtful claim.

On the other hand, to leave the name in does nothing whatsoever to the policy to improve policing.

The assertion we heard Tuesday night that they are insulted by our request to remove the Council’s insult to us is most unusual. For us to object to an insult and ask that it be removed is quite different and cannot be insulting. Put more directly, there is no inherent right for anyone, especially a Government to insult, especially if it adds nothing of value and based on a big lie.

We will try to outline some key issues that arose in the discussion Tuesday night.

Those of you who were at the previous meeting, when the petitioners also discussed this issue in great detail will remember a set of influential speakers from the same group who gave the same talks. While there were new individuals who spoke Tuesday night, their ethnic group leaders had already given virtually the same talks.

We heard from them that Israel must receive a public rebuke based on their memories from another land. They and others have been saying so consistently for decades. Using gross lies (see attachment 1) to link the troubles in the Middle East to those here in the US was the basis of the national organizations that put together the plan executed first in Durham. There is no truth to their accusations of a causal relationship between police training in Israel and oppression of minorities in the US.

As we said in our first presentation: “The petition put forth from the Jewish Voice for Peace and other Israel-demonizing groups, which initiated the process in Durham is part of this hurtful process and is a painful echo of the ancient “blood libel” *. The petition includes the following: “The Israeli Defense Forces and the Israel Police have a long history of violence and harm against Palestinian people and Jews of Color.” This accusation is a classic case of using the Big Lie Technique: tell a big lie, repeat it often, until people start believing it is true. It added another big lie: “These tactics further militarize U.S. police forces that train in Israel, and this training helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US.” There is no causal relationship between police training in Israel and oppression of minorities in the US. Charles H. Ramsey, Commissioner (retired) of the Philadelphia Police and past co-chair of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, explained “allegations that exchange programs with Israel are racist… nothing could be further from the truth… simply not true.”

We realize the deeply felt pain of those who suggest that Israel is evil, but that is irrelevant to the affairs of the City of Durham because not even the most avid Council supporter of including the name of Israel on the Statement could find any causal relationship claimed by them. It is valid to criticize Israel when the criticism is based on verifiable facts. However, when it is based on lies, it is illegitimate and harmful. It is not the job of the City Council to issue statements about foreign government actions that have no relation to our city, particularly when unfounded. We too object to adversity caused in Israel/Palestine by both sides, but we did not petition the Council to delegitimize the Palestinians.

According to its website, the Human Relations Commission provides open channels of useful communications among the various racial, religious, ethnic and economic groups in Durham and between those groups and the City Council so that misunderstandings and wide differences leading to conflict may be ameliorated. We ask that the Human Relations Commission formally conclude that this governmental decree was discriminatory and to call upon the City Council to take necessary corrective action.

As the sub-committee draft so carefully explains, there is no need to mention Israel in the April 16 statement. The purpose and vision of the statement initially named “the Israel Resolution” by Mayor Schewel, was to communicate the council’s vision for improving community relations between police and residents. As Councilperson Mark-Anthony Middleton has repeatedly and publicly said, Israel has nothing to do with this. The reason one has to believe that the Council agreed to include Israel in the Statement arose from the inflammatory petition Council members had received, an information sheet filled with outrageous lies and is attached above.

The Statement needs to be changed because it supports and legitimizes a deliberately concocted Petition which presents falsehoods as facts and attributes causal relationship when there is none. It criticizes “militaristic” training and then blames Israel for a non-existent pattern. These inclusions make the statement deeply offensive to rabbis, secular Jewish leaders, hundreds of others, and any fair-minded person, primarily because none of the allegations is true.

Even the claim, which has been repeated to the Commission twice, that no other country shares in police exchanges with other countries is false as seen here where England, Hungary, Canada, Brazil, Austria and Egypt are named; and reported here.

The question of the exact definition of the term “anti-Semitism is not relevant because all parties have agreed that the Council did not intend to write an anti-Semitic Document. We contend that unwarranted Anti-Israel Government sponsored action can and has led to Anti-Semitism by others. This history appears to be an unintended consequence. It is the responsibility of the Council to correct that.

In the words of Bishop Godbee: “When any population of our city is radically adversely affected by the words of its leaders, it is incumbent on the leaders to retract and apologize and not double down on their actions. For the leaders of our city to vilify a proposed program and demonize the people supporting it, based on empirical evidence, is an egregious use of power. To make such a claim is unacceptable for any reasonable human being. The leadership should be measured by its ability to serve all in the city. He ended by saying:” we have a wonderful opportunity here, which is to heal the great hurts in the city.

The request to reopen the Sub-Committee meetings to hear more from those individuals who spoke Tuesday night is an exemplification of the same pattern of provocation these individuals and groups have been using. They will repeat the same claims, lies, and distorted facts you have heard. They claim they have had bad experiences both here and there. That was the same messaging by their friends, heard at the last meeting. If you are going to resume the Sub-Committee hearings, we repeat a request we have made several times to both the Council and the Commission: please also take testimony from Police Chiefs Davis and Ramsey (and many others who participated in such exchanges) in order to hear a clear first-person account of what actually happens in the police exchanges in Israel.

Finally, we have included for convenience (second attachment) our last prepared document. Please read carefully.

Sincerely and gratefully,

On Behalf of the vast majority of Jewish Members in the area affected by the Statement

Robert Gutman, Co-Chair of the Voice for Israel

Jill Madsen, CEO of the Durham Chapel Jewish Federation

Michael Ross, Chair of the Voice for Israel

Larry Rocamora, President of the Durham Chapel Jewish Federation

 

*The phrase “blood libel” refers to the ancient lie that Christian children were killed to use their blood in the making of Matzah.

Standing with Jewish Brothers and Sisters

Voice4Israel, Bishop Ronald Godbee

Voice4Israel is proud and honored to share with you this letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) by our ally, friend, and mentor, Bishop Ronald L. Godbee.

Bishop Godbee, author of Why Leaders Fail, serves as the lead pastor of the River church in Durham, North Carolina. Read Bishop Godbee’s full bio here

Nov 14, 2018

Human Relations commission
807 E. Main Street
Durham NC 27701
Attention: Diane Standaert

Human Relations Commission,

"I’m writing you in regards to the discriminatory statement released by the Durham City Council involving Israel…As an African American leader who has suffered the injury of prejudice and bias I would be negligent not to stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters in this very unfortunate incident. I thank you in advance for your time and consideration in this matter."

Bishop Ronald L. Godbee

I pray that this communication finds you well. I’m writing you in regards to the discriminatory statement released by the Durham City Council involving Israel. I am the lead Pastor of The River Church, Durham NC and I speak on behalf of myself and my congregation. As a leader in the City of Durham I was profoundly impacted by the blatant disregard for the Councils responsibility to represent all the citizens of Durham and to articulate a position that reflected its heart for all those who make up our wonderful city. To cast the Jewish in such a disparaging light is a reckless and egregious use of power.

I’m clear as a leader that certain decisions have to be made, and when made, they may seem to favor one side over the other. The issue here is not who’s being favored, but it is who’s being injured. When the injury exceeds the favor it is incumbent upon the City Council to rethink its approach and to reword this injurious document. The intent of the council is greatly overshadowed by the outcome. When an entire community on your watch as a leader is exclaiming its disapproval and concern, I would think that a responsible, conscientious leader would immediately suggest the wording be altered and not double down to demand the language of the document remain as is.

The naming of Israel as a causal link to police violence against brown communities is not only irresponsible but it exudes a prejudice that for anyone reading this language from a minority group is cause for pause and great concern for the direction this City Council is taking our beloved city. This document and its intent can clearly stand alone and convey its sentiment without the naming of Israel. Please secure the integrity of this city and the melting pot that we hope it to be, by asking the City Council to remove the name of Israel from this document. As an African American leader who has suffered the injury of prejudice and bias I would be negligent not to stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters in this very unfortunate incident. I thank you in advance for your time and consideration in this matter.

Serving into greatness,
Bishop Ronald L. Godbee Sr.
Lead Pastor of The River Church
www.theriverdurham.com

Connecticut is Not Israel: Mayor Schewel’s Allegation Rejected by Chief Lopez

Background

On April 16, the Durham City Council passed a foreign policy statement making Durham the first city in the United States to boycott police trainings specifically with Israel – the only Jewish majority country on the planet. Voice4Israel has learned through public record requests that Mayor Steve Schewel and Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson referred to the statement as the Israel Resolution.” 

Mayor Schewel Blames Retired Police Chief Lopez 

Speaking at Judea Reform on October 4, Durham’s Mayor Steve Schewel repeatedly alleged that the Israel Resolution he wrote focused on Israel because retired Chief of Police Jose Lopez received militarized training in Israel. Mayor Schewel was echoing allegations made by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) – an organization that promotes boycotting Israel and an organization that Mayor Schewel has financially supported. 

Durham Police Clarification 

On October 10, Durham’s Deputy Chief A.R. Marsh, Sr. set the record straight. In his memo (see right), Marsh wrote that Chief Lopez had “no interaction with the [Israeli] military or training on military tactics, equipment, etc.” The Deputy Chief went on to explain that in response to civil disturbances, the Durham police have employed “best practices” from the United States. 

Police Memo
(October 10, 2018)

Chief Lopez Received No Military Training from Israel

“…As it pertains to Chief Lopez’s (Ret.) training trip to Israel, no one else from our police department accompanied him. There were no policy or tactical changes resulting from Chief Lopez’s visit to Israel. The scope of his training was on leadership in response to terrorist incidents and mass casualty events. There was no interaction with the military or training on military tactics, equipment, etc. I confirmed this with Chief Lopez via telephone.

With respect to the multiple civil disturbances that we have dealt with in our City, I have been in the command post for most of them, and all measures taken by law enforcement have been in response to the behavior of the crowd at that given point in time. The tactics employed were the best practices at that time here in the United States…”

A. R. Marsh, Sr. 
Deputy Chief 
Investigations and Administrative Service
Police Department, City of Durham

Voice4Israel Speaks with Chief Jose Lopez, Sr.

Retired Chief Jose Lopez Sr. spoke with several board members of Voice4Israel. Lopez explained that in 2008 he attended a law enforcement seminar in Israel run by the highly respected Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for commanders on “mass casualty incidents involving bombings.” Lopez stated that he received no military training in Israel and that the only military training he has ever received was through the United States Air Force. 

Rejecting the Mayor’s Allegation: Connecticut is Not Israel 

Responding to Mayor Schewel’s allegation, Chief Lopez stated, “To say I had military training [with Israel] is with the full knowledge I did not.” When asked if Mayor Schewel had contacted him about the Israel Resolution, Lopez stated, “The Mayor has my phone number. He has not once reached out and called me.” Lopez added, “I have never sent out my staff to do any military training.” Lopez explained that no member of his force trained in Israel and that some Durham police officers have military training from their time in the United States military.  

Lopez explained that when he was Chief of Police and responding to what he called out of town anarchists, tactics used by the Durham police were learned in Connecticut at a mobile field force on riot control and not in Israel. Lopez added that these tactics were best practice in the United States at the time.  

"The Mayor has my phone number. He has not once reached out and called me.”

Retired Chief Jose Lopez, Sr.

Opposing White Supremacy

Retired Chief Lopez spoke with pride when sharing that the ADL focuses on anti-black and anti-Hispanic white supremacy which he said is a serious issue in North Carolina.
 

Police Memo: Chief Lopez Received No Military Training from Israel

Durham’s Mayor Steve Schewel recently alleged that Retired Chief Jose Lopez, Sr. received military training in Israel.

Leadership of Voice4Israel contacted the Durham Police Department for clarification about the relevant Seminar that Retired Chief Jose Lopez, Sr. attended in Israel in 2008.

The memo below, dated October 10, 2018, is the answer provided to us by Durham Deputy Chief A. R. Marsh, Sr. In no way does it support allegations that Retired Chief Lopez received military training in Israel.

For background, read “The Israel Resolution” and Rabbis call Durham City Council statement citing Israel a ‘punch in the gut.’

Police Memo
Chief Lopez Received No Military Training from Israel
October 10, 2018

Good morning Mr. Gutman.

I am writing to provide a brief response to the inquiry you submitted to Sergeant Ligo; I have included your original inquiry at the end of this email.

As it pertains to Chief Lopez’s (Ret.) training trip to Israel, no one else from our police department accompanied him. There were no policy or tactical changes resulting from Chief Lopez’s visit to Israel. The scope of his training was on leadership in response to terrorist incidents and mass casualty events. There was no interaction with the military or training on military tactics, equipment, etc. I confirmed this with Chief Lopez via telephone.

With respect to the multiple civil disturbances that we have dealt with in our City, I have been in the command post for most of them, and all measures taken by law enforcement have been in response to the behavior of the crowd at that given point in time. The tactics employed were the best practices at that time here in the United States.

I hope that this has answered your questions satisfactorily.

Best regards,

A. R. Marsh, Sr.
Deputy Chief
Investigations and Administrative Services
Police Department, City of Durham
505 West Chapel Hill Street
Durham, North Carolina 27701

Reform Jews Ask Durham’s Mayor Steve Schewel to Remove Israel from the “Israel Resolution”

Israel, Durham

by Peter Reitzes and Ethan Hertz

Both authors are speaking on their own behalf and not on the behalf of any organization.

Mayor Schewel Speaks at Judea Reform

On October 4, Mayor Steve Schewel spoke at a 7:00PM members-only event at Judea Reform to answer questions about the Durham City Council’s “Israel Resolution” which made Durham the first city in the United States to specifically boycott police trainings with Israel.

Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson and City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton arrived before the mayor and sat in the first row of the congregation. A congregation member heard a brief discussion at about 6:55PM asking whether the Mayor had decided not to come. A few congregation members mentioned that they did not see either Middleton or Johnson interact with the Mayor beyond saying a quick hello. Middleton and Johnson did not offer to take any questions, were not asked any questions, and did not say anything to the congregation.

About 60 Judea Reform members attended this intimate event. Several non-members (about 2-3 young adults) were permitted to attend but could not ask questions. One was 15 years old and someone one of the authors of this account happen to know. Two commissioners from Durham’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) also attended. They did not identify themselves at the meeting and did not take or answer any questions.

We did not record the event and do not have a recording of the event, so everything we write here comes from memory. This column was fact checked before publication by several Judea Reform members who were in attendance.

Mayor Schewel spoke for about ten minutes and then took questions. The event was planned to take place from 7:00-8:30PM. There were so many questions that the mayor allowed the meeting to be extended to about 9:10PM. It was clear that more people would have asked questions or asked a second question if the event were even longer.

Mayor Schewel Alleges that Former Chief Lopez, Sr. Received Military Training in Israel 

In his introductory remarks, Mayor Schewel said that the reason the Israel Resolution focused on Israel was because former Chief Jose Lopez received militarized training in Israel. He repeated Lopez’s name two or three times. Schewel did not mention the current Chief of Police Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis in his introduction. Mayor Schewel addressed the question of revisiting the resolution in his introductory remarks. He explained that the April 16 statement was a decided issue, and that revisiting the April 16 statement would just start the whole process over again with angry people on both sides of the issue confronting him and the other council members, and that his opinion would not change. Several people who attended noted that the vast majority of members in the room were extremely disappointed in that answer.

About 95% of the questions could be fairly characterized as critical of the mayor and council for singling out Israel and for embarking upon foreign policy with Israel. Two of the questioners were sympathetic to the mayor, but did not attempt to defend the April 16 Israel Resolution when speaking. Instead, for example, one of the questioners stated being sorry for public record requests made to Durham on this issue.

After the mayor spoke for about ten minutes, congregation members were instructed to form two lines to ask questions from two microphones which were controlled by moderators. Congregation members were allowed one minute to ask their questions – some took longer and needed reminders to finish their statement and question. Approximately 15-20 critical questions were asked of the mayor before a single person asked a supportive question. Many in the congregation were clearly upset with Mayor Schewel and the Council for targeting Israel.

Mayor Schewel Repeatedly Asked to Remove Israel from Statement 

Mayor Schewel was repeatedly asked to have the Durham City Council revisit the “Israel Resolution” and to remove all mention of Israel from the statement. Some congregation members pleaded with the mayor to do so and shared how much pain he had caused them and the Jewish community. Mayor Schewel was reminded by a former Judea Reform board member that 11 local rabbis called the actions of the Durham City Council a “punch in the gut” to the mainstream Jewish community. Mayor Schewel repeatedly said that he and the Durham City Council would not revisit the issue even though he readily admitted that mistakes were made.

Mayor Schewel was asked over and over again to explain why he would not revisit the issue at the Council level. He kept repeating that he had already answered the question earlier and would not answer it again. The mayor said something like “asked and answered” which visibility frustrated many congregation members with some yelling out things like “No you didn’t.” Finally, after being repeatedly asked or “repeatedly badgered” to answer (as one member put it), Mayor Schewel did give a curt answer saying that revisiting the statement was not going to happen.

Mayor Schewel Asked to Focus on Domestic Issues, Not Foreign Policy

A new member of the congregation politely said to the mayor that if this were any other minority group – the Council would have listened and paused the process. The member stated that it is only the Jewish minority in Durham that gets ignored in such a way. We saw and heard many congregation members nodding and speaking up in agreement to this point.

One member of the congregation, who was a former member of another local municipality’s governing council, asked Mayor Schewel why he was focusing on foreign policy. This member explained that when he was on a local governing council he had faced similar issues, but chose to stay away from foreign policy issues. They felt that was not why they were elected. They were elected to get municipal services to their constituents and not to focus on foreign policy.

Mayor Schewel started sharing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. The congregation was clearly upset by this with one member asking why the mayor was lecturing on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A member asked why the mayor and council were focusing on Israel and not countries like North Korea or China.

During questions and answers, Mayor Schewel alleged that the training Chief Davis received in Israel was very different than the training Chief Lopez received in Israel. 

Two congregations members from immigrant families both spoke about members of their families and friends who are Arab and Muslim. Both repeatedly emphasized that for the most part, they saw excellent relations between Israelis, Jews, Palestinians and Muslims, and that they felt that actions like the City Council’s created a rift between those communities, rather than helping resolve problems. These two separate speakers, one being college age, rather captivated the congregation with their heartfelt personal stories and pleas to the mayor to remove Israel from the statement.

Mayor Schewel Blames Voice4Israel

Towards the end, Mayor Schewel complained about public record requests made by Voice4Israel. Mayor Schewel repeatedly focused on Voice4Israel. For example, Schewel called Voice4Israel a group of “internet trolls” and said that he felt his wife might be unsafe because she was one of many people included in a public records request. Mayor Schewel repeatedly blamed Voice4Israel for creating the entire situation. Mayor Schewel said that the April 16 Israel Resolution/Statement was not the problem. In his view, the problem was Voice4Israel. Judea Reform members ignored these comments by the mayor on public records and Voice4Israel and returned to asking the mayor to please remove Israel from the Israel Resolution.

The mayor repeatedly called on the Jewish community to hold forums to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict. About two members said this was important while the majority of speakers were focused on asking the mayor to remove Israel from the statement. Members were visibly annoyed when the mayor kept returning to the topic of forums on Israel.

One member pressed the mayor on why he ignored Police Chief Davis’ full memo related to this topic and chose instead to use a single sentence out of context from Davis’ memo.

The first author thanked Mayor Schewel and the council for attending and asked Schewel why he opposes the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel (as he stated in his intro), yet donates to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) – an organization that supports BDS. The mayor was also asked why he didn’t disclose that he was a donor to JVP. Mayor Schewel said he had donated to JVP one time and disclosed this donation to a few people. Schewel said this donation occurred about five years ago. Mayor Schewel did not mention that CauseVox, a fundraising website, reports that around 2017 Schewel donated to JVP. Schewel shared that he also has donated to J Street and the New Israel Fund. While the first author had many follow up questions, he did not ask them, said “thank you,” and returned to his seat.

Sorry, Not Sorry.

A congregation member said right after the event that she never felt satisfied by the mayor’s answers to the question of why you won’t revisit the April 16 statement. The member said, “It felt like the mayor was essentially saying ‘Sorry, not sorry.’” It was clear that many congregation members were unhappy with the mayor. One congregation member even said to to the mayor that this entire situation is not “kosher.”

Don’t Retweet Anti-Semites: An Open Letter to Durham City Council Member Jillian Johnson

Voice4Israel, Durham City Council
Dr. Adam Goldstein, Family Physician, Voice4Israel Board Member

Dear Ms. Johnson,

I saw last week that you chose to retweet a derogatory statement by Jeremy Corbyn against Israel. I suspect you may share his views about Israel in many ways, although I am not sure you are aware of how most mainstream Jewish organizations and leaders across the World view his longstanding and consistent demonization of Israel. His track record of attacks against Israel, in language and actions, bears the hallmark of modern anti-Semitism as it applies to Israel: demonization, delegitimization, and applying double standards. A recent article that succinctly documents these concerns over many years can be found here

 

Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson retweets a perpetuation of the myth that Israel indiscriminately targets civilians.

Israel, Voice4Israel, V4I

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

A recent book I have read is one that you may find of interest. It is from Yossi Klein Halevi, one of the most preeminent, progressive writers today about the Palestinian/Israel narratives.

In his just published book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, Mr. Halevi has worked for years to co-Direct, with Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke, the Muslim Leadership Initiative, that teaches young Muslim American leaders about Judaism and Israel in Israel. He eloquently describes in his book how one of the main obstacles to peace in the Middle East is an inability to hear a side of the narrative different from our own. He says that “One reason that the well-intentioned efforts of diplomats have failed so far is that they tend to ignore the deep religious commitments on both sides. For peace to succeed in the Middle East, it must speak in some way to both of our hearts.” I highly recommend this short book to you that can access here

Demonizing Israel 

A bottom line is that if you continue to listen to and promote only one narrative, whether it be the in the Durham Council’s statement on terrorism and police singling out and demonizing Israel, or giving credence to those with decades long track records of fostering hostility against Israel, and promote both narratives in ways that alienate substantial members of your own community who have a different narrative that is equally valid, you will never get to the place you hope of an enduring peace in the Middle East.

Sincerely,

Adam Goldstein, MD

Adam Goldstein, MD, is a family physician and researcher, who has served in leadership capacities for multiple Jewish organizations in North Carolina, across the U.S. and in Israel. His research on addiction has been cited nationally and internationally, appearing in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, on CNN and multiple other media platforms.