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

Opposition to the City Council’s Statement

Israel, Durham City Council, Don Stanger

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council remove the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

C. Donald Stanger, a valued friend and ally of the Jewish community and Past President of the Rotary Club of Durham,  wrote the Durham HRC the powerful letter below. 

Read more Letters to the Durham HRC.

Human Relations Commission City of Durham

City of Durham
Golden Belt Office Center 807 E Main Street
Building 2, 3rd Floor Conference Room
Durham, North Carolina 27707

Subject: Opposition to the City Council’s Statement
Ref.: Statement by the Durham City Council on lnternational Police Exchanges

The purposes for writing this letter are twofold: to express my deep concerns about the completely unnecessary and extremely hurtful statement made by the Durham City Council regarding the unlikely prospect of DPD personnel attending education sessions in lsrael to allegedly ‘militarize’ our police department, and to voice my support for Commission’s Sub-Committee draft recommendation on the issue.

As a resident of this city for over 25 years, I have seen wonderful advances in our City, especially with race relations. The Durham Police Department has made great strides with its community policing initiatives. As amember of Mayor Bill Bell’s Jobs Task Force (an element of Mayor’s Bell’s Poverty lnitiative), a former chair of the Habitat for Humanity of Durham board of directors, an active member of DPD PAC 3 through my board membership of the Hope Valley Neighborhood Association, a past president of the Rotary Club of Durham, and a six-year reading tutor at Y. E. Smith Elementary, I am very familiar with how our police interact with our diverse community. ln my various roles, I have found our police, both collectively and individually, to uphold the most professional law enforcement standards. When on occasion individual police officers act inappropriately, the DPD takes corrective measures.

I am a life-long Roman Catholic and have led the Ministry to the Sick and Homebound at Holy lnfant Catholic Church in Durham for many years.

With all this as context, I strongly oppose the statement made by the City Council. lt is unnecessary, not only because our police department has no intention of becoming a militarized force, let alone attend training in lsrael. More importantly, our police department has been committed for years to implementing a community policing model that is very successful.

I am proud to stand with my brothers and sisters in Durham’s Jewish community to declare my opposition to this statement. lt is not only inaccurate, but it unfairly singles out lsrael above all other countries and paints it with the broad brush of anti-lsrael rhetoric. This statement is not only unnecessary and hurtful, it has divided our community.

I strongly encourage the Human Relations Commission through its mission to improve human relations among the people of Durham, to request that the City Council modify their statement by eliminating any mention of the State of lsrael.

Respectfully,

C. Donald Stanger

December 19, 2018

Judea Reform Supports HRC Draft Critical of Durham City Council

Judea Reform Congregation, JRC, HRC, Durham City Council

Judea Reform Strong

On December 13, 2018, Judea Reform Congregation (JRC) announced that President Ziva Raney, Rabbi (Interim) John Franken, and the Board of Trustees sent a letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) in support of its draft report.

Judea Reform is the largest congregation in the North Carolina Triangle area with approximately 600 family memberships. Dr. Robert Gutman, co-chair of Voice4Israel and former Judea Reform member, responded, “The community has united in this cause in a beautiful fashion and with clarity of purpose. And now we have the largest Congregation taking a firm stance. Thank you.”

After thanking the HRC for its “thorough and thoughtful report,” The JRC letter stated, “It is our hope that the full HRC, and subsequently the City Council, will adopt the recommendations of your subcommittee as submitted, especially the rewrite of the Council Statement that omits the unnecessary and disruptive reference to the State of Israel. These recommendations go a long way to correcting misinformation and the pain felt by many in the Jewish community.” Read the full JRC letter here

Judea Reform Members Embrace Their Synagogue’s Letter to the HRC 

Larry H. Rocamora told Voice4Israel, “I am President of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation and a past President of Judea Reform Congregation. I am proud of my Congregation coming out in support of the draft HRC report and recommending the removal of Israel from the April 16 statement. Singling out Israel served no purpose in furthering Durham City Council business and has led to hurtful rhetoric that is painful to the Jewish community and makes many of us feel unwelcome in the city where we live.”

Ethan Hertz shared with Voice4Israel, “As a member of Judea Reform Congregation for almost three decades, and as someone who has served JRC in a variety of capacities, including as a Vice President, and as someone who knows the Durham Police well, having served on Durham’s Civilian Police Review Board for nine years, I am delighted that JRC’s President, Rabbi and Board joined other area congregations and our local Federation in asking the Durham Human Relations Commission to adopt its subcommittee’s draft report related to the City Council’s resolution on police training and Israel. This unfortunate resolution implies that there is a linkage between Israel, Jews and police misconduct. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mark Rodin, a 38 year member of Judea Reform, shared with Voice4Israel, “I am pleased Rabbi Franken and our board support it, and hopefully the full commission will approve the reference to Israel be taken out of the City Council’s April 16 statement.”

“Collectively, we need to check our American privilege at the door since Palestinian rockets aren’t being fired at our own homes, and the leadership at Judea Reform get this, as they have publicly supported the terrific work of the Durham Human Relations Commission on the anti-Israel resolution,” said Durham resident and Judea Reform member Kathryn Wolf. “It’s so imperative that our Jewish leaders stand up to anti-Semitism in all its forms, whether it comes from the Right or the Left.”

Peter Reitzes, a five year member of JRC, stated, “I am proud of Judea Reform for encouraging the HRC to approve its draft report and for encouraging the Durham City Council to accept the recommendations.” Reitzes added, “When Mayor Steve Schewel spoke at JRC in October, he stubbornly and repeatedly refused to revisit the April 16 statement. Hopefully that will change now.”

Dr. Stanley Robboy, a former Judea Reform member and more recently co-president of the Kehillah Synagogue shared, “I am proud that the three area synagogues (Beth El, Judea Reform and Kehillah) and 12 of the area rabbis all have denounced the ill-conceived statement. I am also proud that the Durham Human Relations subcommittee has drafted a report (to be voted upon at it Jan 8, 2019 meeting) that will tell the City Council it should remove the word Israel while amending the statement in many areas to improve its over all content. We all strongly support its adoption.”

Read more Letters to the Durham HRC

Triangle Rabbis Support Durham HRC Draft

Israel, Durham

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham Ciaty Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement.

12 North Carolina Triangle-area rabbis wrote the seminal letter below to the Durham HRC in support of their draft report. This is likely the single most important letter sent to the HRC. Our Jewish spiritual leaders are speaking in unity and make us proud. Voice4Israel applauds and thanks our local rabbis. Be sure and also read the rabbi’s impressive “punch in the gut” letter sent to the Durham City Council. Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission

December 2, 2018

To the Durham Human Relations Commission:

We, rabbis from Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, are writing to express our support for the November 12, 2018 “Draft Report, Findings and Recommendations on April 16th Statement by Durham City Council on International Police Exchanges.” We appreciate the report’s thoroughness and thoughtfulness and we believe it charts a constructive way forward for our community to heal. We call upon the Human Relations Commission to adopt the report at its upcoming January meeting.

B’virkat Shalom (with blessings of peace),

Rabbi Lucy Dinner

Rabbi Jen Feldman

Rabbi Jerry Fox

Rabbi Elana Friedman

Rabbi John Franken

Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Rabbi Pinchas Herman

Rabbi Laura Lieber

Rabbi Steve Sager

Rabbi Melissa B. Simon

Rabbi Eric Solomon

Rabbi Jennifer Solomon

Letter to HRC: Standing in Solidarity with the Jewish Community

Rene Paul de la Varre, Israel, Durham HRC, Durham City Council, Israel Resolution

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

Rene Paul de la Varre, a valued friend and ally of the Jewish community,  wrote the Durham HRC the heartfelt letter printed below. We are proud to have such strong allies as Rene.

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission

December 1, 2018

Dear Ms. Standaert, and Mr. Correa,

I want to compliment and thank you and your committee for the excellent draft report which I have read. No doubt, the April 16 statement from the Durham City Council singling out Israel was wrong. The group who initiated this is known for their anti-Israel activism, who constantly base their opinion on lies and disinformation. I am not Jewish, but my Jewish friends feel unwelcomed in Durham, targeted, and marginalized by the reckless actions of the Durham City Council. I am in pain because my Jewish friends are in pain. “Durham for all” should include the Jewish minority.

I have also lived and worked in Israel on five different occasions. I respect your hard work, therefore, I purposely left out a list of seminars police departments around the country have had in Israel. All who took part raved about what they had learned.

I have followed this situation closely. The City Council fast-tracked anti-Israel foreign policy using non-transparent procedures that make the Jewish community and their allies feel marginalized. Your draft report captures this injustice using evidence and research. Thank you!

I implore all HRC commissioners to do the right thing. Support the draft as its official position for the good of Durham, its Jewish minority, and our country.

Respectfully,

Rene Paul de la Varre
Chapel Hill, NC

Israel Singled Out: HRC Draft Zeroes in on Facts

Voice4Israel, Durham City Council

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

Adam Goldstein, MD, Chair of North Carolina Hillel, wrote the Durham HRC the impressive letter printed below. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission

December 10, 2018
 
Dear Diane and Ricardo,
 
I want to add my voice to those representing thousands of others in the Durham community who have reached out to you and others on the HRC who wrote the Draft report of November 12th, 2018, on the Durham City Council statement singling out Israel on International Police Exchanges. 
 
Your Draft report has zeroed in on the facts that the Durham City Council singled out Israel in their April 16 statement and it displayed a lack of transparency and diligence in its approach. Your Draft report goes a long way to helping recognize and begin to rectify the discriminatory nature of the City Council’s actions that have harmed so many in our community. Over the last six months, I have witnessed a community that has been the subject of tremendous derision and hate from extremist groups bent on bringing their agenda to our community.  Efforts by groups wanting to use City government to single out and demonize one country in the world, the Jewish homeland, that decry large segments of our community, including most institutions and members of the Jewish community, must not be encouraged.   Your Draft statement would be a breath of fresh air to bring the great majority of Durham’s citizens together and to make a clear and unequivocal distinction between policy decisions based on facts and one’s personal beliefs based on opinion. The HRC appears to be taking its obligation to look at the facts, and the facts alone, of this issue.  
 
I am currently the Chair of North Carolina Hillel, the organization that represents Jewish life for students on 13 campuses across North Carolina. In that role, I have seen and heard of dozens of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish organizations and students across our state.  The rise in anti-Semitism alone in Durham over this past year, in targeted attacks throughout Durham and on Duke’s campus, have been alarming but perhaps not surprising from many who might feel emboldened by the tolerance.  Many of our Jewish students on campus are fearful for the first time expressing their Jewish faith or their love of Israel.  After the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, however, moderates of all faiths came together on vigils across North Carolina campuses and communities to express support for tolerance and to say no to acts that directly or indirectly encourage intolerance.
 
I applaud you again for your leadership, and I hope the HRC will adopt its sub-committee report at its January meeting. Please do circulate my letter to the entire Commission.
 
Sincerely,
 
Adam Goldstein, MD
Chair, North Carolina Hillel

Kehillah Synagogue Writes Durham HRC

Israel, Durham HRC

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

On behalf of its board of directors, The Kehillah Synagogue’s Co-presidents wrote the Durham HRC the impressive letter printed below. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission (December 6, 2018)

Dear Chief Commissioner Standaert, Subcommittee Chair Ricardo Correa and members of the Durham Human Relations Commission,

The Kehillah Synagogue of Chapel Hill thanks you for your Subcommittee’s thoughtful approach to addressing the concerns that the members of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish community have raised regarding the Durham City Council’s statement on international police exchanges. About one-fourth of our congregants reside in Durham and more work there.

Please adopt the report as drafted when you next meet on January 8.

Thank you for examining in detail the Durham City Council’s statement of April 16, 2018, the circumstances leading to its adoption, and reaching out to the diverse stakeholder groups whom the statement directly affected. Thank you also for attending two community forums, one which the Jewish Federation held that many from the Jewish Community and other faith-based groups attended, and the other that the Judea Reform Congregation hosted where Mayor Schewel answered audience questions. We thank you for considering the many diverse perspectives.

The Kehillah has a deep and well-known commitment to supporting human rights through our Social Action Committee. Our Rabbi and members of our congregation have been leaders in championing the interests of low-income and minority populations in the Durham-Chapel Hill area. We have long-standing, meaningful relationships with many social service and interfaith organizations. The Council’s statement condemning Israel jeopardized these relationships threatening the wellbeing and safety of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish community. As so many of the rabbis from the Triangle stated in their joint letter, the statement was a “punch in the gut.”

Your Subcommittee’s draft report highlights the many ways the City Council’s process might have been improved and offers suggestions for the future. We concur. In particular, we support the statement, “Because of the process by which the statement was passed and the fact that the statement could have been written more clearly in some parts, we believe the statement contributed to tension in our community. We also believe there are steps that can be taken to address this. The City Council should revise the language in the April 16th language [statement] to provide clarity based on the concerns and findings outlined here…”

We appreciate the Commission’s commitment to both bringing our community together and speaking out against antisemitism. After the recent Pittsburgh shooting, the Kehillah held a vigil in which over 700 persons from many different faith-based churches participated. Our Rabbi Jennifer Feldman said, “We stand in solidarity against hatred with our LGBTQ+, Latino, African American, Muslim, immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, and with people of faith everywhere.” The Kehillah members fully intend to work with the Commission and the City Council to continue building strong interfaith relations. Everybody wins by such actions.

Jonathan Kotch and Andrew Werden, Kehillah Synagogue Co-presidents and the Kehillah Synagogue Board of Directors

Discrimination is Singling Out One Among Many

Herman Sperling
Herman Sperling

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

Herman Sperling and Robert Gutman, both Durham residents, sent the Durham HRC the strong letter printed below. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

December 9, 2018

Dear Dianne and Ricardo:

Thank you so much for allowing us to address the HRC in support of the well-researched and considered recommendation from the subcommittee about the reference to “Israel” in the Council’s April 16 memorandum. Not only do we hope that our message resonated with the Commission, but we benefitted from essential insights into how the issue is being considered.

While we understand the main issue to be whether the inclusion of the specific reference to Israel in the document ratified by the Durham City Council is discriminatory to us here in Durham, it became clear that at least one of the members sees the issue as being about alleged discriminatory practices within Israel. We see these as two separate and distinct issues.

If the issue in front of the HRC is about training practices that are alleged to promote militarization of the Durham Police, then we ask that either the singular mention of Israel be deleted, or that all counties, including the US, the UK, Germany, Jordan, Egypt and all countries that offer similar training also be included.

If the issue is about countries where discrimination exists, we ask that Israel not be the singular mention. But if she is to be mentioned then every other country where at least as much discrimination exists such be included as well. Examples would include: The US, South Africa, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, The Islamic Republic of Iran, The Philippines, India, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, China, Russia and France to name but a few.

We do understand the immediacy of concern about others who might be close friends and neighbors in our city having experienced discrimination in Durham, Ferguson, Pittsburg, Baltimore and elsewhere. Afterall, those espousing discrimination attacked both people of color and Jews in Charlottesville and elsewhere. The hundreds of centuries of discrimination, persecution and murder the Jewish people have suffered compels us to be aligned with them to fight any type of discrimination everywhere it occurs, including here in Durham.

We do not understand the claim that removing the name, which was needlessly added is an insult to others. There is no right to insult gratuitously. The expressed interest in returning to the original claim by the petitioners that perceptions of discrimination in Israel are relevant to what happens here is itself discriminatory

In conclusion we simply do not understand how discrimination is not defined by singling out one of many. And, as the Supreme Court of these United States has ruled, harassment is based on impact, not intent. Let there be no misunderstanding but that citizens of Durham have been adversely impacted by a discriminatory memorandum. Therefore, there cannot be any reasoned conclusion other than recommending an adjustment to the City Council’s memorandum of April 16 eliminating the singular reference to Israel.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Herman Sperling and Robert Gutman
Citizens of Durham North Carolina

Heartbroken about Durham City Council – Thankful for HRC Draft Report

Durham HRC, Israel, Durham City Council

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

Judith Siegel, a Durham resident, sent the Durham HRC the strong letter printed below. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

November 29, 2018

Dear Mr. Ricardo and Ms. Standaert,

I reside in Durham and have lived in this area for 52 years. I was heartbroken to think that my own city could issue such a hurtful and untruthful statement about “military” policing by Israel. I also watched the proceedings leading up to its being passed and could not believe the venom expressed that day. Could this be my city? It left me in tears.

So it was a relief to read your knowledgeable and thoughtful draft report. Thank you, thank you, for helping to right a wrong. I want to express my fervent hope that it will be passed by the full Commission.

Sincerely,

Judith Siegel

Beth El Synagogue Writes Durham Human Relations Commission

Beth El Synagogue, Durham Human Relations Commission, Israel, Durham City Council

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

Beth El Synagogue sent the letter below to the Durham HRC. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

November, 2018

Dear Durham Human Relations Commission,

I am writing on behalf of Beth El congregation to thank you for your committee’s careful and thoughtful approach to considering the concerns of members of the Durham Jewish community about the City Council’s statement on international police exchanges. We hope you will adopt the report as drafted at your upcoming December meeting.

In particular, we appreciate the time you took to reach out to many stakeholders and to attend local community forums to learn as much as possible from the community about various perspectives. As our Board of Trustees noted in a June 2018 letter to the City Council, one of our major concerns was that

We are not aware of any effort to reach out to the Jewish community prior to the vote on the resolution, and this contributed to a feeling that our community was not valued. Behind this feeling are concerns about recent anti-Semitic incidents in Durham and elsewhere that suggest that anti-Semitism is a growing and present threat for our community and beyond. We hope that in the future, if similar issues arise that affect any minority community, City Council members will reach out to leaders of the affected communities to seek their input and involve them in the discussion.

The commission report highlights ways the process could have been better, and we concur with many of the observations in the report.

Finally, we appreciate your commitment to educating the community and speaking out against antisemitism. Beth El congregation looks forward to opportunities to partner with you on this effort and are eager to participate in other efforts to address racism, and engage in interfaith, interracial dialogue here in Durham.

Again, thank you for taking the time to thoroughly consider these issues and many perspectives and suggesting a constructive path forward.

Sincerely,

Debbie Goldstein, Beth El President and the Beth El Board of Trustees