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.

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

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

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

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

World Renowned Historian Supports HRC Draft Report

Gerhard L. Weinberg, Israel, Durham City Council, HRC, Durham Human Relations Commission

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. 

Gerhard L. Weinberg wrote the letter below to the Durham HRC. Dr. Weinberg is a world renowned historian, North Carolina resident, and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Weinberg is author of many highly acclaimed books including A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II and Hitler’s Foreign Policy 1933-1939: The Road to World War II.

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

November 17, 2018

Dear Ms. Standaert,

While my wife and I live in Efland, we belong to Judea Reform Congregation in Durham.  As a retired professor of history who taught the first course on the Holocaust ever offered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I was astonished and disappointed to hear about the Durham City Council’s anti-Israel action.  Now I have been pleased to learn of the excellent report on this matter prepared for the city’s HRC which you chair.  I do hope that the HRC will approve the report as its official position on this issue.

Respectfully yours,

Gerhard L. Weinberg

 

Progressive Jewish Community Leader Supports HRC Draft Proposal

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, Israel, HRC, 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. 

Durham resident and community leader Pilar Rocha-Goldberg wrote the letter below to the HRC in support of their well researched draft report. Rocha-Goldberg is 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.”

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

November 24, 2018

Dear Diane and Ricardo,

I live and work in Durham. I would like to start by thanking you for the draft recommendations to Mayor Schewel and the Durham City Council regarding the April 16 statement, which included language specifically against Israel and no other foreign country.

I see what transpired at the City Council as a very serious issue of anti-Semitism arising from an action of a Government – I don’t say this lightly, I say this as a progressive community organizer who works hard for equality and human rights.

A small group of anti-Israel activists lobbied the Durham City Council with the message, based on lies and innuendo, that Israel trains police to “terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US.” It is almost incomprehensible to imagine that these anti-Israel activists succeeded in getting the Durham City Council to single out Israel without a shred of evidence to support such hateful claims.

In addition, I have been troubled by the lack of response by the Mayor Pro Tempore to an anti-Semitic email she received about me when I was applying for the open City Council seat in January (see pasted below my letter). I would have hoped that Jillian Johnson would have responded to her anti-Israel supporters by clearly stating that opposing my candidacy because I attend a certain synagogue is simply wrong and anti-Semitic. She did not.

Please note that the email to Jillian Johnson was written by Elyse Crystall. Crystall is one of the anti-Israel activists who spoke at the November HRC meeting. CC on the email were other leading architects of the virulently anti-Israel petition and campaign – Tom Stern, Sandra Korn, Beth Bruch Noah Rubin-Blose, and Gabriel Baldasare. Some of these anti-Israel activists had the audacity to lecture the HRC at the November meeting on the definition of anti-Semitism. Please don’t take advice on anti-Semitism from people who opposed my candidacy for City Council because of what synagogue I pray in. These folks should be taking sensitivity classes, not lecturing on the subject.

It is clear they have an “agenda” that is not opposed to employing anti-Semitism to see it succeed.

I believe that the Council, with their April 16 “Israel Resolution,” has contributed to an attack on Israel – the Jewish homeland. To many of us, this feels like an attack on the Jewish community. There was no value to mentioning Israel at all in the statement – doing so only caused pain and divisiveness and made the mainstream Jewish community feel attacked and unwelcome in Durham.

Criticizing Israel’s government is totally acceptable. We Jews do that all the time. Specifically targeting and singling out Israel at the City Council level, without targeting any other country, is divisive, discriminatory, and has created an environment that is welcoming and nurturing of anti-Semitism. The April 16 City Council statement – and the fast-tracking, clandestine process that enabled it – is arrogant and undemocratic. It has enabled anti-Semitism to flourish in Durham.

See this important column in the Washington Post by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, “How to tell when criticism of Israel is actually anti-Semitism.” Jacobs, a progressive Jew like me, stated that the Durham City Council’s statement against Israel amounts to an example of left wing anti-Semitism. I agree.

Lastly, I am very thankful for your draft HRC report. In addition to recommending that the City Council remove the singling out of Israel from their April 16 statement, I deeply appreciate the HRC’s careful detailing of the City Council’s lack of transparency and fairness in this entire process.

With all respect,

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg

Durham, NC

Israel, Israel Resolution, Durham HRC
Israel, Israel Resolution, Durham HRC