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

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

Respected Professor and Jewish Federation Leader Supports HRC Draft Report

Lewis Margolis, Israel, HRC, Durham City Council, Letters to Durham HRC, 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. 

Dr. Lewis Margolis wrote the letter below to the Durham HRC. Lewis Margolis, MD, MPH, is a Jewish Federation leader and retired associate professor of maternal and child health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He has received the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs’ (AMCHP) Vince Hutchins Leadership Award.

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission 

November 25, 2018

Dear Ms. Standaert and Mr. Correa:

I am deeply troubled by the mis-guided April 16 resolution of the Durham City Council and expect, hope, that the Human Relations Commission will act according to its purpose and advise that the reference to Israel be deleted. I expect and hope that the Human Relations Commission will help the Durham City Council to understand that the mis-informed singling out of Israel amounts to an anti-Semitic intent and has no justified place in the resolution of April 16. Many members of the Jewish community, leaders and non-leaders, feel marginalized by this action of the Durham City Council. The first step in the re-emergence of anti-Semitism is when it moves from the fringes to the mainstream of politics, such as a Council resolution. Sadly and alarmingly, the members of the City Council have acted as if this resolution poses no political harm to them, the second ominous step in the emergence of anti-Semitism.

As long-time resident of the Durham-Chapel Hill community, I appreciate the value that open-minded tolerance has added to our community and fear the harm that results when that value is diminished by careless political thinking. Please keep me informed of your actions. I trust that the Human Rights Council will act appropriately, consistent with its mission.

Lewis Margolis
Chapel Hill, NC

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

 

Holocaust Survivor Writes the Durham HRC

Israel, Durham City Council, HRC
Sven Sonnenberg is an 87 year old North Carolina resident and a Holocaust survivor. His childhood was spent in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. As a survivor, Mr. Sonnenberg witnessed horrors beyond most people’s imaginations. Mr. Sonnenberg is author of A Two Step Journey to Hell about surviving the Holocaust. Sven just wrote to Durham’s Human Relations Commission (HRC):

"I fully support your recommendation that the Council removes the singling out of Israel from the April 16 statement. Please vote on and pass your draft proposal so that the Durham City Council finally revisits their divisive, discriminatory statement."

Sven Sonnenberg

November 17, 2018

HRC Chair Diane Standaert and HRC Commissioners,

I am 87 years old, a North Carolina resident, and a Holocaust survivor. I am writing the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) concerning the April 16 Durham City Council statement that has caused so much unnecessary pain, tension, and divisiveness. I fully support the efforts of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, Voice4Israel, and the thousands of local Jews they represent. I hope the HRC will carry through with your excellent draft proposal by voting to approve this proposal at your December meeting. A lot of repair work is needed by the Durham City Council – passing your draft proposal will certainly make it clear to the Council that they can’t just keep dismissing the local Jewish minority.

My childhood was spent in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. As a Holocaust survivor, I witnessed horrors beyond most people’s imaginations. I witnessed deaths and starvation in ghettos, deportations to death camps and pogroms. A pogrom is an unknown term for most Americans. It starts with a spark, a false accusation against Jews. Typically, in Poland or Russia, it is a missing child during Easter week followed by false, quickly spreading rumors that the child was killed in a ritual murder by Jews for getting blood for making matzos (this is called a “blood libel” against Jews). It invariably and regularly resulted in a mob moving into the Jewish quarter and killing, raping, and looting. That “killed child” was always found later being alive and safe.

Anti-Semitism is a mental decease often dormant. To awaken it all you need is a spark, hearsay, lies, falsehoods. It should come as no surprise to anyone that in response to the Durham City Council’s targeting of Israel, a resident felt very comfortable standing up at City Hall and thanking the Council by saying that Jews pray in “the synagogue of Satan.” It should come as no surprise that directly following the Council’s targeting of Israel, anti-Semitic posters and fliers have appeared numerous times in Durham and surrounding areas. The Durham City Council targeted only Israel – that sends a message that targeting Jews is okay. I have seen this all before.

Recently, Jews were slaughtered at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Mayor Schewel had the audacity to only blame the far right for such hate. Mayor Schewel led the City Council in an unprecedented targeting of Israel – that also contributes to such hate and intolerance.

I commend and thank the HRC for your study of this issue and carefully written draft report. I fully support your recommendation that the Council removes the singling out of Israel from the April 16 statement. Please vote on and pass your draft proposal so that the Durham City Council finally revisits their divisive, discriminatory statement.

Sincerely,

Sven Sonnenberg 


Read more letters to the Durham Human Relations Commission here

Duke Student Asks Durham HRC to Approve Well Researched Draft Proposal

HRC, Israel

Max Cherman, Duke University Class of 2020, writes to the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) asking them to approve their draft proposal which finds the Durham City Council at fault for their April 16, 2018 foreign policy statement against Israel. Read more letters sent to the HRC here.

"I am very grateful for your efforts...Thank you again for the HRC’s sensible leadership on this issue."

Max Cherman

November 19, 2018

Dear Ms. Standaert and Mr. Correa,

My name is Max Cherman and I am a student at Duke. I would personally like to thank you, as leaders of the Durham Human Relations Committee, for the HRC’s thoughtful and thorough draft report, findings, and recommendations on the City Council’s statement regarding international police exchanges. This issue has caused unnecessary tension and division in the community, and I believe your proposal would help us bring this divisive issue to a productive end. It would address the need for more responsible, de-militarized, and de-racialized policing while avoiding divisive statements unnecessarily singling out Israel in the discussion of the city’s opposition to international military-style police exchanges.

It is imperative that we move on from this issue. Too much time has been spent focusing on theories and presumptions of what training Chief Lopez did or did not receive in Israel, especially considering that whatever training Chief Lopez did receive has not led to any policy changes within the DPD. At this point, given the tension this issue has caused in our community, I think it’s an understatement to say that members of the DPD are unlikely to engage is further exchanges in Israel. Given the fact that the DPD has historically had visitors/training from representatives of other countries as well, the most proactive handling of this situation would be to address potential police exchanges/training with representatives from any country as a blanket policy clearly applied to all countries equally. The draft revisions so eloquently do this, and I am very grateful for your efforts in making these changes.

Thank you again for the HRC’s sensible leadership on this issue.

Sincerely,
Max Cherman

Duke University Class of 2020

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