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.

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


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.

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.”