2018 has been a banner year for anti-Semitism in Durham, North Carolina. As disdain for Jews simmers throughout the Research Triangle, a lawsuit threatens to bring it to a boil amid accusations of anti-Semitism by local rabbis, Jewish groups and the Anti-Defamation League.
Filed in Durham County Superior Court by Durham resident Deborah Friedman, the suit alleges that Mayor Steve Schewel and members of the city council violated the Open Meetings Act by forbidding Durham law enforcement from working with the Israeli Defense Forces and then concealing their anti-Israel communications from the public.
“This was a malicious agenda which served the needs of the deceptively named Jewish Voice for Peace at the expense of the greater good of the community,” Friedman told the Haym Salomon Center. “Why wouldn’t we want to benefit from Israel, the world’s leader in security and combating terrorism?”
Friedman’s lawsuit centers on two emails Schewel sent from his personal account to the personal emails of council members regarding the introduction of the anti-Israel measure. The first email in question was sent at 12:54 a.m. on April 5 to three council members; the second was sent to the remaining three just before 1:00 a.m. According to government transparency expert Jonathan Jones, the attorney who filed the suit on Friedman’s behalf, Schewel’s emails constituted a government meeting, and under state law, the city council was legally obligated to provide “adequate notice” to the public.
Jones told the Haym Salomon Center:
I can’t speak to the council’s motivations. What I can say is that we believe the use of email to simultaneously communicate with a majority of council members is a violation of the N.C. Open Meetings Law. We’re asking the court to affirm that interpretation of the law. The use of personal email accounts – or cell phones or social media – to conduct the public’s business is almost never a good idea.
It should come as no surprise that the mayor and his council would want to curtail public knowledge of a meeting intended to condemn the Jewish state. At the end of the April 16 meeting at which the measure was passed, Schewel made a statement that can be construed as comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews: “I know the terrible traumas visited on us as a people are now being visited on others in Gaza and the West Bank.”
This ignorant and offensive rhetoric is straight out of the blame the Jews playbook used by anti-Semitic groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as white supremacists and countless progressive groups who speak as one anti-Semitic voice through intersectionality.
Since the Durham council passed the resolution, anti-Semitism has exploded in the area.
This year alone, Nazi propaganda flyers have been posted in Durham and in the nearby town of Cary; swastikas were painted on walls in high school bathrooms; artwork celebrating Jew-murdering terrorists was proudly displayed at a downtown exhibition. Earlier this month, a local imam went on an anti-Semitic rant calling for his followers to “fight the Jews.” On the campus of Duke University, acts of intimidation against Jewish students have become so brazen, so habitual, that its president issued an all-hands-on-deck plea to local officials for help to “confront the scourge of anti-Semitism.”
Is there a correlation between the anti-Semitic message Durham’s municipal government is sending the community and the spike in anti-Semitism in the area? What is telling is that Mayor Schewel and his council members felt the need to shroud in secrecy their plans for an anti-Israel measure by communicating through personal emails – avoiding transparency and possibly breaking the law.
Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.