April 8, 2008
Jewish philanthropist accuses black pastor of anti-Semitism
Including: Email text, statement from Rev. Lee, Daphna Ziman video
Brad A. Greenberg, in The God Blog, reprints an apology email from Rev. Lee to Ziman in which Lee 'unequivocally denounces anti-Semitism'
An email from prominent Jewish philanthropist Daphna Ziman, who is known for her work with Los Angeles social causes, is circulating rapidly because of its accusations that a black pastor at an event where she was being honored made harshly anti-Semitic remarks in a keynote address.
The email connects remarks allegedly made by the Rev. Eric Lee, president and CEO of the Los Angeles office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to sentiments expressed by the now-notorious Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Lee denied Ziman's account of his speech (see official statement below).
At an event Friday, April 4, for the predominantly black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Ziman was recognized for her work with foster children. She alleges that following her acceptance of the Tom Bradley Distinguished Citizen Award, Lee accused Jews of oppressing blacks and said there could be no relationship between the two communities.
"The Jews have made money on us in the music business, and we are the entertainers, and they are economically enslaving us," Ziman's email quotes Lee saying.
In an interview, Lee emphatically denied Ziman's account.
"None of those words are what I said. Not a single word. My goodness," Lee said. "I look at the Jewish community as allies in our quest for advancement. For me, it doesn't do any good to indict anybody. I just need help in changing the characterization of African Americans through the entertainment industry, and whoever can help me is fine. And without question there are a lot of influential members of the Jewish community that may be able to help us with that."
True or not, Ziman's missive is now spreading exponentially through Los Angeles' Jewish community and beyond. Many readers have taken its content at face value - the email appears in its entirety on the Web site of StandWithUs, filed under anti-Semitism - and some distributors have added their own thoughts like: "Anybody who votes for Obama has got to have their head examined. It's like committing suicide."
The issue has been cast in a political light: Ziman blames presidential candidate Barack Obama for empowering anti-Semitic attitudes by remaining quiet for nearly 20 years while his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, spewed anti-Semitic and anti-American diatribes; others accuse Ziman, an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, of turning an alleged off-handed remark into a political ploy.
"This isn't about the election. This is about Obama taking responsibility," Ziman said in an interview. "The African-American community hates us because they feel persecuted. We've been slaves too. We've been persecuted -- six million of us were killed. And the fact that the African-American community hates us because they think we make money on them -- that is the same rhetoric that went on in Nazi Germany, and it ends up with mothers and women and children dying."
A native of Israel, she and her husband, Richard Ziman, CEO of Arden Realty, are major players in political and charitable circles. Children Uniting Nations, the charity that Ziman founded and was being honored for, takes foster children and puts them in academic counseling and mentoring so they can graduate high school.
Ziman left in tears during Lee's speech. The guests who accompanied her, including two women who work for her and a friend, have corroborated her account.
"He said that the African-American community is not going to bridge any gaps because the Jewish community is responsible for the defamation of African Americans on the silver screen," said Branka Gonzales, Children Uniting's chief financial officer. "His feelings were that nothing is going to change until those things change, until the Jewish community stops its ways."
"When the reverend got up, it almost felt like he was ... promoting Barack, and he said he is the only leader for where our country stands today," said Chase Dreyfous, who is Episcopalian. "Then he went on a tangent to say the Jews are holding the African-American musicians captive, that they had portrayed their children as thieves and murderers. I don't know if it was his intention or not, but for not being a Jewish person, I was extremely offended."
Others in attendance - from a state assemblyman to a civil rights attorney to the event's organizers, who invited Ziman - said they didn't listen carefully enough to the speech to confirm or deny Ziman's accusations.
"I vaguely remember hearing something about a conversation he had with a rabbi and dealing with the media," said the evening's emcee, Damon M. Brown, head of the Los Angeles alumni of Kappa Alpha Psi. "I don't recall hearing anything that was offensive to me, and then again, I'm not Jewish so I don't know if there are some sensitivities one would have."
Curtis R. Silvers Jr., the head of the fraternity's Western Province, which held the gala as part of its annual conference, also said he heard nothing offensive. He said there was no audio or video recording of the event and that, like Brown, he was preoccupied during Lee's keynote and paid it only intermittent attention. Assemblyman Mike Davis, a Los Angeles Democrat who has been supported by Ziman and her husband, said the same.
"I speak for a living, and I learned a long time ago that when you speak about controversial issues you have to be really careful and sometimes, even the best of people, will make mistakes," Davis said. "I can't say I was tuned into what he was saying, but I do know people make errors."
People are listening now.
"After I spoke and thanked the fraternity and their members, Rev. Eric Lee, pres. and CEO of Southern Christian Leadership Conference of greater Los Angeles, was introduced as the key note speaker," Ziman wrote, not minding a few typos in her Saturday email, which she sent to friends and several members of the media:
"He began his speech by thanking Jesus for Obama, who is going to be the leader of the world. He continued by referring to other leaders Like Dr. King,being that this was the moment of celebrating Dr. King's spirit on the anniversary of his assasination, and Malcolm X. It was right after the mention of Malcolm X that he looked right at me and started talking about the African American children who are suffering because of the JEWS that have featured them as rapists and murderers. He spoke of a Jewish Rabbi, and then corrected himself to say "What other kind of Rabbis are there, but JEWS". He told how this Rabbi came to him to say that he would like to bring the AA community and the Jewish community together. " NO, NO, NO,!!!!" he shouted into the crowd, we are not going to come together."
In fact, disputing her description, Lee noted that he and members of the SCLC are scheduled to take part in a black-Jewish seder organized by the American Jewish Committee on April 17 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Eli Lipmen, the AJC's L.A. spokesman, said Lee has been a friend of the Jewish community.
"Absolutely," Lipmen said. "SCLC is a respected organization in the community and we have worked with them in the past."
SCLC was founded by Martin Luther King Jr., a friend of Israel and the Jewish community. The gala Friday coincided with the 40th anniversary of the great civil rights leader's assassination and was given the theme, "Leaving an Inheritance to Our Kids and Our Communities."
Lee said his speech began by faulting the black community for its own failings: "I indicted the African American community more so for spending $930 billion and not having control of any industries and for having such a high dropout rate and having 40 percent of our children in foster care."
Lee said he referenced a conversation he had with an unidentified rabbi, during which he said the two communities needed to address the negative characterization of blacks on TV and in movies "for a genuine collaboration to take place."
"Black leaders have gone to black entertainment leaders and said, 'Take the "n" word out of your music and take the "b" word out of your music,'" Lee said in an interview. "And so, my thinking is -- in building a relationship, and reconnecting, as it were, like when Dr. King was alive in the civil rights movement -- is that our friends and allies in the Jewish community who have influence in the entertainment community can help us in changing the depiction of African Americans."
SCLC of Greater Los Angeles Statement