April 17, 2008
E-mail charging anti-Semitism takes toll on Rev. Lee
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"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, which has also issued a general apology "where any speaker gives pain to another." "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., head of the fraternity's Western Province, also said he heard nothing offensive. Like Brown, he said he was preoccupied and paid Lee's keynote only intermittent attention.
Assemblyman Mike Davis, a Los Angeles Democrat who has been supported by the Zimans, said the same: "I can't say I was tuned into what he was saying, but I do know people make errors."
Ziman's e-mail, however, captured everyone's attention.
"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 e-mail:
"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 assassination, 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."
The rabbi Lee mentioned was Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus for Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, who was not at the April 4 gala but attended a dinner with black and Jewish leaders last month at a home across from First AME. Jacobs said when he asked how blacks and Jews could restore their relationship to its level in the days before King was killed, Lee said a requisite should be an effort to change the portrayal of blacks on TV and in movies.
"He raised the question of the power in Hollywood and brought it up as something we ought to discuss," Jacobs said. "It wasn't condemnation, and I must tell you I don't believe he is an anti-Semite."
While vehemently disputing Ziman's account last week, Lee said he had, in fact, discussed Jewish media influence.
"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."
Ziman's e-mail soon moved across the globe, aided by dissemination on April 9 on StandWithUs' 50,000-member listserv. Jewish organizations in Los Angeles heard from folks in Chicago and New York and the South, from Israelis and Europeans. It got additional attention when the Los Angeles Times reported the "rift" a week after it began. Many who shared the e-mail added their own commentary.
"It's no secret: the black community is riddled with Jew-hatred," Robert J. Avrech, a screenwriter who is Orthodox, wrote when posting the e-mail to his well-trafficked blog, Seraphic Secret. "And with so many apologists for Jeremiah Wright on the left and in the Jewish community, well, Jew-hatred has found a comfortable home not just in the black community but in the Democratic party."
Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, added a similar sentiment in bolded letters when he forwarded Ziman's missive: "Anti Americanism, Anti Zionism, Anti Semitism mark today's left."
In responding to the incident, many community leaders have had to traverse a minefield.
The mayor, Councilman Bernard Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas had been present at the gala, but all left before Lee's address. In response to the controversy, Villaraigosa broadly condemned racism in any form and at any time. The AJCommittee and the ADL looked for a way to move forward regardless of what Lee had said.
"Unapologetic anti-Semitism has a much different feeling than this thing," said Amanda Susskind, the ADL's regional director, who has acted as a liaison between Ziman and Lee. "It doesn't mean that either side is right or wrong, or what he said or she said -- I wasn't there.... But I would say there is always room for more discussion, dialogue and sensitivity."
Ziman wants to organize a summit of rabbis and Christian ministers to discuss things that shouldn't be said "by people who are the voice of God" and spent last Thursday and Friday discussing this with The Federation's Gold and Uri Herscher, president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center, as well as friends in the black community.
"I'm hoping that the whole country will take notice, and no reverend will ever say anti-Semitic things in their sermons," Ziman said. "And I am hoping that the African American and Jewish communities will come together and understand that we have a lot more in common than differences and that we can help each other.
"I am more committed than ever to get members of the Jewish community to come with me into the inner city and the schools we work with. That way, the children will see that the Jewish community cares about them and wants to help. This is not about politics," she continued. "This is really about standing up to anti-Semitism."
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