Letters to the Editor

Letters: Readers comment on Durham City Council policing statement that cites Israel

City must repair relations

I am 87 years old, a North Carolina resident, and a Holocaust survivor. I recently wrote to 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. A lot of repair work is needed by the Durham City Council – passing the commission’s 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. 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 (“blood libel”). 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 alive and safe.

Anti-Semitism often lies dormant. To awaken it all you need is a spark. It should come as no surprise that in response to the Durham City Council’s targeting of Israel, a resident felt very comfortable standing up at City Hall and saying Jews pray in “the synagogue of Satan.” It should come as no surprise that anti-Semitic posters and fliers have since appeared numerous times in Durham and surrounding areas.

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 its study of this issue and carefully written draft report. I fully support the recommendation that the council remove the singling out of Israel from the April 16 statement.

Sven Sonnenberg

Chapel Hill

Words do matter: A rebuttal

Josh Ravitch’s letter (“Words Do Matter,” Nov. 16) makes several unfounded allegations against Mayor Schewel and the Durham City Council. The issue, covered extensively by the Herald-Sun, is about the City Council’s statement passed unanimously on April 16 that limits the kind of training that Durham police officers might receive.

Ravitch says the mayor and the council acted to “single out, demonize and delegitimize Israel.” Not true. Israel was not singled out. Israel is mentioned in a preamble paragraph of the statement, but not in a way that singles it out. In the body of the statement Israel is not singled out in any way regarding council decisions about future Durham police officer training and Mayor Schewel has unambiguously confirmed that. When the Israeli government becomes part of a discussion, if the discussion is objective, it should address that government’s widespread and decades-long human-rights violations against Palestinians. Perhaps this is the reason that Ravitch does not want the name of Israel to surface.

The words “demonize” and “delegitimize” are often used to attempt to silence legitimate criticism. In the antebellum South those wishing to perpetuate slavery likely accused abolitionists of demonizing and delegitimizing plantation owners. Ravitch notes that someone at the council meeting, during the open public forum, referred to the “synagogue of Satan” and blamed that on the mayor for “giving comfort” to such remarks. Not true. Far from giving comfort to such a statement, the mayor harshly condemned it, saying “I am one of those Jews. I can’t describe that as anything but anti-Semitism. I don’t appreciate it. Don’t bring it here again!”

Mayor Schewel in his wrap-up remarks at the council meeting put it well when he said “It doesn’t help to say things that aren’t true in order to whip up support for your side.” It would have been helpful if Mr. Ravitch had heeded the mayor’s advice.

Sam Bryan

Chapel Hill

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