Councilmember Silverman Sends Letter to Colleagues After “Fake Jew” Comment at Rally

Yesterday, at a rally organized by D.C. Housing Authority Board member Joshua Lopez held outside of the John A. Wilson Building, an attendee called At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) a “fake Jew” and referred to Jewish people as “termites.” Councilmember Silverman sent the following letter to her colleagues earlier today:

Dear Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council colleagues:

The hateful words spoken yesterday outside the Wilson Building have absolutely no place in our city. It is unconscionable that event supporters brush off these repugnant words of prejudice simply as “wrong things” to say and speakers going “rogue.” Not at all: This was a deliberately misleading, intentionally designed attempt to stir up division and hatred, particularly for me as a Jewish, At-Large Council member, who represents the entire city including Ward 8.

It is part of a disturbing tolerance within our city for anti-Jewish hate speech, which has made these last several weeks increasingly hurtful and difficult for me and others at the Wilson Building who are Jewish, as well as for the entire D.C. Jewish community.

When the Post first reported on Councilmember Trayon White’s remarks about the Rothschilds manipulating the weather, I was surprised to say the least. The Rothschilds reference is an anti-Jewish smear which had been used in Nazi propaganda and at earlier times in Europe to foment hatred for people of my faith. Frankly, I feel guilty that I didn’t catch it at the Mayor-Council breakfast. No one pointed it out to me afterward. Initially, I considered the reference a bit archaic; it resonates strongly for my parents’ generation but less for mine and those who are younger.

Yet over the last month I learned it also resonates with those who follow Minister Louis Farrakhan. I have since watched many clips from Farrakhan speeches in which the Rothschilds are prominently mentioned along with statements about Jews that I can only say have been proven again and again to be untrue. The statements are meant to divide, and to make Farrakhan’s followers believe that Jews are evil and manipulative and the cause of problems for African-Americans. Jews aren’t the only target; he calls homosexuality immoral and an abomination. That is why organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled Farrakhan an extremist, and he is on its hate group list. What he says is false, is hurtful, and is hate.

That’s why I mentioned Farrakhan at the breakfast with Jewish leaders a few weeks ago. I said that we must grapple with his role and his influence in our community. He has spoken many times in our city, most recently in Ward 8. At the breakfast I said that I know this is a difficult issue, because Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam does anti-violence, economic empowerment, and other work that is seen as helpful and beneficial. But woven throughout Farrakhan’s teachings are false conspiracies about Jews and others. It is designed to make people hate Jews for simply being Jewish, which is the very definition of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice.

While some dismiss Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam as fringe and increasingly marginalized, I challenge that belief, at least in our city, given his dangerous conspiracy theories were considered mainstream enough to be absorbed and supported financially by our colleague. Then again, I’ve been told that confronting the issue of Farrakhan might be too explosive, and we’re better off letting it go. But that is the wrong thing to do in the face of such hateful language. Farrakhan says Jews are the enemy of the righteous. He’s talking about me, Brianne, and members of our faith. He says we are evil. That’s why, sadly, I wasn’t surprised when a Nation of Islam member in front of the steps of the Wilson Building yesterday called Jews “termites.”

What saddens me even more and is more alarming to me is that it seems acceptable in this city, on this Council, and by this administration to either ignore, look the other way, or even accept these remarks. This is vile. It is the language of hate and bigotry, and it is meant to divide not overcome.

I did not call for censure or reprimand of Trayon because what I’ve realized over this last month is that there is a collective overall toleration for anti-Jewish sentiment in our city by D.C. leadership. Trayon shouldn’t have to be the lone leader to bear the burden of that. I will admit even I’ve been guilty of letting anti-Jewish remarks slide, because I didn’t want to cause friction or disruption.

No longer.

It is not simply ignorance or lack of exposure to Judaism that causes these type of remarks to be made. It is exposure to Farrakhan’s hateful words for Jews that might be couched in language regarding the Rothschilds or Israel that is spoken openly in certain parts of our city. These hateful words about Jews, the LGBTQ community, and others is a cancer to our city. It is unacceptable for us as community leaders to look the other way because it might make us uncomfortable to deal with it.

I ask for several immediate things to be done to address this cancer:

  1. I ask my council colleagues again to condemn Farrakhan’s hate. This might be done individually or even better collectively through a Sense of the Council resolution. 
  2. We must, as a legislative body and as the leadership of this city, grapple with the impacts of Farrakhan’s influence and address anti-Semitism in our city. I have connected Rabbi Glazer to Leon Andrews and Aliza Wasserman at National League of Cities, hoping to put together a workshop focused on anti-Semitism similar to the racial equity workshop we did at the retreat. I hope you will participate when this happens and lend your ideas on other educational opportunities.
  3. You might have heard or read how uplifting the Passover seder had been. Trayon, Karl Racine, and I all thought it was such a great experience to break bread (or matzah) and get into really personal, challenging conversations about dealing with and overcoming prejudice and oppression, including our personal experiences. I’ve spoken to a few Jewish leaders about how we could do this kind of dinner on a much larger scale across the city. 
  4. I will ask Mayor Bowser to dismiss Josh Lopez from the D.C. Housing Authority Board and any other public-serving position. In social media, Lopez deliberately used misleading language in an attempt to pit me against Black and Latino residents. He organized yesterday’s rally where he held the bullhorn for a hateful speaker who called me a “fake Jew” and sowed division. This is unacceptable behavior for any type of public servant to our city. It is disgusting.

Yesterday was especially hurtful to me because I have tried throughout these last weeks to continue to talk with Trayon and work together on the important things we care about: ending poverty in our city, closing the work opportunity and education achievement gaps, and making sure this city is affordable to everyone. We even introduced a piece of legislation on public sector apprenticeships together. Yet the remarks yesterday and over the past days by Lopez and others made it feel like it didn’t matter who I have been or what I have said or done for two decades in this city. It was demoralizing and deeply painful. 

Yet I remain steadfast in overcoming hate. As I have said many times, the Black and Jewish communities have a history of combating hate and oppression, of working together to take on prejudice and bigotry. We can do it again, but we need to do it together. Hate speech in any form is a cancer to our city that we cannot let metastasize. It needs to be addressed by the leadership of this city.