In April of 2018, the Durham city council adopted, by unanimous vote, a statement opposing “international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training.” The statement concluded with some generic declarations about racial justice, clarifying that “Black lives matter.” But it began with a quotation from the municipal police chief stating clearly “there has been no effort while I have served as chief of police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so.” This disclaimer points to the origins of the statement in a petition from an offshoot of Jewish Voice for Peace, a particularly vicious anti-Israel group. In his speech in favor of the resolution, Durham’s mayor made the connection to the Jewish state clear, as Sean Cooper reports:
“I want to start [by] speaking to the folks from Jewish Voice for Peace. I really mainly want to speak to the Jews in the room, my fellow Jews,” Mayor Steve Schewel told the crowd [at the city-council meeting].
As it turned out, rewriting the JVP petition—[which originated on the local university] campus—into the city-council resolution was the mayor’s own doing. He himself had penned the final draft of the document.
“I’m a Jew and I am a Zionist,” he declared. “I believe in the existence of a Jewish state. I fear for its survival. But I know the terrible traumas visiting on us as a people, we are now visiting on others in Gaza and on the West Bank,” the mayor claimed, somehow turning the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust into a motive for the infliction by Israel . . . of equivalent horrors on Palestinians, a charge for which there is zero evidence.
Many of Durham’s Jewish citizens attended the city-council session to voice their dissatisfaction at the resolution, which had been pushed onto the agenda with unusual rapidity and possible procedural irregularity—but their efforts proved to be too little, too late. Cooper notes the comments of Deborah Friedman, one of the most dedicated opponents of the resolution:
Friedman’s concerns . . . centered on the fear that condemning the Jews would bring out acts of bigotry throughout the city. “If you do something anti-Semitic, it lets others fly their flags. It energizes them,” she said. She saw her fears come to fruition when Minister Rafiq Zaidi of the Nation of Islam came forward [to speak in favor of the resolution]. “I thank the council very deeply from my heart because the movement that you have made to approve this petition was one against forces that are unseen,” he said.
Lest his point be missed, Zaidi began by speaking of “the synagogue of Satan” and concluded with a reference to the “inordinate control that some Jews have over the political system in this city.”
With a look of wide satisfaction on his face for entering his own take on the malignancy of the Jewish threat into public record, Zaidi sat down. . . . Kathryn Wolf [noted] in a published letter that, two weeks following the public hearing, posters began appearing in downtown Durham. “One showed a man pointing a gun at a bearded man with a long nose and kippah, saying, ‘Your ancestors threw off foreign oppression, time for you as well.’”