A group of pro-Israel activists in North Carolina is calling on the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill to rescind an invitation to Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to speak at a Feb. 20 event, citing the mayor’s role in a 2018 city council resolution banning police training with Israel.
“We believe the Federation’s promotion of Schewel is part of a systemic problem plaguing Jewish institutions today—that is, the normalization of pro-BDS rhetoric that is jeopardizing the Jewish people and silencing strong Zionist voices,” according to a letter obtained by JNS from the North Carolina Coalition for Israel and Fight Back Now.
“We therefore implore the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill to rescind its invitation to Schewel to introduce this event. Moreover, we urge Jewish Federations in the United States to implement policies prohibiting BDS activists from being given a platform by the organizations,” the group said.
Schewel is scheduled to offer a “special introduction” for an event titled “Ignited Talks: The State of Black Durham” at the Levin Jewish Community Center at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20.
“It’s long overdue that our Jewish leaders and institutions actively defend us from the toxic BDS advocates and sympathizers who are making this country so hostile to Zionists,” said Kathryn Wolf, a Durham resident and executive director of Fight Back Now, a nonprofit advocacy group battling the “Deadly Exchange” campaign nationally.
“We live in a region in North Carolina that is rife with anti-Zionism,” she continued. “It’s a daily struggle to confront the constant barrage of pro-BDS speakers, seminars and events here. When our leaders undermine us by elevating BDS proponents, it’s hurtful, of course, but more important, it’s harmful.”
The Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill told JNS in a statement that Schewel is not hosting the event, but that “he and Durham City Council Member Mark Anthony Middleton are introducing two important speakers and advocates—Henry McKoy, former North Carolina Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and Camryn Smith, co-director of Neighborhood Allies of Durham—about their research on the state of African-American-owned businesses and barriers to the success of those businesses in Durham today.”
“The focus of this event is specifically on the growth of commerce by folks of color in Durham and how the city’s growth and gentrification affect those folks (which is why the Mayor and City Council Member are there). Many Durham business owners of color will be in attendance: a partnership that is unprecedented in our community. To focus on Mayor Schewel is to detract from an important, impactful issue in Durham.”
The Durham City Council voted in April 2018 to approve a policy banning its police from engaging in international exchanges where officers could receive “military-style training” in foreign countries.
The resolution was adopted after a coalition of groups, dubbed “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine Coalition,” which includes the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace that supports the BDS movement, in addition to other Muslim, pro-Palestinian and civil-rights groups, urged its passage in order to prevent any partnership the city’s law-enforcement might enter into with Israel’s military or police.
Pro-Israel groups say the “Deadly Exchange” campaign by JVP incorrectly conflates Israel with issues of racial bias or police mistreatment of minority communities in the United States.
Last year, a federal lawsuit was filed by the North Caroline Coalition for Israel and Rabbi Jerome Fox against the City of Durham that accuses “the city of promoting anti-Semitic rhetoric and violating open-meetings laws.”