Anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries de­rail D.C. coun­cil meet­ings

South Florida Times - - NATION - By ASHRAF KHALIL As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON (AP) - A spi­ral­ing con­tro­versy over anti-Semitic com­ments and con­spir­acy the­o­ries has roiled the Wash­ing­ton city gov­ern­ment, seem­ingly get­ting worse with ev­ery pub­lic at­tempt to ease the ten­sions.

The is­sue nearly de­railed a City Coun­cil meet­ing Tues­day morn­ing and re­sulted in the res­ig­na­tion of a city of­fi­cial who or­ga­nized a dis­as­trous “unity rally'' that fea­tured a speaker who called all Jews “ter­mites.''

At the heart of the debacle is Trayon White, a coun­cil mem­ber who ig­nited a firestorm on March 16 by post­ing a short video on his Face­book page claim­ing that an un­ex­pected snow­fall was because of “the Roth­schilds con­trol­ling the cli­mate to cre­ate nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.''

Fel­low coun­cil mem­bers and Jewish com­mu­nity lead­ers ac­cused White of spread­ing an anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­ory about Jewish con­trol of world events. The Roth­schilds, a promi­nent Jewish fam­ily whose bank­ing dy­nasty dates back to the 18th cen­tury, are a fre­quent tar­get of global con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

White, 33, who like most city of­fi­cials is a Demo­crat, said he was un­aware the Roth­schild the­ory could be con­strued as an­ti­Semitic. The first-term African Amer­i­can coun­cil mem­ber reached out to try to mend fences, but sev­eral of the ges­tures seem to have made things worse.

He at­tended a Passover Seder and met with Jewish com­mu­nity lead­ers for break­fast over bagels and lox. He went on a guided tour of the U.S. Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum but abruptly left half­way through with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

Then video sur­faced from a Fe­bru­ary meet­ing of top city of­fi­cials that showed White float­ing a sim­i­lar con­spir­acy dur­ing an in­nocu­ous pre­sen­ta­tion about the Univer­sity of the Dis­trict of Columbia. White posed a ques­tion cen­tered on the claim that the Roth­schilds con­trolled both the World Bank and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The video shows city lead­ers in the room, in­clud­ing Mayor Muriel Bowser, awk­wardly laugh­ing it off and mov­ing on, but the footage fur­ther up­set Jewish com­mu­nity lead­ers.

Then a fur­ther rev­e­la­tion: White had con­trib­uted $500 from a fund meant for his Ward 8 con­stituents to a Chicago event for Louis Far­rakhan, leader of the Na­tion of Is­lam.

Far­rakhan and the Na­tion of Is­lam have a decades-old his­tory of overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Na­tion of Is­lam also does sig­nif­i­cant so­cial and char­i­ta­ble work in black com­mu­ni­ties and re­tains some re­spect among those who don't share its views.

Last week, sup­port­ers of White held a rally or­ga­nized by a mem­ber of the city's pub­lic hous­ing author­ity board. At the rally, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Na­tion of Is­lam called one of two Jewish D.C. coun­cilmem­bers a “fake Jew.''

The rally prompted calls for the res­ig­na­tion of Josh Lopez, the may­oral ap­pointee who or­ga­nized it. White did not at­tend the rally.

The events came to a head Tues­day morn­ing be­fore the coun­cil's reg­u­lar ses­sion. A pre-ses­sion break­fast meet­ing ran an hour long as coun­cil mem­bers de­bated how best to re­spond to the rally and whether to call for Lopez's res­ig­na­tion. A lo­cal rabbi who was there as an ob­server shouted that the coun­cil mem­bers should be ashamed of them­selves.

The coun­cil mem­bers then held an im­promptu press con­fer­ence out­side the build­ing where City Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Mendelson said that “in­tol­er­ant speech ... has no place in our city.''

As the coun­cil re­turned in­side and re­sumed its nor­mal meet­ing, news broke that Lopez had re­signed.

Bowser's of­fice had called for Lopez to apol­o­gize but not re­sign, but she ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion and is­sued a state­ment call­ing for unity go­ing for­ward.

Re­peated at­tempts to con­tact White for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful. On Tues­day, White pushed past a re­porter who tried to ask him a ques­tion.

City of­fi­cials hope the im­me­di­ate con­tro­versy will die down with time, and White doesn't face re-elec­tion for another two years. The coun­cil mem­ber may still face some sort of pub­lic cen­sure if his con­tri­bu­tion to Far­rakhan is judged as a mi­nor campaign fi­nance vi­o­la­tion. But the pub­lic and per­sonal scars from the past few weeks could linger.

“Yes, it got per­sonal,'' said Coun­cilmem­ber Jack Evans. “I hope that re­la­tion­ships can be re­paired, and they will be, and we will move on.''

There's also the is­sue of White's re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal Jewish com­mu­nity.

“I sin­cerely think he was just re­peat­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries he had heard some­where,'' said Rabbi Batya Glazer, who had met with White on the is­sue. “It does mean he has an obli­ga­tion to clar­ify what his po­si­tion is.''

The con­tro­versy has also poked at some long-dor­mant so­ci­etal sore spots. The Roth­schild con­spir­acy the­ory has per­sisted for decades on the fringes of both black and white cul­ture in Amer­ica.

“Con­spir­acy the­o­ries are very dan­ger­ous ... because they ex­ac­er­bate splits that al­ready ex­ist,'' said An­dre Perry, who stud­ies race and ur­ban pol­icy for the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “This isn't about one city coun­cil mem­ber. This is about how sus­cep­ti­ble we are to trib­al­ism that is cre­ated by a lack of trust in one another.''


CON­TRO­VER­SIAL: Trayon White serves on the D.C. City Coun­cil

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