In March 2016, Shmuel Herzfeld, the modern Orthodox rabbi of Washington D.C. synagogue Ohev Sholom, grabbed headlines when he publicly interrupted Donald Trump’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference. “This man is wicked,” he declared. “He inspires racists and bigots. He encourages violence. Do not listen to him.” Draped in his prayer shawl, he was carried off by security.
Today, Herzfeld again donned his shawl to protest politicians for coddling hatred. But this time, his target was the Washington D.C. council, comprised of eleven Democrats and two Independents, who had refused to censure the anti-Semitic conduct of one of their own: Council member Trayon White.
White first gained infamy when he posted a video on his Facebook page in which he blamed the Jewish Rothschild banking dynasty for controlling the weather. Seeing White as more the victim of ignorance than a purveyor of malice, the D.C. Jewish community attempted to make amends with White, and he soon embarked on a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. He bailed on the tour halfway through, however, and shortly after that episode, the Washington Post revealed that White had donated funds meant for constituents to Louis Farrakhan, the notorious anti-Semite who claims Jews are “Satanic” and behind 9/11, among other calumnies. Subsequent reporting discovered that White had also helped distribute The Final Call, the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.
When confronted by reporters about his support for Farrakhan on April 21, White doubled down and refused to apologize or repudiate Farrakhan. On April 27, Joshua Lopez, an aide to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, organized a rally in support of White—which he did not attend—where a speaker called American Jews “fake” and personally attacked Jewish council member Elissa Silverman, all while Lopez held the megaphone.
By then, Herzfeld had seen enough. This morning, he interrupted the D.C. Council’s breakfast to protest its failure to censure White and call for Lopez’s resignation. (He did resign, hours later.) Though individual council members—including its Jews—had expressed their dismay at White’s conduct, the body itself had yet to sanction him. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “You know better.” When council chair Phil Mendelson attempted to quiet him, Herzfeld retorted, “When there are Jews that are called termites outside of your office, I am going to stand up and speak.”
— Fenit Nirappil (@FenitN) May 1, 2018
Whether Herzfeld’s protest has an impact or not, it is a reminder that true opposition to bigotry means combating it among ideological allies, not just opponents, and calling it out not just when politically convenient.