Spring has sprung.
It has come in like a lion. But I hope that it goes out like a lamb. And I’m not talking about the weather. Well, kind of…
On Friday, March 16, an elected official from DC’s Council serving the residents of Ward 8, made a regrettable statement. This was not his first. His subsequent apologies rang with a sense of sorrow. They spoke of regret. They addressed a need to move forward and to use the remarks as a learning experience.
In echoing anti-Semitic tropes from generations ago, Councilmember Trayon White, said in a Facebook Live video, “Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And DC keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”
As snow flurries fell on DC on last Friday morning, Councilmember White’s remarks opened up a blizzard of a reaction from inside and outside of the District.
DCcouncil.us serves as the online and official home for our city’s legislative body. The website describes the council as,
“the central and chief policy-making body for the District of Columbia” and it defines the mission of the body, “to provide strong, innovative and effective leadership for the benefit of residents across the city.”
The statements of Councilmember White are not the official position of the DC Government. Our city does not believe that the Jews control the weather. The comments are not policy. But, policy is shaped by policymakers in a representative democracy. And this comment certainly did not represent “effective leadership for the benefit of [Jewish] residents across the city.”
We’ve all made regrettable statements. Facebook is full of them. Few can point to a perfect record of speaking on and off-the-record. But this “lion” of a comment by an elected official in his private time on a social media channel was not a one-off remark. On February 27, Councilmember White in his official capacity – at a hearing that included Mayor Muriel Bowser – asked the President of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC):
“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities. They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities. How does this influence this? Because it’s really about infrastructure and climate control. What does this have to do with UDC? Have they put money into UDC? What’s the relationship between the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers?”
Councilmember White’s remarks implied that wealthy Jewish families or the Jewish people control the weather, the Federal Government, international development, and local government.
In one of his follow-up messages from the Facebook remark, he said, “I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended. The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic, and I see I should have said that after learning from my colleagues,” on Instagram in a written statement from March 18.
Since the initial remark was made, and the blizzard of media and communal backlash began, Councilmember White has held meetings with several Jewish Metropolitan Washington communal groups, including Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).
“Councilmember White’s words were wrong – even though they weren’t made with malice. That is why we have been working with Councilmember White, mostly behind the scenes, to support what our Jewish tradition calls teshuvah: a process of repentance, apology, learning, and change.”
JCRC will be working with Councilmember White and they have a commitment from him to join them for a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and to dialogue with Holocaust survivors. In a public statement, they said that
“the JCRC takes Councilmember White’s comments very seriously, and will continue working to ensure that both he and his colleagues on the DC Council not only have heightened understanding of anti-Semitism but also heightened vigilance and sensitivity in responding unequivocally when they hear it from others.”
During this same week where these regrettable statements were made in the United States’ capital city, a dialogue was occurring in the capital city of the Jewish State. The Sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism took place in Jerusalem from March 16-21. The theme of the forum was “United to Stop Hate.” And that is what we must do. We, as a Jewish community, must reach out to other communities to better educate them about the Jewish experience of today and of generations’ past.
An Israeli historian on the Holocaust, Yehuda Bauer, said at the conference in Jerusalem that, “we have to realize that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem but a problem of the societies in which it rises. It’s a cancer which eats the societies in which it comes up.”
Perhaps, now that Gather the Jews is called GatherDC, we can also play a role in gathering non-Jewish groups of 20s and 30s to dialogue and serve our communities together. We have much to learn about all forms of hate. And we collectively can stand together to combat all forms of hatred in any and all way that its darkness manifests itself. From here, we can hope that this spring that came in with the roar of a lion can end with the gentle nature of the lamb.
About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often by found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood with his Jewish dog, Shekels, or riding around DC area bike trails.