The fallout over anti-Semitic incidents surrounding the D.C. government over the past month now includes the resignation on Tuesday of Josh Lopez, the city official who organized a unity rally on the steps of the downtown Wilson Building last week where a speaker denounced D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) as a “fake Jew.”
Lopez, who is on the board for the D.C. Housing Authority, resigned shortly after a contentious D.C. Council meeting where members debated how to address the situation. Several members, including Silverman, who is Jewish, called for his ouster. Immediately following the meeting, the full Council held an impromptu press conference on the steps of the Wilson Building, where Chairman Phil Mendelson denounced anti-Semitism.
“We are here because, as you know, last Thursday there was an event at this very spot in which very hateful, anti-Semitic language, divisive language was spoken,” he said. “And we want to make it clear that the members of the council, all of us, stand together in condemning that kind of speech.”
Lopez had organized the rally in support of Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), whose attempts at contrition after blaming the weather on “the Rothschilds” in March were derailed once a $500 contribution to a Nation of Islam event in Chicago came to light. The fund used for that payment is supposed to benefit White’s constituents.
Three council members of the 13, including Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who is Jewish, had called for the Council to censure White. Mendelson has said White will not face any official action from the Council for now. The $500 donation is under investigation from campaign finance officials and Mendelson told The Washington Post the Council will react once it knows the results of that investigation.
At last week’s event, which White did not attend, a Nation of Islam representative called Silverman a “fake Jew” and called Jews “termites.” Lopez told The Post the speaker was not invited and Lopez did not want to incite a physical confrontation by challenging him then. The Nation of Islam is led by Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his anti-Semitic views.
Lopez, who was appointed to the Housing Authority by Mayor Muriel Bowser, said in a statement that the mayor had not asked for his resignation.
The incident at the rally spurred almost universal criticism and adds another layer to the continuing discussions — and arguments — over anti-Semitism in Washington since White’s initial remarks.
The D.C. Council also debated a hate speech resolution Tuesday that would condemn anti-Semitism, but Silverman said it was not enough without concrete action. The meeting was interrupted by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of Ohev Shalom—the National Synagogue in Washington, who called out the Council for not censuring White or taking a stronger stance against the rally.
“Shame on the Council for not being willing to censure Trayon,” Herzfeld said, as Mendelson approached him and tried to get him to leave. “And shame on all of the Council for not being willing to stand up and say that Mr. Lopez needs to resign. This is unacceptable. You know better.”
Since White’s remarks in March drew widespread condemnation, he has tried to mend ties with the Jewish community by meeting with Jewish leaders, attending a Passover seder and touring the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. His relationship with the community is now on fragile footing after he left the museum tour early, citing a reporter’s presence, and the $500 Nation of Islam donation.
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the group that was once leading efforts to educate White, has called on the council member to condemn Farrakhan, schedule a new tour of the museum and offer a goodwill $500 donation to a group that combats hate.