By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]

Last week the AFRO reported about harsh emails from D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman to Joshua Lopez, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and commissioner on the D.C. Housing Authority, because of his support for Council member Trayon White, who was accused of being anti-Semitic.  This week, on May 1, Lopez resigned.

On April 26, Lopez, called a rally for unity. The event took place on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, where the D.C. Council and the D.C. mayor have their offices. Twenty-five people showed up to voice concerns they have about Black-Jewish relations in the District.
“We have people gathered here from all parts of the city with the exception of Ward 3,” Imam Johari Abdul Malik said, noting the absence of residents from the District’s historically White, wealthiest ward. “We need to share the spirit of unity whether we are Black, White, Brown, Christian, Muslim or Jew. Every part of D.C. matters and we can [not] allow divisive policies [to] divide the people.”

Joshua Lopez with Imam Johari Abdul Malik at the rally on April 26.

The controversy started two months ago when D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) said on his Facebook post that the Rothschilds, a wealthy banking dynasty in Europe, controlled governments and the weather. Jewish leaders and his council colleagues expressed outrage at his remarks.

As a result, White attended a series of meetings with the District’s Jewish leaders and a ceremony, a Seder, with  Silverman (I-At Large) and White apologized for his remarks. The controversy continued as White and his staff visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and reportedly walked out of the tour, and when a $500 donation was made to an event sponsored by the Nation of Islam, whose leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, has made critical remarks about Jewish leaders.

The AFRO reported Lopez received a text message from Silverman where she labeled him a “hatemonger” and a “bully” for his comments supporting White and criticizing her role in his public dilemma.

However, Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a Nation of Islam representative in the District, didn’t mince words when it came to the controversy. “All of this is because of Trayon White but I’m the one you should talk to,” Muhammad said. He was outraged that Silverman suggested Farrakhan shouldn’t be allowed in the District because of his comments criticizing Jewish leaders.

“Minister Farrakhan has been here many times,” Muhammad said. “You have the nerve, fake Jew.”

Silverman, in a statement, expressed discomfort with Muhammad’s comments and the general tone of the rally. “The hateful words spoken yesterday outside the Wilson Building have absolutely no place in our city,” she said in an April 27 letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and her colleagues on the council.

“This was a deliberately misleading, intentionally designed attempt to stir up division and hatred, particularly for me as a Jewish, at-large council member, who represents the entire city including Ward 8.”

Silverman has called on her colleagues to consider a Sense of the Council resolution to condemn Farrakhan’s speeches criticizing Jewish leaders; asking District leaders to put together a workshop on anti-Semitism; a large scale Seder event; and asking Bowser to dismiss Lopez from the D.C. Housing Authority board and others in city government who have expressed anti-Semitic sentiments.

In a statement, Lopez initially apologized, particularly to his “Jewish brothers and sisters- for not having better mechanisms in place to ensure the spirit of the rally-solidarity and peace- was preserved.”

Lopez explained Muhammad and his associates “showed up uninvited and gave a two-minute speech filled with despicable comments” which he said he rejects.

Four days after his apology statement he resigned from the D.C. Housing Authority.

“It became clear that this issue was becoming highly politicized and people were using it as an opportunity to attack my family and people I care about,” he wrote. This was only creating more division (which is the opposite of what I wanted) and after deep reflection I decided to take the high road and remove myself from the equation.”

Lopez said he plans to remain politically active “advocating for greater racial and economic equity.”