Pharmacy under attack after anti-Semitism charges

An anti-Semitic pharmacy in Beverly Hills?

The notion may sound unlikely, but a widely circulated e-mail bearing the subject heading “Druggist won’t do business with ‘Jews or Jew Doctors'” sparked concern and outrage in recent weeks as it landed in hundreds of computer mailboxes across the country. After all, the source — a Jewish woman in Florida — appeared to be without hostile intent, and the allegation, targeting the Wilshire Roxbury Medical Pharmacy at 436 North Roxbury Drive, allegedly had been vetted.

“I verified this information,” one woman wrote as she passed the e-mail on. “Please forward this.”

Many recipients took the request to heart, forwarding the e-mail to friends, family and contacts at Jewish organizations. Others phoned the pharmacy themselves. A local rabbi asked his orthodontist, who works across the street, to investigate. A formal complaint was lodged with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

First, to put rumors to rest, the charge is definitely false. The pharmacist/owner, who preferred not to have his name published, is Jewish, as is his assistant. They cater to Jewish customers as well as Jewish doctors.

But almost as problematic as the allegation itself is the absence of a plausible explanation. What brought this about? Was it, perhaps, the result of a misunderstanding, a vendetta or a joke gone awry? The genesis remains a mystery.

“It’s like something out of Kafka,” said Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who investigated the allegation.

Here are the known facts:

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, Sue Hazan, a pharmaceutical representative in Boca Raton, Fla., was making cold-calls to promote a particular medication with a new co-pay plan. The contact information for the Wilshire Roxbury Medical Pharmacy appeared randomly on her computer screen, and she placed a call at 12:21 p.m. Pacific time.

Hazan explained the new plan to the pharmacist, who had answered the phone with the pharmacy’s name and who later identified himself as “Jed Shoohed.” She then mentioned that two doctors in his building had signed on to use the co-pay plan.

“Is that a Jew doctor?” “Shoohed” asked. “We don’t take kindly to Jews around here, and we don’t fill Jew doctors’ prescriptions.”

“But I’m a Jew,” Hazan said.

“That’s good for you, but don’t call my store again if you’re one of them,” he said.

Hazan reported the incident to her boss and also called her daughter, Helene Abramson, in Princeton, N. J. Abramson, who is active in the Jewish community, then contacted people in her Israel support network for advice. On Monday, Nov. 6, she sent out an e-mail to her Israel support network detailing the incident, and that e-mail was quickly forwarded to hundreds of others.

The following Thursday morning, Nov. 9, a Jewish Journal reporter visited the pharmacy and met the pharmacist, who appeared agitated. The pharmacy is a small operation tucked in the corner of a medical building’s wood-paneled lobby. On repeated visits that same afternoon it was virtually empty, except for one customer, the postman, the pharmacist and his assistant. The telephone was ringing almost non-stop.

The pharmacist said he has no idea how or why his pharmacy has come under attack. He confirmed that no one named Jed Shoohed works there, and he denied ever receiving a phone call from Hazan.

“We have no knowledge of this phone call,” he said, refusing to say whether or not he was manning the pharmacy on Nov. 1, when Hazan made the call. He also refused to go on record with any further questions, threatening to sue if a story were to be published. He said he had been referring all inquiries to the Beverly Hills Police Department, where he has filed a report.

According to the pharmacist’s attorney, Grant Carlson, of Beverly Hills, the pharmacist believes he is the target of an unfair and unwarranted attack by someone who doesn’t even know him.

“The person clearly is hysterical and is making things up,” Carlson said.
But Hazan was not the only person on the receiving end of an anti-Semitic comment after calling this pharmacy. Jami Gan, who lives in Tucson, Ariz. and is part of the Israel support network, phoned the pharmacy at 3 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, Nov. 6. She wanted to confirm the e-mail allegation before forwarding it.

Gan asked for “Jed” and was told he was on another line. She explained she was calling to verify the e-mail. The person who answered assured her he knew what she was talking about and told her to go ahead and pass it along, saying that one day she would understand why people like him felt the way they did about people like her.

He also asked, “Are you familiar with Borat?” referring to the anti-Semitic fictional Sacha Baron Cohen character.

Many people in the building report having a cordial relationship with the pharmacist.

The building manager, Kia Saidnia, has known the pharmacist for about six years, since NIC Real Estate Group took over management of the property. He reported that the pharmacist has been renting the same space for at least 15 years, and he said he has never received any complaints about him.

“He gets along with everyone in the building, as far as I know,” Saidnia said.
NIC’s owner confirmed that.

“He’s really nice,” said Hamid Shoohed, who himself is Jewish and whose last name is the same as that used by the mythical pharmacist “Jed.”

Others in the building report a less amicable association. Dr. Larry Kozek, a dentist on the ground floor of the building, confirmed reports that jokes are frequently posted in the pharmacy’s windows, which he described as “weird signs,” although none were in sight on Nov. 9.

The Wiesenthal Center’s Breitbart, who spent about 25 minutes talking with the pharmacist in person, believes the pharmacist is being victimized.

The ADL is also attempting to evaluate the situation, according to the organization’s senior associate director Alison Mayersohn.

But when Mayersohn telephoned the pharmacy on Nov. 9, identifying her ADL affiliation, the speaker, who said his name was “Fred,” referred her to the Beverly Hills Police Department.

“ADL’s tendency is to be very careful,” she said. “Things are not always as they appear.”

Mixed Messages

With U.S.-Israel relations facing an explosive new crisis, a number of Israel representatives were in Washington this week, offering mixed messages about the intentions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government.

Some Jewish leaders here said the conradictions could increase the likelihood of serious misunderstandings between the two allies as the U.S.-led war against terrorism intensifies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsens.

But the messages from the Bush administration were just as contradictory, touching off ripples of anger and concern across the Jewish world.

In private conversations with Jewish leaders and several public appearances, administration officials sought to counter fears that relentless diplomatic pressure by Arab and Muslim nations enlisted in the anti-terror fight was undercutting U.S.-Israel relations.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) national convention Sunday, said that despite the coalition-building effort, America would not abandon Israel.

“We cannot have a victory if we make a coalition that sacrifices the interests of some for the interests of others,” he said.

But administration actions seemed to tell a different story.

On Monday, the administration used its harshest language yet when it condemned Israel’s incursion into six Palestinian towns in response to last week’s assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said, “Israeli Defense Forces should be withdrawn immediately from all Palestinian-controlled areas, and no further such incursions should be made. We deeply regret and deplore Israeli Defense Force actions that have killed numerous Palestinian civilians over the weekend.”

That infuriated leading pro-Israel lawmakers.

“It’s obvious they are caving in to Arab pressure,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Jewish delegation in the House. “It’s so transparent, it’s obscene.”

Engel accused the administration of “rank hypocrisy” in criticizing Israel for doing the same thing U.S. forces are trying to do in Afghanistan: root out terrorists.

Jewish organizations were no happier with the new U.S. squeeze.

The State Department comments were “inappropriate, intemperate; and [they] defy logic in the face of current U.S. efforts in the war against terrorism,” said leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Sharon, citing Israel’s defense needs, rejected the U.S. demand for an immediate pullout; the administration then cranked up the pressure.

On Tuesday, Bush “dropped by” on a meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Even before the supposedly spontaneous meeting, the White House made it clear Bush would repeat his demand that Israeli troops be withdrawn immediately.

Bush reportedly told Peres that escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence is impeding U.S. coalition efforts in the war against terrorism.

The administration is also sending out conflicting messages about the ultimate scope of the U.S. war.

Wolfowitz, in his AJCongress speech, promised that Washington would expand the anti-terror effort, once Osama bin Laden and his network are destroyed. “We are not going just to pluck off individual snakes; we intend to drain the entire swamp,” he said.

That could mean an eventual focus on Iraq, he told the group. But the State Department continues to emphasize the bin Laden fight and downplay concern about Saddam Hussein.

“They want to have it both ways,” said an official with a major Jewish group here. “The result is a message that is very garbled.” – J.D. Besser