Marshall09809.NEF

MARSHALL *Movie Review*


“Marshall” has all the makings of a fantastic biopic: a venerable subject matter, impressive actors, and an Oscar-nominated director in Reginald Hudlin (“Django Unchained”).  While this film is undoubtedly an Oscar-contender, it turns out that it’s not so much a biopic after all. Despite former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s remarkable record winning 29 of 32 cases before the Supreme Court as a private attorney, he doesn’t even argue the central case in this film.

Why would Hudlin appear turn away from the story of civil rights leader Marshall in favor of white, Jewish attorney Sam Friedman?  It seems this isn’t the well-known story of Marshall-the-attorney, but one that explores a lesser-known side of him.  Here, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) shines as a brilliant recruiter and motivator.

In “Marshall“, Thurgood travels to Connecticut on behalf of the NAACP to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown) on a rape charge.  As he’s not a licensed attorney in the state, Marshall needs one to appear in court on his behalf, presenting a motion allowing him to argue there.  Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) reluctantly agrees, insisting that he’s through with the case afterwards.  The judge won’t allow Friedman to step down and forbids Marshall from speaking, effectively muzzling him in favor of an attorney who has never even tried a criminal case.

The surprise ruling means Marshall must motivate Friedman to defend their client, while teaching him the intricacies of criminal law.  Friedman becomes part of a movement he never intended to champion.  In fact, the film’s post script says he spent the rest of his life working as a civil rights advocate following this experience.

The real-life Friedman undoubtedly saw the parallels between what he faced as a Jewish attorney and the plight of his African-American client, a point that’s emphasized through repeated scenes in which both suffer from racism and stereotypes.  The director ensures this connection is clear, with Marshall telling Friedman he’s “one of us”.

For more about “Marshall”, including some interesting stylistic choices, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Open Road Films.

Attorney Samuel Friedman's collaboration with Thurgood Marshall is the subject of a new film.

‘Marshall’ Portrays Justice’s Early Work and a Golden Era of Black-Jewish Relations


In 1940, nearly three decades before he became the first African-American appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was asked to serve as a defense attorney in a Bridgeport, Conn., case that was drawing lurid headlines across the country. One publication dubbed it “the sex trial of the century.”

Marshall had become executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund the year before, and this was one of his more sensational cases: A Connecticut socialite, Eleanor Strubing, had accused her African-American chauffeur, Joseph Spell, of raping her, binding and gagging her, tossing her in the back of a car and throwing her off a bridge into a reservoir.

Barred from speaking in court because he wasn’t a member of the Connecticut bar, Marshall relied on a Jewish attorney, Samuel Friedman, an insurance lawyer, who agreed to serve as co-counsel with Marshall and to speak for him in court.

The now little-known trial is the subject of a new film, “Marshall,” opening in Los Angeles theaters on Oct. 13. The film is not only a study of his early work, but also a snapshot of a golden era of race relations, when Blacks and Jews formed alliances to fight for civil rights and against the forces of racism and anti-Semitism.

“In that era, we were really locked at the arms and using our different gifts and our connections for the greater good,” said George Davis, executive director of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

The civil rights alliance was forged from the shared Black and Jewish history of slavery, as well as from the prejudice both groups endured at the time.

“The film is set on the eve of the American entry into World War II, a war fought over the idea of white supremacy,” Reginald Hudlin, the director of “Marshall,” wrote in an email. “Hitler is claiming that Aryans are ‘the master race.’ In the United States, the Bund and the Ku Klux Klan are having rallies together. While most Americans find Nazism repellent, the KKK is tolerated.”

The alliance Marshall formed with Friedman in the film preceded Marshall’s work with Jewish attorney Jack Greenberg, who worked with him on the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, and succeeded him as head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Black-Jewish relations were not always smooth. Ruptures emerged over such issues as affirmative action, quotas and housing policies. As Jews joined the white flight into the suburbs in the 1950s, and some continued to own buildings in the inner city, Black residents at times chafed against their Jewish landlords, said Michael Koskoff, a civil rights attorney who defended members of the Black Panthers in New Haven, Conn., in 1970, and who wrote the “Marshall” script with his screenwriter son, Jacob.

“For many African-Americans, the only interaction they had with the white community was the Jewish landlord. That became for many a negative stereotype, and may have, in part, inspired certain African-American leaders like Louis Farrakhan, who was overtly anti-Semitic.”

These days, the Black-Jewish relationship has continued along an inconsistent path, Davis said. As American Jews became more successful and assimilated, some young African- Americans “didn’t feel that there was any particular empathy from Jews on issues like Black Lives Matter,” he said. “Conditions changed, so Blacks and Jews weren’t in the same bucket in the same way.”

The identification of young African-Americans with the Palestinian struggle has further alienated Blacks from the Jewish community. “I think it’s really an age issue,” Davis said. “African-Americans who are educated and over 50 are very aware of the bond that African-Americans and Jews had. Younger people don’t know as much about it.”

“African-Americans who are educated and over 50 are very aware of the bond that African-Americans and Jews had. Younger people don’t know as much about it.” –– George Davis, executive director of the California African American Museum. 

Perhaps films like “Marshall” can help remind people of those days, said Michael Koskoff, who learned about the Spell case a decade ago.

The Koskoffs were drawn to the Marshall story, in part, because of Friedman’s story. Friedman, who died 20 years ago in his 90s, was initially reluctant to take on the case, because the Holocaust was claiming lives in Europe, and the Jewish community was loathe to draw attention to itself in the United States. Further, Bridgeport was a predominantly white, Protestant community where Jews were already banned from certain neighborhoods, country clubs and segments of the legal profession. Friedman ultimately accepted the case in large part because as a persecuted minority, he empathized with the struggles of African-Americans.

“Non-Jewish attorneys refused the case, so someone had to step up, and the fact that Friedman was already an outsider contributed to that,” Koskoff said.

For his efforts in the 1940s, Friedman and his family received death threats. But he persevered, and after the Spell case he continued to work on behalf of civil rights.

Friedman’s daughter, Lauren Friedman, described in an interview an incident in which an African-American physician was barred from purchasing a home in a restricted neighborhood after the trial. Her father promptly found a straw buyer and arranged for the doctor to secure the home.

“He was very proud of that,” she said.

Koskoff said he also was fascinated by how much affinity Marshall had for the Jewish community. Marshall spoke a little Yiddish, and often told the story of his first job, working for a Jewish hat maker, Mortimer Schoen. One day, when Marshall was about 17 and delivering hats, he accidentally jostled a white man on a bus. The man told him to “Get out of my way, n—–,” according to Koskoff. Marshall promptly punched the man and was thrown in jail. Schoen bailed him out, and when he heard what had happened, he told Marshall that he had done the right thing.

As for the nature of Black-Jewish relations today, not everyone regards them as damaged. Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the NAACP, cited how he has partnered with organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on civil rights issues. Currently, a Jewish attorney is working with the NAACP to help people of African nationalities stay in this country under new immigration laws imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

“In my mind,” he said, “the Jewish community has been a very close and important partner to the NAACP throughout the history of our organization, and including today.” n

“Marshall” opens in Los Angeles theaters on Oct. 13.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner speaking at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 27th Annual Awards Gala at the Washington Hilton, Nov. 16, 2015. Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

NAACP names Reform movement’s Religious Action Center head to its board


The NAACP named the director of the Reform movement’s Religion Action Center, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, to its board.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced on Tuesday that it was appointing Pesner, who has led the RAC since 2015 and served as senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism since 2011, along with the appointments of five other new board members, including three Christian pastors.

“Eliminating racism and expanding civil rights are intrinsic Jewish values,” Pesner said in a statement. “I could not be more proud to join the board of the NAACP to help advance those goals.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, Pesner’s predecessor at the RAC — the Reform movement’s legislative advocacy arm — also served on the NAACP board.

NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks praised the new appointments.

“These new board members bring an amazing wealth of achievement, accomplishment and influence on issues from civil rights to religion to community-building and leadership,” he said Tuesday in a statement. “We are honored by their presence and welcome them into the inner family of the nation’s oldest, largest and boldest civil rights organization.”

The Religion Action Center and the Reform movement have a history of working with the NAACP and other civil rights groups. From 1966 to 1975, Kivie Kaplan, a vice chairman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations — which later became the Union for Reform Judaism — served as the national president of the NAACP. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both landmark civil rights legislations, were drafted in the RAC building.

What Martin Luther King Jr. would teach Black Lives Matter about Israel


American Jews, and not just those who call themselves “progressives,” have identified with, and participated actively in, the movement for racial equality in the US since the founding of the NAACP in 1909 as well as the post-WWII civil rights crusade that transformed America.

This is why so many of us have been shocked by the recent manifesto from the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) moving anti-Israel bigotry from the fringe to the center of its movement. The BLM Platform declares that Israel is an “apartheid state” that “practices systematic discrimination,” including “genocide . . . against the Palestinian people.” It supports the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel, and declares that “via U.S. support of Israel in the global war against terror, America is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinians.”

There have been various reports about the origins and inspiration of the BLM’s new Anti-Israel platform that libels democratic Israel—which gives its Arab citizens full civil rights—by equating it with Apartheid South Africa.

Now, an organization has stepped forward to claim partial pride of authorship. The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) that describes itself as “the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] BDS movement… endorsed the inspiring and liberating policy platform issued last week by the Movement for Black Lives.”

The BNC claims that BLM’s anti-Israel platform grew out of 2015 meetings with “leaders from Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders and other organizations within the Movement for Black Lives. . . . The 2015 Black for Palestine statement shed a brilliant light on the organic relationship between the US’s domestic racial oppression and its racialized imperial oppression against people of color worldwide while sending a powerful message to all Palestinians about this movement’s commitment to solidarity with Palestinians and all oppressed people around the world.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) cheers on the BLM Movement for having “shaken the system of racism and white supremacy that allows police to gun down black people with impunity, to cage black people in obscene numbers, and to systematically impoverish and degrade the black community as a whole.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee singles out for special condemnation “anti-Palestinian groups in the U.S.”—that is, Jewish groups—“that work to protect Israel’s regime of colonial oppression by ensuring the unconditional flow of billions in US taxpayers money. . .  The latter feel that the growing joint struggle between Blacks and Palestinians, which is evolving through sustained and long-term intersectional grassroots efforts among our two communities and supported by progressive Jewish communities, may threaten US support for Israeli apartheid.”

Finally, the Palestinian BDS National Committee states that “the thinly-veiled racism”—that is, Jewish racism— “of the ‘white moderate’” is reminiscent of words spoken by Malcolm X.

Of course, these fanatics don’t remember that Malcolm, before his tragic assassination by hit men associated with Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic Nation of Islam (NOI), had second thoughts about his own earlier career with the NOI inflaming white-black relations in America. Nor do they remember that paragon of the civil rights movement and of African American-Jewish cooperation, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Just ten days before his assassination in Memphis in April 1968, King said: “I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can almost be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

Pro- Palestinian activists opportunistically showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2015 carrying signs blaming Israel for anti-black police violence after riots erupted following the fatal shooting an 18-year-old African American man by a white police officer who was later exonerated.

Now, New York University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) alleges that Israel has African American blood on its hands. Under the hashtag— “#No Justice No Peace #From Gaza to Baton Rouge”—they accused Israel of responsibility for the shooting death in front of a convenience store by the police in Louisiana of an African American man Alton Sterling. An SJP post suggests that Sterling is the American equivalent of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian baby killed in the West Bank.

Such false equivalencies libeling democratic Israel’s self-defense against Palestinian terrorism with the tragic consequences when African American men die, sometimes wrongly, at the hands of police are an insult to MLK’s memory. So too is the Black Lives Matter Movement’s new canard that Israel is guilty of “genocide” or “apartheid.”

African Americans and Jews need a new dialogue to build a revitalized civil rights alliance around issues like rectified police-community relations. Unfortunately, the Black Lives Matter Movement’s false screeds against Israel—encouraged and partly inspired by pro-Hamas fanatics—demonize American Jewry― including Progressive Jews who support Israel, and threaten future African American-Jewish cooperation.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and co-founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Standing on holy ground


We arrived in Selma, Alabama to stand and march on holy ground. The first day of the NAACP’s “Journey for Justice” – which will march from August 1 beginning in Selma, Alabama through more than 40 days to rally in Washington, DC on Sept. 16 – my colleagues from the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Seth Limmer, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Rabbi Beth Singer and Rabbi Jason Rodich and I stood on holy ground. And then we marched onward in the blazing heat (106 degrees at times) along the scorching asphalt of Highway 80.

With a sacred Torah scroll brought from Chicago Sinai, we – like our colleagues 50 years ago – took one step after another to restore the Voting Rights Act, for jobs and educations, and to renew and reinvigorate the historic alliance between the Reform Jewish Community and the African American community.  

We began in prayer standing before the Amelia Boynton House with leaders of the NAACP, State Senators, US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and representatives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  I was asked to lead a prayer as well.  It came from my heart.  

We stood in front of the dilapidated house where Amelia Boynton lived and strategized. She organized the 1965 march to Montgomery and her home served as a meeting place and office in Selma for civil rights activists. It was Amelia Boynton who was beaten unconscious on Bloody Sunday and the picture of her on the ground went viral in 1965.  

One would have thought such an important place as this house would be a national museum. One would have thought it would be a national treasure, preserved by our government. But it is falling apart. The front and back yard are overgrown with weeds.  It is boarded up with graffiti and broken windows and the roof is caving in. It cried out to me as a metaphor that even though there have been advancements for African-Americans in our country, there is still so much in shambles as innocent children and adults are murdered and harassed by police, poverty is still rampant, educational equality is lacking in many neighborhoods, and voter suppression still alive and well. 

The Central Conference of American Rabbis made racial justice a priority long ago, when we first resolved to combat race-based discrimination in education back in 1938. And as we prayed together on Shabbat Nachamu, I knew more than ever before that our work as Rabbis must dive deeply again into this work for justice and equality for our brothers and sisters, for all of our children, and for our country. It is truly our job as rabbis to bring comfort to those who are discomforted and bring discomfort to those who see no problems.

The march began with a rally at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where I spoke again on behalf of the CCAR, as did our colleague Seth Limmer who cradled the Torah in his arms. Together we represented along with our colleagues the Reform community’s commitment to this holy work.  And then we began, step by step, two by two, over the bridge just as Heschel and King had done 50 years ago.  I could feel the tears welling up as the Torah was passed to me.  I took hold of it just on the other side of the bridge where the batons and cattle prods were used against the marchers on that Bloody Sunday. 

And still the work is not finished.  Equality is far away for so many, as the rundown buildings and houses on the highway surrounded us on Shabbat Nachamu in our bright yellow NAACP T-Shirts. 

I know from my own work as an LGBTQ activist, allies are critical to changing the world.  Many of you have been my allies.  And for that I am grateful. And many of us in the American Jewish community have continued since the earliest days of the civil rights movement to be involved with our African American friends and family in the struggle for equality.  But it can no longer remain just a pulpit exchange on MLK weekend as important as it is. We have to join in the march. More than 150 of my colleagues are marching cradling the Torah like I was able to. 

If you haven’t thought about going – there is still time to march for a day.  If you can’t, consider, helping sponsor meals for the Marchers.  Let us do the real work side by side in each of our cities and towns and in our nation. 

I know I stood on holy ground in Selma and Montgomery this weekend.  It is time for all of us to stand together with our African American family and friends to restore the Voting Rights Act, and to truly bring justice and equality to our country once and for all. 

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami

White suspect charged with murder in killings at black church


A 21-year-old white man has been charged with nine counts of murder in connection with an attack on a historic black South Carolina church, police said on Friday, and media reports said he had hoped to incite a race war in the United States.

Residents of Charleston flocked to the nearly-200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as they struggled to comprehend how suspected shooter Dylann Roof could sit with worshippers for an hour of Bible study before allegedly opening fire on Wednesday, killing nine black people and fleeing into the night, triggering a 14-hour manhunt.

“This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence, this was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such,” said Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 to confront lynchings in the United States.

The attack came in a year that has seen waves of protest across the United States over police killings of unarmed black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, sparking some of the largest race riots the nation has seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

From U.S. President Barack Obama, who said the attack stirred memories of “a dark past,” to residents on the streets of Charleston, Americans expressed outrage at an act intended to provoke a “race war” in the United States.

“I grew up when racism was just a way of life,” said Mary Meynardie, 90, who is white, as she stopped by the police tape that still surrounded the church known as “Mother Emanuel.” “I wouldn't have been surprised if it was somebody 60, 70 years old who had that much hate, but where does this hate come from?”

The latest in a series of mass shootings that have rocked the United States also illustrated some of the risks posed by the nation's liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The elephant in the room is guns. South Carolina and the country have gone gun-crazy,” said state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston. “How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?”

BAIL HEARING

Roof confessed to the attack and said he intended to set off new racial confrontations, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source. He sat with parishioners for an hour before opening fire and almost did not go through with the attack because he had been welcomed, NBC News reported, citing a law enforcement source.

Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis declined to comment on the reports of a confession.

The alleged shooter is due in court on Friday for a bail hearing, where he will be charged with nine counts of murder as well as a weapons charge, Charleston police said.

In addition to the church's leader and Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, victims included pastors DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; and Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74.

Also killed were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a public library employee; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Tywanza Sanders, 26; and Myra Thompson 59, an associate pastor at the church, according to the county coroner.

'HATE CRIME'

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, told NBC's “Today” show she believed state prosecutors should pursue a death sentence.

The AME church was founded in the early 19th century by black worshippers who were limited in how they could practice their faith at white-dominated churches. The church was rebuilt after being burned down in the late 1820s when one of its founders drafted plans for a slave revolt.

Compounding anger over the killings, the South Carolina capitol continues to fly the Confederate battle flag, the symbol of the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War.

Brooks, the NAACP leader, renewed calls for the flag to be taken down. Roof's car bore the Confederate flag and he posed for a portrait on social media wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

“Some will assert that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by, a symbol of heritage, not hate,” Brooks said. “But when we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem for hate … that symbol has to come down, that symbol has to be removed from our state capitol.”

Jon Stewart on the confusion surrounding Rachel Dolezal: ‘Whaaaaaat?’


Jon Stewart's initial reaction to the Rachel Dolezal story: “Whaaaaaaaaaat!?”

Watch below:
 

 

NAACP official who resigned says she identifies as black

[Reuters] Washington state civil rights advocate Rachel Dolezal, who has been accused of falsely claiming she is African-American, said on Tuesday she identifies as black and has been doing so since she was 5 years of age.

Dolezal, in an interview on NBC's “Today” television show, said a major shift in her identity came when she was doing human rights work in Idaho and newspaper stories described her as transracial, biracial and black.

“I never corrected that,” she said, “… because it's more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”

Dolezal, 37, who grew up with adopted black siblings, resigned on Monday as president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a leading U.S. civil rights organization, amid reports that her parents are white.

Her own concept of her race began when she was 5 years old, Dolezal said.

“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon and the black curly hair,” she said.

Shown a photograph of herself as a teenager with fair complexion and blond hair in the TV interview, Dolezal said, “I would say that visibly she would be identified as white by people who see her.”

Dolezal took issue with critics who have said that by presenting herself as African-American, she was putting on a black-face performance – an outdated act in which white actors used makeup to portray black stereotypes.

“I have a huge issue with black-face,” she said. “This is not some freak … mockery black-face performance. This is on a very real, connected level. I've actually had to go there with the experience.”

Dolezal had represented Albert Wilkinson, a black man she worked with in Idaho, as her father and she said they had a family-level connection, according to media reports.

“Albert Wilkinson is my dad,” Dolezal said. “Any man can be a father. Not every man can be a dad.”

Dolezal said her two sons, who are black, had been supportive of her identity.

“I actually was talking to one of my sons yesterday,” she said. “He said, 'Mom, racially, you're human and culturally you're black.”

Bruce Levenson: Worse — and better — than Donald Sterling


Read the email that cost Bruce Levenson his ownership of the NBA franchise the Atlanta Hawks. It’s ten times less raw and salacious than Donald Sterling’s racist rant to his mistress. At the same time, its ten times worse.

This wasn’t a man allegedly suffering dementia, telling his mistress — in the heat of a private jealous rage — not to bring black guys to the game, as Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, did. This was Levenson, explaining to the team’s general manager what steps had already been taken to make the arena experience feel less black in order to attract more white fans.

When the Sterling mess hit the fan, Levenson told a local radio station that he had “zero tolerance for this sort of bigoted racial comment and I’ve conveyed that to [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] and the league.”

Well, when it came to courting ticket-buyers, it turns out Levenson had plenty of tolerance for such attitudes.

Why were season-ticket sales low? “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a [significant] season ticket base,” he wrote to Ferry.

Levenson quickly added that talk of the arena being unsafe was “just racist garbage” and  “when I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.”

But, in so many words, business is business. And you know what’s bad for business? According to Levenson: too much hip hop and gospel music at the games, too many black cheerleaders, too many blacks on the kiss cam and too many blacks in the stands.

So how is Levenson better than Sterling? The controlling owner of the Hawks appears to have self-reported the email in question, offered about as strong an apology as possible and is taking responsibility for what he wrote and did by deciding to sell the team without a fight:

… In trying to address those issues [about a relatively small fan base], I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive.  I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.

If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.

I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true.  That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA.

After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise. …

After listening to his condemnation of Sterling and reading his email to Ferry, it would be easy to dismiss Levenson as a self-righteous hypocrite. But given his handling of the situation, you just as easily could call him self-reflective and honorable (if the official story turns out to be true).

It’s hard to imagine the L.A. branch of the NAACP ever rescheduling that Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for Sterling. But if he keeps up this level of T’shuvah, Levenson might just earn himself another BBYO speech.

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act


On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center, (and long time national Board member of the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights) issued the following statement:

On this milestone 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Reform Jewish community joins advocates nationwide in paying tribute to a generation of activists whose struggles more than five decades ago changed our nation for the better.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 reflected the commitment of a broad coalition of advocates seeking to remedy one of the gravest injustices in American history. We are proud of the contributions of the American Jewish community – including so many Reform rabbis and congregants – to that broad effort. During the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish activists represented a disproportionate number of whites involved in the struggle as college students and activists on the ground, Members of Congress, academics and lawyers. Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Leaders of the Reform Movement were arrested with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964 after a challenge to racial segregation in public accommodations.

We take particular pride in the fact that the civil rights community’s proposed changes to the White House’s draft of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were crafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, under the aegis of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which for decades was located in the RAC's building. The RAC website will feature reminiscences of those who played active roles in those momentous years.

When President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, it was made clear that discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin would no longer be acceptable under the law. Fifty years later, we recognize the progress we have made, with educational, employment, economic and political opportunities open to millions who once would have been denied them – even as we affirm the essential work that remains.

In the fifty years since the landmark law’s passage, the Religious Action Center and the Jewish community broadly have worked to build on the foundation it has provided. From the Voting Rights Act the following year, to the continuing effort to address persistent discrimination against people of color in housing, employment, the criminal justice system, education, and other areas, the work of the Civil Rights Movement continues to guide and inspire generations of activists. Today, we work as well to address discrimination against women, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, persons with disabilities, immigrants, and other marginalized members of American society. Addressing these injustices remains the crucial unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement.

Judaism teaches respect for the fundamental rights of others as each person's duty to God. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Equality, in the Jewish tradition, is based on the concept that all of God's children are “created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). In that spirit, on this crucial anniversary we reaffirm our commitment to carrying on the legacy bequeathed to us by a generation of civil right activists to bring about a world that is more whole and just.

The fall of Donald Tokowitz


[UPDATE, May 2] My conversation with Donald Sterling


My head is spinning from watching the horror show of Donald Sterling’s racist rants and his subsequent lifetime banishment from basketball. In case you’ve been on Mars the past week, Sterling is the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was recorded spewing racist bile to his mistress, telling her, among other things, not to bring “black people” to his games.

The sin of cheating on a spouse is bad enough, but in today’s world, the sin of racism looks even worse. It’s not simply that bigotry of any kind has become so frowned upon. It’s also the new media environment we live in.

Put it this way: If you want to be a racist today, you’d better keep it to yourself. We can’t legislate decency, but we can shame bigotry like never before. In a digital world, where millions of sound bites can spread in seconds and never go away, unleash your bigoted impulses and watch your legacy go down in shame.

When Donald Sterling’s great-great-grandchildren Google his name a hundred years from now, the first thing they’ll see is that their famous ancestor was famous for being a racist. They’ll learn that he was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to minority tenants, and that the bigoted rants revealed in April 2014 were only the latest in a long pattern of racist behavior.

They may also learn that he grew up in Boyle Heights and saw his father wake up every morning at 2 a.m. to buy produce and resell it to local restaurants. And that he picked up his father’s strong work ethic to work his way through law school, and when the big firms did not hire Jews at the time, started a thriving practice to help everyday people get legal assistance.

They may learn all that, but in the end, it is the bigotry and racism that will stick. 

His descendants may also learn that Donald changed his last name from Tokowitz to Sterling to give himself an aura of success. The name Tokowitz, apparently, sounded too Jewish.

I guess you can say that his name change was good for the Jews. 

Can you imagine the anti-Semitism that would have been rekindled today had it been billionaire Donald Tokowitz spewing these racist rants? Not that people can’t do quick research and figure out that Sterling is Jewish, but in our Twitter-dominated world, “Tokowitz the racist” is exponentially worse for the Jews than “Sterling the racist.”

How’s that for delicious irony? By selfishly worrying about his own reputation, he ended up protecting — somewhat — his own people’s reputation.

There is something pathetic about a wealthy old man caught in the vise of bigotry. Of all that I’ve read about this saga, maybe the saddest thing is that Sterling doesn’t have any tenants in his Beverly Hills office building. Apparently, that’s so he can ride up in his gold-plated elevator alone. God forbid he should come into contact with ordinary people. 

It makes you wonder: Was there anyone he respected in his inner circle who could confront him? Or did they all laugh at his jokes, funny or not, as cronies are wont to do?

Beyond the issue of Sterling’s personal failings, there is also the hypocrisy of those who have enabled his behavior — groups such as the National Basketball Association, which for 30 years failed repeatedly, until now, to punish his misconduct.

Another group that comes to mind is the NAACP, which gave Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 — the same year he paid out a record $2.75 million to settle allegations of discrimination against minority tenants — and recently announced that it planned to give him another award at its 100th anniversary gala this month.

 Of course, after this latest eruption of bigotry, complete with smoking gun, the NAACP’s leaders have seen the light and announced they will not honor Sterling this month and are taking steps “to rescind the previous award they bestowed on him.”

Sorry — nice try, but too little, too late.

It’s no secret around town that organizations desperate for funds have been honoring Sterling and his wealthy connections for years while closing their eyes to his racist indiscretions. All these groups were playing with fire, but the NAACP, for obvious reasons, should have been extra careful not to associate with someone with such a shady record in race relations.

If the NAACP is looking for someone to honor at its gala event, I have an idea: Honor the Jews who helped start the NAACP a hundred years ago — names like Julius Rosenthal, Henry Malkewitz, Lillian Wald, and Rabbis Stephen S. Wise and Emil Hirsch.

Those Jews never felt a need to make their names sound less Jewish. They didn’t have to — they had nothing to hide.

The memory of these heroes may not raise as much money or sell as many tables as a billionaire slumlord does, but their great-great-grandchildren will have no shame when they Google their names. 

+