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Duncan Defends Stance On Yeshiva Lease Deal

During his 12 years as county executive, Duncan said, "I've only walked out of one meeting, and it was a meeting with the Belt neighbors, because their comments were so outrageous. I said, 'I'm not going to listen to this anymore.' "

He added that he felt the neighbors' anti-Semitism "was clearly part of their objection" to the school deal.

Jeremy Harris, a former resident of the neighborhood surrounding Belt and one of those who met with Duncan, said this week that "there was nothing anti-Semitic" about the community opposition. "We obviously wanted the school to be reopened" as a public school, Harris said.

In the Post interview, Duncan recalled seeing an anti-Semitic placard held by a protester at a 1999 ceremony at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) corroborates Duncan's recollection of what the placard said -- "We don't want your kind here" -- but said that protest concerned the Charles E. Smith school, not the Belt transaction.

Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) received a letter in April 1999 from Robinson and Frank Vrataric, the main leader of the movement to retain Belt as a public school. In the letter, Robinson and Vrataric say they "would not want to be put into the position [of] wondering if your change in heart on Belt is related to your ties to the Jewish community."

"I don't want to suggest the entire community opposition was driven by anti-Semitism," Silverman recalled this week, adding that he was "shocked and appalled" by the letter.

Vrataric died in 2002, but his attorney David W. Brown said this week that he "never experienced any anti-Semitism in dealing with Frank." Brown and his partner Knopf also represented Vrataric in challenging an earlier plan to turn Belt into a private rental facility for senior citizens.

Robinson said he and other opponents of the lease to Yeshiva "never, ever played any religion card."

Knopf wrote in a 1999 letter to the council that "this resort to defamatory smear tactics is a clear indication the proponents of the [deal] realize the weakness of their position on the merits." The county reclaimed the school in 2001 so it could be reopened as a public school.

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