The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At a rally to end divisive politics in D.C., speaker calls lawmaker a ‘fake Jew’

A group gathered to support embattled D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) on April 26, but a controversial speaker abruptly took things off course. (Video: WUSA9)

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) on Friday called for the ouster of a mayoral appointee who organized a rally outside District headquarters where a Nation of Islam representative blasted her as a “fake Jew.”

Joshua Lopez, who Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) paid as a consultant in her 2014 campaign and appointed to the board of the public housing authority, convened Thursday’s “unity rally” to defend Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).

White has been at the center of controversy for the past month, after it was reported that he repeated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on his Facebook page and in a meeting with the mayor and city council.

He also donated $500 from a fund meant for his constituents to a Chicago event for the Nation of Islam, where leader Louis Farrakhan said Jews were his enemy. To make amends, White visited the U.S. Holocaust museum with a Jewish leader but left the tour early, sparking further criticism.

Defiant White tells followers he’s under attack and ‘won’t back down’

White did not attend or promote the rally on Thursday, nor did any elected officials.

The event, which attracted about 25 people, was fairly low key until Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a Mid-Atlantic representative for Farrakhan, spoke.

“What is the fake Jew that calls themselves Jews, the ADL, the JDL,” Muhammad said, referring to the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Defense League. Members of the Nation of Islam are active in community affairs in White’s ward and the council member has lauded their efforts in the impoverished neighborhoods east of the river.

No reprimand for Trayon White Sr. after Nation of Islam donation

As Muhammad spoke, Lopez, who was holding a megaphone for him, whispered in his ear, to which Muhammad responded he was “staying positive.”

Then Muhammad tore into Silverman, one of two Jewish members of the D.C. Council.

“Elissa Silverman talking about Brother Farrakhan can’t come into D.C. no more. That will never happen,” he said. “You got your nerve to say Farrakhan can’t come back to D.C. What nerve are you, you fake Jew?”

Neither Lopez nor any speakers challenged Muhammad. As the rally was wrapping up about 10 minutes later, Muhammad shouted “Termites!” in reference to Jews.

Asked about Muhammad’s comments, Lopez stressed that he was an outlier. “We are going to create safe zones, and folks are going to say wrong things and we’ll correct them,” he said.

Several hours later, Lopez emailed The Post to say that Muhammad was not an invited speaker and he wasn’t sure how he ended up at the rally. He also said he privately told Muhammad his comments were unacceptable and that he didn’t want to risk a “physical altercation” by confronting him.

Lopez has been something of a provocateur in city politics who worked on field operations for Adrian Fenty and Bowser’s mayoral campaigns. He unsuccessfully ran for D.C. Council in 2011, and has worked as a business consultant and lobbyist. He was part of a delegation that accompanied Bowser on a 2015 trade mission to China.

In a letter sent Friday to fellow lawmakers and the mayor, Silverman called the rally on the steps of the District government building part of a “disturbing tolerance within our city for anti-Jewish hate speech, which has made these last several weeks increasingly hurtful and difficult for me and others at the Wilson Building who are Jewish, as well as for the entire D.C. Jewish community.”

She blasted Lopez.

“It is unconscionable that event supporters brush off these repugnant words of prejudice simply as ‘wrong things’ to say and speakers going ‘rogue.’ Not at all: This was a deliberately misleading, intentionally designed attempt to stir up division and hatred,” Silverman wrote.

She asked the mayor to dismiss Lopez from his position on the D.C. Housing Authority Board, which carries a $4,000 annual stipend.

“He organized yesterday’s rally where he held the bullhorn for a hateful speaker who called me a ‘fake Jew’ and sowed division,” Silverman wrote. “This is unacceptable behavior for any type of public servant to our city. It is disgusting.”

Silverman, who has said the city needs to address the influence of the Nation of Islam in the city, called for lawmakers to condemn Farrakhan’s hate and participate in anti-Semitism workshops.

Most Council members condemned Muhammad’s remarks. Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) declined to comment.

But Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) joined Silverman’s call for Lopez’s dismissal.

“Alleging later that the speaker was not invited (while holding his megaphone) does not mitigate what happened,” Mendelson said in a statement. “Mr. Lopez’s actions have reopened wounds and his ‘apology’ is inadequate.”

In a statement, Bowser said, “Mr. Lopez needs to apologize and make it abundantly clear that he denounces all hateful comments.”

Council addresses White’s comments at bagels-and-lox breakfast

On Friday afternoon, Lopez offered contrition.

“I do not stand for any level of hate and I want to offer my sincerest apologies — especially to my Jewish brothers and sisters — for not having better mechanisms in place to ensure the spirit of the rally — solidarity and peace — was preserved,” he said in a statement. “I will not step down. Instead, I will continue to push forward with the message of unity building.”

Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said the organization was undecided on if the mayor should discipline Lopez. But he said the slurs against Silverman provided White a chance to show he was serious about opposing anti-Semitism.

“This gives Council member White a very obvious and public opportunity to condemn the Nation of Islam, condemn Louis Farrakhan and condemn anti-Semitism. Here it is,” said Halber, whose group has led the charge to rehabilitate White’s relationships with the Jewish community.

White did not respond to requests for comment.