After claiming a Jewish banking dynasty controls the climate and federal government, D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr.’s path to atonement included a bagels-and-lox breakfast with fellow lawmakers and local Jewish community leaders.
The Tuesday morning meal — catered by a kosher supermarket and served in a D.C. government building — turned into a chance to air grievances and begin healing after White’s anti-Semitic comments set off an international uproar last week.
White, a Democrat elected in 2016 to represent Southeast Washington’s Ward 8, has been privately meeting and speaking to Jewish leaders since March 19 and is planning to visit the Holocaust Museum and attend a Passover Seder.
Although some residents have called for White’s resignation, lawmakers and Jewish leaders at the breakfast made clear they were content with his attempt to make amends.
“Most if not all of us believe his apology was sincere — it was very well meant,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). “This is an opportunity for us to learn better about different aspects about bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism.”
Mendelson organized the breakfast with the help of Jewish community leaders, who ordered the breakfast items from Moti’s Market in Rockville.
Several Jewish community leaders talked about the dangerous history of stereotypes painting Jews as power hungry but said White deserved a chance to redeem and educate himself.
“Trayon made a mistake, but only fools repeat a mistake. People who are wise try to correct them,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov of the American Friends of Lubavitch, one of more than a dozen Jewish attendees.
After 35 minutes of listening and periodically taking notes, White said he couldn’t apologize enough after his comments earned him a national “butt-whooping.”
“Growing up as a young man in Ward 8, I had no idea what anti-Semitism was. Really,” said White, his bagel and lox mostly untouched. “As a leader, I should be held accountable.”
He said he would take his education seriously to challenge anti-Semitism in his community, where many of his allies are standing by him.
“I’m not just here to hope this dies down and goes away and gets out of the headlines,” White said.
His promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories drew headlines all over the world — one of the biggest embarrassments for the D.C. Council in years.
The controversy began when White posted a video of a brief snowfall March 16 to warn his followers that the “Rothschilds” — a famous European business dynasty — control the climate to profit off disasters. He initially stood by his comments when contacted by The Washington Post and apologized after a subsequent article was published and sparked outrage.
Then, video surfaced of White previously claiming that the Rothschilds controlled the World Bank and federal government at a February breakfast meeting of top city officials, including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and fellow lawmakers. No one challenged him.
As they gathered in the same room Tuesday, lawmakers said they didn’t notice the comments then.
“I had to look back on the video to see perhaps why I didn’t react. I think in part because I just wasn’t paying much attention, and it didn’t register with me, quite frankly,” said council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who was sitting next to White when he stated the conspiracy theories.
“But even after the article was published about Mr. White’s Facebook comments and things like that, it still didn’t resonate as much because I didn’t have a sense of history — I didn’t have a sense of the roots of the comments in anti-Semitism. And I really consider this as a teachable moment for me,” McDuffie said.
The two Jewish members on the council, Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), said they were surprised more lawmakers didn’t join them in promptly condemning White’s remarks.
“I felt sad that only a handful of our council colleagues made statements, either in support of the Jewish community or condemning the remarks,” said Nadeau, who was the first to publicly criticize White.
“Throughout history, anywhere that Jews have lived, we have been targets of anti-
Semitism,” she said. “And I don’t think most people realize that we all live with this fear in the back of our minds that it will happen to us, in our communities, and it’s really just a matter of when.”
Silverman said she believes White didn’t understand the implications of his comments, but she called on colleagues to confront anti-Semitism more broadly in the District. In particular, she highlighted the local influence of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
“He is an anti-Semite. He hates me,” Silverman said, referring to Farrakhan. “I know that he has a lot of followers in our community, and I think there are some things that he and the Nation of Islam do that are very positive, but it comes with anti-Semitism, and I just can’t condone that.”
Mendelson, the council chairman, said the legislative body could take several steps, such as educating the legislative workforce on anti-Semitism and updating a resolution against bigotry to include “anti-Semitism.”
“This conversation is a beautiful beginning,” said Rabbi Batya D. Glazer, who helped organize the breakfast on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
As the breakfast wrapped up, White stayed to chat with attendees and take their phone numbers.
It remains unclear how White came to say that financiers could control the climate and how he became versed in the language of conspiracy theories lurking in corners of the Internet.
When The Post again asked about the source of his information after the breakfast, White repeatedly shouted, “No comment.”
He then walked away from a television reporter who asked him whether he still believes the weather can be manipulated.