UPDATE: Reconciliation video between Ziman and Lee here.
Los Angeles, April 12, 2008–
A Los Angeles event held by Kappa Alpha Psi—the national African-American fraternity—on April 4, the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, was reportedly marred by a disturbing incident of anti-Semitism by its keynote speaker – Reverend Eric Lee.
With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Bernard Parks, State Senator Mark Ridley Thomas and Assemblyman Mike Davis in attendance (and also winning awards in some instances) at the Marriott Hotel conference, the fraternity had just given its Tom Bradley Award—named for the esteemed former Los Angeles mayor—to Israeli-American Daphna Ziman.
Ziman is the founder and volunteer chairwoman of Children Uniting Nations—an organization devoted to the rights of children. CUN has helped children from Kosovo to the American inner cities, focusing especially on mentoring programs for children from Los Angeles broken homes. Ziman has also been a fundraiser and donor to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
After Ziman received her award, Reverend Lee, who is the President/CEO of the Los Angeles branch of Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, began his keynote speech. In the midst of this, after praising Malcolm X, he started staring directly at Ziman, according to an email she sent.
Ziman’s email states “[Lee] started talking about the African American children who are suffering because of the Jews that have featured them as rapists and murderers. He spoke of a Jewish Rabbi, and then corrected himself to say ‘What other kind of Rabbis are there, but Jews.’ He told how this Rabbi came to him to say that he would like to bring the AA [African-American] community and the Jewish community together. ‘NO, NO, NO!!!!’ he shouted into the crowd, ‘we are not going to come together. The Jews have made money on us in the music business and we are the entertainers, and they are economically enslaving us.'”
(An attempt to revive the “Black-Jewish Connection” is currently underway in Los Angeles, according to the L. A. Watts Times.)
Lee continued with his anti-Semitic diatribe, according to Ziman, at which time she could no longer tolerate it and left the room, where she broke into tears.
Most of the dignitaries had also left the room by the time of Lee’s speech but Assemblyman Mike Davis was still there. He told Ziman that he “did not hear” Lee’s words because he was engaged in another conversation. Mr. Davis did not return a call from Pajamas Media, seeking comment. Calls to organizers of the event were also not returned.
An African-American attorney who works in the area of foster care and was in the audience did speak with Pajamas Media. The attorney, who preferred not to be quoted by name, basically corroborated Ziman’s account, saying that Lee’s remarks were in essence racist and inappropriate to the occasion, even more so since Ziman was receiving an award from the fraternity.
Daphna Ziman has asked for Reverend Lee to make a public apology to the Jewish community.
[UPDATE: Reverend Lee’s response is here.]
Roger L. Simon is an Academy Award nominated screenwriter, novelist, blogger and CEO of Pajamas Media.