Durham faces 3rd lawsuit over police-training statement and Israel

The Durham City Council’s 2018 statement opposing militarized policing that mentioned Israel has drawn its third lawsuit.

The North Carolina Coalition for Israel filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Durham, all its City Council members, and Durham Human Relations Commission members Andrea M. Hudson, Diane Standaert, John Rooks and Mikel Barton.

Earlier this month, the group sent a complaint to interim City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg seeking a resolution before filing suit. Rehberg said then that she had seen the complaint and referred it to outside counsel. All three lawsuits were referred to Kennon Craver, a private law firm in Durham.

“The City Council is not interested in having a pre-filing negotiation, so the case will just go into litigation,” Rehberg said a few weeks ago.

In January, the Human Relations Commission decided not to ask the City Council to remove the reference to Israel in its April 16 statement opposing police training with foreign governments that engage in military-style policing.

The statement included part of a memo from Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis in which she said the department has no exchanges with Israel.

Jewish leaders and groups spent several months calling on the council to revisit the statement and remove the word “Israel.” Mayor Steve Schewel, who wrote the statement endorsed by the rest of the council, said he does not plan to revisit it.

The plaintiffs in the latest complaint are the N.C. Coalition for Israel, Kathryn Wolf, Rabbi Jerome Fox and Perri Shalom-Liberty.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim they are “personally aggrieved in that they live within the jurisdiction of the City of Durham or interact with same either as citizens, taxpayers or Jewish activists concerned with discrimination against the Jewish community and discrimination directed at that community.”

Since the Human Relations Commission’s decision, coalition members have accused the council of anti-Semitism. The lawsuit also claims the policing statement embraces “the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.”

The mayor, who is Jewish, has said he does not support that. The policing statement did not mention it.

Schewel said recently that if residents speak to the council about the same issue they did at a previous meeting, they would have one minute to speak instead of the usual three minutes. However a few speakers recently spoke longer than one minute and Schewel just reminded them that next time, it would be one minute.

Wolf called the shortened time “Jew time.”

“You’ve gotta listen to your constituents, even those you disagree with,” Wolf told Schewel last week. “We are not backing down, and we are not shutting up.”

Clifford A. Rieders of Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann, and D. J. O’Brien of Brooks Pierce are representing the plaintiffs.

The complaint claims the plaintiffs and city’s Jewish community “have been discriminated against based upon religion and nationality” because of the statement.

Other two lawsuits

In December 2018, a lawsuit was filed in Superior Court by Durham County resident Deborah Friedman claiming that Schewel’s emails from his personal email account to other City Council members violates the state’s open meetings law. Attorney Jonathan D. Jones of J.D. Jones Law in Durham is representing Friedman.

It followed another lawsuit filed in Superior Court in October by two Israeli volunteer police officers, Moshe Eyal and Itay Livneh, claiming the city’s actions violate a section of the North Carolina Constitution that says no one shall be discriminated against because of race, color, religion or national origin, The News & Observer previously reported.

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