Councilmember Paul Koretz’s Role in Youth Surveillance Revealed
Stop LAPD Spying sued for records on Koretz’s involvement in surveilling activists and won.
Six months ago, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition sued LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz after his office violated California public records laws to hide its communications with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an influential nonprofit association in Los Angeles.
Palestinians know the Simon Wiesenthal Center as a staunchly Zionist organization that desecrated a Palestinian Muslim cemetery in 2010 and “supports efforts to suppress and censor Palestinian rights activism and speech” and demonize Palestine solidarity activism. Across Los Angeles, Simon Wiesenthal Center is famous for operating the city’s Museum of Tolerance, a place many LA youth know from mandatory school visits. What the Simon Wiesenthal Center has been less famous for — thanks in part to the secrecy Koretz was illegally trying to protect — is collaborating closely with government surveillance agencies to expand policing of youth in Los Angeles.
The records our lawsuit forced Koretz’s office to produce reveal disturbing details about the role of both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Koretz’s office in expanding youth surveillance in Los Angeles, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center ghostwriting a “letter of support” from Koretz to help them procure a surveillance grant funded by the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security.
The grant that Koretz’s ghostwritten letter helped Simon Wiesenthal Center secure funded “Preventing Violent Extremism” programming in Los Angeles schools that would train students, teachers, and school police in labeling youth behaviors as “extremism” and reporting them directly to the Simon Wiesenthal Center through a phone app.
A database the Simon Wiesenthal Center planned to use in these trainings lists multiple Pro-Palestinian student groups, a BLM co-founder, and anti-police hashtags as examples of “terrorism and hate.” Koretz’s letter came in August 2018, the same month the mayor’s office rejected a similar DHS grant to expand its “Countering Violent Extremism” youth surveillance program. The goal was to sidestep the city’s rejection of the program, housing the same funding within the nonprofit.
The records also reveal disturbing details about both Koretz’s and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s disregard for Black life. Much of this disregard was already on public display. The week George Floyd was killed, Koretz announced that risk to retail property during protests “was no less troubling” than police murder. The very next morning, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called Black Lives Matter protesters “domestic terrorists seeking to violently to destroy American society” and applauded the Trump administration’s threats to crack down on protesters.
Promoting anti-Blackness isn’t an aberration for the Simon Wiesenthal Center: the organization regularly conducts trainings for law enforcement on the “nuances” of racial profiling, including warning police about the danger of “reverse” racial profiling, which means when officers “abandon their intuitive skills out of fear of reprisals for bias.” In other words, their trainings on racial profiling have encouraged police to lean into their anti-Blackness and other prejudices.
In addition, the records reveal the center’s opposition to proposals to divest from police funding, and efforts to get Koretz to remove an ethnic studies resolution from consideration by the LAUSD School Board. And in another email, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent invasive photographs of unhoused individuals to Koretz’s office, asking the office to “relocate” them.
The records also reveal mysteries, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean sending Koretz’s office an email in November 2020 with the subject line “BLM” that said only: “Coming to beverlywood today re Compton MII 1pm should be fun and games.” Koretz’s Director of Public Safety responded: “I know brother.” We’re still trying to figure out what that one means.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also coordinated with LAPD and Koretz’s office to surveil a July 2020 car caravan protesting Israel’s proposal for illegal annexation of Palestinian land. After Simon Wiesenthal Center staff met with police before the protest, even LAPD — usually not one to shy from racist alarmism about protests — deemed the effort to demonize the protesters as baseless, citing warnings “forwarded around the Jewish community” that urged people to get “ammo” because the caravan would “drive through Jewish neighborhoods where they will be vandalizing the local businesses, shuls and schools.”
LAPD, which had already been monitoring the protest through social media surveillance, told the Simon Wiesenthal Center it “did not find any information or postings consistent with the alleged threat to vandalize local businesses, shuls or schools.” LAPD also warned Simon Wiesenthal Center about similar instances of false fearmongering within the Jewish community in the past.
We were only able to uncover these records after Koretz’s office finally disclosed them under threat of a trial. Getting here wasn’t easy. The office first ignored our records requests and follow-up communications for over a year.
There are not many legal avenues the state provides the public to deal with politicians flagrantly breaking the law in circumstances like this besides suing. But that isn’t an accessible option for much of the public seeking to expose secretive government practices. Koretz likely knows that. Like many other government officials, he gambled on whether we would take him to court.
The obstruction didn’t end there. After we filed the case, his office again tried to evade the legal process. Koretz’s chief of staff, David Hersch, refused to accept service of the lawsuit. Even though the case was directed at the councilmember and his office, Hersch tried to stall by dumping it on the city attorney’s office. But within two hours, Hersch personally began producing documents after months of ignoring the request. He also closed the request in a possible effort to moot our lawsuit.
Our lawsuit finally forced Koretz’s office to produce approximately two gigabytes of records reflecting their communications with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with attorney fees and costs compensating our need to take them to court.
Despite Koretz’s refusal to abide by state public records law until after he was sued, he is currently running for Los Angeles city controller. According to his campaign website, “Councilmember Koretz has always delivered on his commitment to governmental efficiency, transparency, accountability, and accessibility.”
Here are the some of the records obtained from Councilmember Koretz’s Office:
Knock LA is a journalism project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized or paid for by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.