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Why is LA City Councilman Paul Koretz Associating with Hate?

The author requested anonymity due to harassment by the right-wing groups discussed in the piece.

The author requested anonymity due to harassment by the right-wing groups discussed in the piece.

On the weekend of November 17th, the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference was held on the UCLA campus. The rapid and fierce response was unsurprising; Israeli advocacy groups both on and off campus objected to the event and with a unanimous vote the Los Angeles City Council vote called on UCLA to cancel the event. The school allowed the event to go on despite the pushback.

If all of that was unsurprising, what happened during the protests of the event was more upsetting. As a bit of background: I showed up over the weekend as a Los Angeles Jewish organizer in solidarity with the conference and the students attending. On Sunday, the main protest of the conference took place, with a group of roughly 30–35 across the street from the building where seminars were being held. Also in attendance was the 5th District’s Councilman Paul Koretz, there to give a speech to the anti-SJP protestors.

Koretz reiterated his opinion from the council vote that the conference should have never been permitted; he then went further and claimed that the conference’s private nature could mask more nefarious intentions on the group’s part, suggesting that they could be plotting acts of terror or working to make Jewish students and supporters of Israel feel unsafe on college campuses across the country. He concluded, “Whatever it is, it’s definitely anti-Semitism, it’s definitely hate speech.”

As a Jewish person, I found Koretz’s assertion that anything happening inside the conference was anti-Semitic by default to be repulsive. He made a similar claim a second time in the speech, also suggesting that SJP stood for “violence against Israel and violence against Jews and hate and anti-Semitism.” I similarly found his assertion that Muslim students were to be instantly suspected of being terrorists because of locked doors deeply upsetting. In later comments to the Jewish Journal, Koretz also invoked the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh — committed by a white neo-Nazi motivated by far-right conspiracy theories — as reason for his opposition to the conference.

Sadly, the Councilman’s rhetoric was restrained by the standards of the rally. To begin with, the rally was organized by a far-right group called Yad Yamin (Hebrew for “right hand”), which was denounced by other Israel-advocacy student groups after their Yad Yamin members were reported verbally harassing and assaulting Muslim students on campus. The group’s social media is also filled with violent rhetoric and imagery, employing the hashtag #JewsFightBack and graphics urging to “Give War a Chance” while they openly call for the use of violence against Palestinians.

The fact that Councilman Koretz failed to even take the bare minimum step of distancing himself from this group is deeply unsettling. Even while Koretz was present at the rally, the crowd specifically singled out students wearing hijabs or other religious signifiers as they walked in or out of the conference with shouts of “go back to your own country” and “terrorist.” Also present in the crowd was at least one well known Trump-supporting agitator known for trying to start physical altercations on live streams, and multiple men wearing t-shirts with the logo of the Jewish Defense League, a far-right organization responsible for plotting and carrying out several terrorist attacks. Another protestor carrying a professional camera with a long lens clearly tried to capture photos of attendees’ faces, which I can only assume was for the purpose of “exposing” them via doxxing through sites like Canary Mission or elsewhere. As the conference ended, several of the remaining protestors followed students back to their cars or to where they were waiting for rides, necessitating escorts from campus police, UCLA staff, and the conference’s safety volunteers.

When the Trump administration passed its Muslim Ban, Koretz was one of the councilmen who took the lead in denouncing the act, specifically calling out the role it could play in increasing anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States. Koretz’s willingness to overlook the anti-Muslim sentiments displayed by the group he associated himself with on Sunday and the behavior that took place in his presence unfortunately call into question his commitment to combating that particular prejudice.

If Paul Koretz is only willing to fight against hate when it’s politically convenient for him, or when it doesn’t require him to examine his own actions, it’s meaningless. If that’s the case, the city and our LA Jewish community deserve better leaders than that.