Ryan Gierach has stirred controversy by implying on his local blog that Jews are responsible for the relative lack of African-American people in West Hollywood.
In a long and rambling essay, Gierach calls on the City of West Hollywood to take action to increase the percentage of African-American people who live in WeHo. The city’s 2013 Community Study reported that three percent of the West Hollywood residents identify as black or African-American.
But what provoked an angry reaction from Denise Eger, rabbi of the Congregation Kol Ami Synagogue, is Gierach’s contention that that migration of Jews to West Hollywood is a factor in the city’s lack of racial diversity.
“… The supposed ‘universalist ethics’ of Judaism argues against the inclusiveness suggested by the liberal or progressive label,” Gierach wrote on WeHo News, his opinion blog. “The history of the Jewish people shows it is a closed in-group with a singular moral outlook and very different moral standards for in group members and out group members.”
Rabbi Eger, in an email message to Gierach that was copied to various civic leaders, said: “I have some grave concerns about what you wrote. It is frankly verging on anti-Semitism and a complete lack of understanding about Judaism, Jewish immigration patterns to this country and city and Jewish history.”
“You blamed the Jewish heritage of West Hollywood as the reason West Hollywood continues to be absent of people of color, claiming a Jewish preference to live among Jews as the reason,” Eger said. “You are basically calling the Jewish community racists.”
“I am appalled that you would contribute here at home and fan the flames of anti-Semitism when anti-Semitism in Europe has reared its ugly face again,” Eger wrote. “Most recently in France with fire bombings in synagogues, a forced rape just this week outside Paris and chanting of ‘death to the Jews’ in England and Germany in the past few months. Your portrayal of Jews and Judaism could be seen as adding to that kind of hate speech.”
Eger also complained that Gierach illustrated his essay with a photo of Kol Ami Synagogue with a caption describing Jews as “heavy hitters.”
Gierach since has slightly revised his essay to soften his criticism in response to Eger’s remarks and has changed the photo caption. But in a response to her criticism published on his blog, he said, “Being called an anti-Semite doesn’t hurt me … ” Criticizing Eger, Gierach said, “People sometimes believe that name calling is central, or even useful, in fostering a respectful dialogue.” Gierach noted that he responded to Eger’s criticism with a private message in which he described her as “shrill.”
Gierach, who is white but whose partner is African-American, founded WeHo News in 2005 and describes it as the most-read local news site covering West Hollywood. That assertion isn’t substantiated by analytical services, which rank it substantially below WEHOville.com, which Alexa analytics shows as outranking it by a factor of six, and other websites and blogs that focus on WeHo.