In her post, city council candidate Mozhgan
Jews in the D
Anti-Semitism in Ann Arbor Campaign? In her post, city council candidate Mozhgan Savabieasfahani depicts pigs with cash and targets Jewish donors.
MAYA GOLDMAN CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Ann Arbor city council candidate Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani has come under fire for posting cartoons on local political Facebook pages that carried anti-Semitic connotations.
Savabieasfahani, a longtime local protester who frequently targets Israel, is running in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary to represent the city’s fourth ward. In a now-edited post in the “Ann Arbor Politics” Facebook page, a public group with more than 800 members, she posted a caricature of one of her opponents, Jen Eyer, popping out of a wallet. Next to Eyer in the image is a pig in a suit, smoking a cigar and holding a wad of cash.
The original post, published June 22, mentioned that Eyer has received donations from “old party hacks.” When asked by a group moderator to clarify the post, Savabieasfahani changed the word “hacks” to “honchos.” She also added that Ron Weiner and Lon Johnson, both former chairs of the Michigan Democratic Party, and retired school administrator Neal Elyakin, whom she noted in her edits is a former board member of the Friends of the IDF, have given money to Eyer.
Eyer is not Jewish. Weiner and Elyakin are both Jewish; neither are top donors to Eyer, according to the most recent campaign finance documents available from the campaign.
When Elyakin, who is not a member of the Facebook page, saw the post, he was upset. Though he has given $100 to Eyer’s campaign, he said he does not consider himself a party “honcho.” To him, the post felt like an anti-Semitic attack. He contacted the Facebook group’s moderator and posted a note on his own Facebook page to call awareness to the situation.
“I generally don’t get upset about politics like that, but I felt I needed to say something,” Elyakin, who lives in Ann Arbor’s fifth ward, told the Jewish News.
CARTOON COURTESTY OF MOZHGAN SAVABIEASFAHANI
Michigan Jewish Democratic Caucus issued a statement later that week, condemning Savabieasfahani’s campaign tactics and anti-Israel views. In addition to the post, Savabieasfahani has been known to protest outside of Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Congregation, where a group has staged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic pickets every week for over 16 years. She and her husband, Blaine Coleman, have also earned local notoriety for frequently attending city council meetings, imploring Ann Arbor to divest from Israel and carrying signs with swastikas equating Israel with Nazi Germany.
“The Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus urges Ann Arbor Democrats to reject the hateful and extremist candidacy of Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, who is far more interested in elevating her own pet prejudices than representing the values and interests of Ann Arborites,” the MJDC’s statement reads.
Eyer also denounced Savabieasfahani’s post as anti-Semitic in her own note on Facebook June 23.
Joan Lowenstein, MJDC’s Washtenaw County chairwoman and the treasurer of Eyer’s campaign, said she thinks the imagery
in Savabieafahani’s post was a clear hallmark of anti-Semitism.
“For anybody that’s Jewish, it’s like an alarm going off or something, to see the pig with the cigar,” Lowenstein, who previously served on Ann Arbor city council, said. “This is directly from Nazi propaganda. And so that alone was more than a dog whistle … I think non-Jews might not recognize it unless they’re real students of history, but certainly Jews do.”
But Savabieasfahani, a native of Iran who works as an environmental toxicologist, insists otherwise. She said she chose to use pigs in both the caricature of Eyer and another in another cartoon she posted of her other opponent, incumbent Jack Eaton, because of their history as a symbol of capitalism.
“I hope you know that pig images are an old American labor tradition. That couldn’t be more obvious,” Savabieasfahani wrote in an email to JN. “Pig is shorthand for the capitalist side in labor disputes.”
Not everyone in the Ann Arbor Jewish community agrees that the post was anti-Semitic, either. Ann Arbor resident Marjorie Winkelman Lesko said she has concerns
about Eyer, a non-Jewish candidate, flagging the post as anti-Semitic.
“The thing that strikes me about this election cycle … is not so much whether Mozghan is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel — that’s pretty obvious. But, rather, it’s how other candidates are jumping on this weird anti-Semitism bandwagon that’s really made me uncomfortable,” said Lesko, who lives in the city’s first ward and belongs to Beth Israel.
“That sounds anti-Semitic to me, that Jen Eyer’s supporters are saying — and Jen Eyer herself — that big money equals Jews,” she said. “They’re saying it’s an anti-Semitic slur against a non-Jewish woman.”
Though Elyakin asked “Ann Arbor Politics” moderator Stephen Lange Ranzini to remove Savabieasfahani’s post last week, it remains public. However, in comments to the post made within a few hours of its publication, Ranzini asked for Savabieasfahani to make extensive edits. In a second call for edits, he asked her to remove Elyakin’s name and mentions of the IDF from the post. According to Ranzini, Savabieasfahani has made all the corrections he’s asked her to make.
The group’s moderators also changed the group rules to no longer allow caricatures “that support or stir up trouble” to be posted, and asked Savabieasfahani to remove the images in her post or delete it altogether. She has since removed the images.
Savabieasfahani is still a member of the Facebook group, but according to Ranzini, she has been placed on prior review for her posts until the end of the primary season. He said the group has a two-strikes policy before removal. “She has been publicly moderated, which is a kind of naming and shaming,” he wrote in an email.
Elyakin would still like to see Savabieasfahani removed from the page. He said she has been banned from at least one other local politics Facebook group. More than that, though, he’d like to see someone else win the primary.
“It will just not give her an official elected voice, which is what she is striving to do, because her singular passion is the destruction of the state of Israel,” Elyakin said.
For her part, Savabieasfahani said she’s running for council this year because she feels the current city government has not provided environmental security for residents. This is her first time on the ballot. Though she has been an active speaker at council meetings for years, she said this will also be her first time voting in a city council election.
“I will do everything to be heard when it comes to Palestinian human rights, and I will do everything to be heard when it comes to the environmental health of the public, right here in the town that I’ve lived in for almost 20 years. And I am proud of doing both of those things,” she said.
Elyakin doesn’t want to think about what it would mean to have Savabieasfahani on council, though.
“For me to even think about her in any kind of official, elected official capacity is abhorrent,” he said.
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Jews in the DJe s t e jews and racial justice
Michigan’s Jewish moms donated to the baby drive en masse.
ROCHEL BURSTYN CONTRIBUTING WRITER
COURTESY OF SHIRAH FISH
On June 7, Shirah Fish of Oak Park scrolled through her Facebook account, oblivious to how it would impact her next few weeks.
On the much-loved “Jewish Moms of Metro Detroit” page, she saw a post that began, “With everything that’s going on in the country right now. I want to try and show support to …”
Fish smiled, she thought she knew where this was going and that felt good. But the sentence ended not with “the Black Jewish community” as she’d expected, but with “the police.” Fish was taken aback.
“I’m not anti-police,” Fish explained. “But I felt that it wouldn’t be right to give a public show of support to the police as a group at this time.”
Fish commented that as a Black Jewish woman she was disappointed in the post and felt that, if anything, the powerful support of a group of 2,200+ Jewish moms would be better directed elsewhere.
Within minutes she was inundated with supportive comments and approximately 50 private messages from fellow J-moms who wanted to offer tangible help to the Black Lives Matter movement but didn’t know how.
“I felt like a deer caught in headlights,” Fish said. She hadn’t really thought things through at that point. But she was willing to start.
That night, she conferred with Ashira Leah Solomon and Aliza Bracha Klein and, within days, Michigan Jewish Womyn Together (MJWT) was launched. Within 24 hours, their Facebook page had over 100 members. As it was mostly
I know fi rsthand that in America, food is not an issue. There are food stamps, WIC, farmers’ markets. There’s food in abundance. But if you can’t aff ord diapers, then what?
— SHIRAH FISH
made up of Jewish moms, they thought helping Black moms would be most fitting.
“The childbirth statistics for Black moms are disturbing,” Fish said.
According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. The CDC also says that the rate of preterm births for Black moms is 50% higher than the rate for white moms. That particularly struck home for Fish. Of her children, Noemie, 16, Lea, 13, Hudi, 12, Rafi, 4, and twins Dassi and Zach, 1, four were born prematurely.
Fish is a single mom and can especially sympathize with the challenges of raising children while struggling financially.
“I’ve had a rough time in the last few years,” Fish said. “I know firsthand that in America, food is not an issue. There are food stamps, WIC, farmers’ markets. There’s food in abundance. But if you can’t afford diapers, then what?”
With that in mind, Fish spearheaded a baby drive. More than 40 donors immediately stepped up with 20+ cases of diapers and wipes, bulging bags of gently used baby clothing and assorted baby equipment and paraphernalia. Within one week, the storage space was full to bursting.
Fish polled the group members for which organization their donations should go to. The winner was the LighthousePATH program, a transitional housing program for women and children, most of whom are fleeing domestic violence situations.
MJWT has other projects in the works, too. Noemie Fish wants to create a book for kids about diversity within the Jewish community. Ashira Leah Solomon plans on creating a cookbook interwoven with stories from recipe contributors.
“Food is a tool that brings people together,” Solomon said. “My hope is that each time we open this cookbook, we will reflect on the cherished value of people as individuals and the beauty of unification. As we modify cookbook recipes to suit our individual tastes, the hope is that we should embrace those differences that bring authenticity to our table and to our world.”
This group is just getting started, but they’re hoping to make a difference, one step at a time.
The Baby Drive is running until July 15. Donations can be dropped off or shipped to BLM Baby Drive/Shirah Fish 14611 Borgman St., Oak Park, MI 48237. For more information, call (248) 607-4549.
To contribute recipes or for more information about the cookbook, email email@example.com.