Latest update: July 14th, 2013
On Oct. 21, 2003, in a corridor on the campus of UCLA, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the director of UCLA’s Hillel chapter, suddenly assaulted me when I merely asked him a reasonable question. He kicked and scratched me while trying to throw me down a flight of nearby stairs.
Fortunately, I was saved from possible concussion by several bystanders who pulled him off me in time. When these Samaritans were finally successful in prying the rabbi off me, he attacked me again. He assaulted me three times in the course of several minutes, and each time I had to be rescued by helpful bystanders. There was a wall of students separating him from me when I finally landed on the staircase and the rabbi stormed off screaming and shouting incoherently.
I later learned that after he assaulted me, he also shouted and screamed at another woman, Allyson Rowan Taylor, and had to be physically restrained from attacking her, too.
I suffered physical injuries that required medical treatment, and I am still trying to overcome the emotional trauma I suffered.
This incident occurred as we were exiting from a lecture hall where we had just heard a speech by the lawyer and Jewish activist Alan Dershowitz. My sole communication with Rabbi Seidler-Feller before he attacked me was a brief question. I asked him whether he was aware that Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian Arab who was scheduled to speak on campus the next evening as a guest of Hillel, had worked as a spy for Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. I also asked whether he was aware that Nusseibeh had contacted the Iraqi military suggesting targets in Israel for Saddam Hussein’s missile batteries to attack.
Instead of thanking me for this information, Rabbi Seidler-Feller began to assault me.
More than three years later, I received the following letter from Rabbi Seidler-Feller, which was published in the campus newspaper of UCLA, the Daily Bruin, and in the internet edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal which stated:
“I am deeply sorry that I hit, kicked and scratched you and called you a liar on October 21, 2003. By taking these unprovoked actions, I have contradicted the pluralism, peace and tolerance about which I so often preach. I also have violated the humanitarian teaching of Judaism regarding kindness and respect for others that I am bound to uphold.”
Rabbi Seidler Feller also stated: “I am accepting 100% responsibility for my actions on October 21, 2003. I had no right to do what I did.”
My purpose in recounting this unfortunate event is not to disparage Rabbi Seidler-Feller, but simply to set the record straight after more than three years of unfair and misleading press coverage of this event in four widely read Jewish newspapers, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, the Forward, the Jewish Week, and the Jerusalem Post.
This unfair and inaccurate coverage has included comments about me by some fifty UCLA professors, by the Jewish Progressive Alliance, and by others within the “progressive” wing of the American Jewish community.
One theme of these descriptions of the assault is the claim that I had provoked it by calling Rabbi Seidler-Feller a “kapo,” an expression referring to concentration camp inmates who were forced by Nazi guards to police their fellow prisoners. Thus, I was cast as the aggressor, having allegedly provoked the rabbi with a grave insult.
In reality, I did not call Rabbi Seidler-Feller any disparaging name nor make any provocative remark to him before he assaulted me. It was only after he grabbed my wrist, dug his nails into it, and called me a “liar” that I blurted out this word.
Many of the journalists and academics who commented on this incident seemed to view it in purely political terms. The humanitarian and moral issues created by the incident did not appear to concern them. They expressed no concern whatsoever for the pain and mental anguish I experienced.
And they have made no effort to get the facts straight or to report both sides of the story.
Following are some examples of the inaccurate and unfair press coverage (not one of these writers witnessed the attack on me and not one contacted me to hear my side of the story before publishing a distorted version of the incident):
“Eight years after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, the unending violence has moved from the Holy Land to La La Land, in an absurd parody that only California could concoct. In the Hollywood version…the remake has a rabbi kicking a nudnick. It’s almost hilarious except that it involves real people and real pain . . . a group of his hawkish critics reportedly came over and a heated discussion ensued, during which one of the critics called the rabbi ‘worse than a capo,’ or Jewish collaborator with the Nazis. At that point, eyewitnesses say, the rabbi kicked her…”
– “Don’t Let Them,” editorial in the Forward, November 14, 2003.
“The facts indicate that following a UCLA lecture by visiting Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz on Israel, Neuwirth had allegedly called Seidler-Feller a ‘kapo,’ and the rabbi, whose grandparents were victims of the Holocaust, had allegedly pushed and kicked her When Dershowitz spoke [at Hillel] in late October… Seidler-Feller approached [a group of pro-Palestinian picketers] and engaged them in dialogue about Israel. Before leaving he issued an invitation to a Hillel program in which a former Shin Bet director and Palestinian representative Sari Nusseibeh would engage in a debate. It was at this point that Rachel Neuwirth intervened. She objected to Seidler Feller’s ‘apologetic manner,’ particularly with regard to Nusseibeh, whom she called an enemy of Israel. The argument over Israel and how American Jews needed to act escalated and words led to the alleged physical exchange.”
– “Kicking Up A Storm At UCLA,” Gene Lichtenstein, The Jewish Week, November 11, 2003.
For the record, there was no “physical exchange.” I offered no physical resistance at all to Rabbi Seidler-Feller’s assault.
“During a UCLA Hillel event, a right-wing freelance journalist named Rachel Neuwirth repeatedly taunted Chaim for his left-wing politics, and finally denounced him as being ‘worse than a kapo.’ Enraged, Chaim grabbed her arm and kicked her… Rachel Neuwith shouting ‘kapo’ at Chaim Seidler-Feller is the primal Jewish scream against the return of the threat of annihilation … so when Neuwirth called Chaim ‘worse than a kapo’ – the vilest insult possible for someone from a survivor family – she became for him the symbol of all those right-wingers who routinely invoke ahavat Yisrael, love of the Jewish people, but who really love only those Jews who agree with them, and hate those Jews who don’t.”
– “The Return of the Poison Discourse,” Yossi Klein Halevi, The Jerusalem Post Dec. 5, 2003.
“Rachel Neuwirth and her supporters owe Seidler-Feller and the entire Jewish community an apology for their repeated, incendiary references to Seidler-Feller as a ‘kapo’ (a Jew who collaborated with Nazis in exterminating other Jews). Neuwirth’s own ‘worse than a kapo’ epithet reportedly instigated this unfortunate incident.”
– Letter to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, January 2, 2004.
There have been no “repeated, incendiary references to Seidler-Feller as a ‘kapo’” made by my supporters or me.
“The failure of Rachel Neuwirth’s allies to condemn her hateful and outrageous verbal attack on Seidler-Feller exposes the nakedly political nature of their calls for his resignation.”
– Ornah R. Becker, the Jewish Journal, November 21, 2003.
There was much more, in the same vein, in other American Jewish media outlets.
After Rabbi Seidler-Feller apologized, I asked the Jewish Journal, the Jerusalem Post, the Forward, the Jewish Progressive Alliance, and nearly fifty UCLA professors to retract their inaccurate and damaging descriptions of this incident and apologize to me. All of these people, except for three of the professors, have refused or ignored my request.
Apparently it does not matter to these folks that Rabbi Seidler-Feller, in his official apology, admitted that his attack was “unprovoked.” The rabbi sent copies of his apology to the UCLA Daily Bruin, the Forward, and the Jewish Journal. The Forward ran a brief story about the apology but has not published the complete text of the letter. The Jewish Journal published the letter in its Internet edition but has refused to publish it in its print edition, which is read in Los Angeles by many of my friends, neighbors, and business clients.
(The Jewish Journal has even refused a substantial sum of money to publish the full text of the apology as an advertisement.)
Is this the level of morality we Jews have descended to in our internal political discourse? Do fair and balanced reporting and a love for the truth count for nothing? Has winning the argument, regardless of the facts and regardless of who is hurt in the process, now become everything?Rachel Neuwirth
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