Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Rabbi Apologizes in Settlement of Suit Over Assault at UCLA
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A prominent local rabbi has apologized to a Jewish writer who alleged in a lawsuit that he attacked and injured her after they argued about Middle East politics, the Jewish Journal and Daily Bruin both reported last week.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, who is currently on sabbatical from his post as director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at UCLA, apologized to Rachel Neuwirth as part of a settlement reportedly reached last month.
In addition to the apology, Neuwirth and her attorney told the newspapers, there was a “substantial” cash settlement by the rabbi and Hillel, the actual amount of which is confidential.
In the letter, Seidler-Feller wrote:
“I am deeply sorry that I hit, kicked, and scratched you and called you a liar. By taking these unprovoked actions, I have contradicted the pluralism, peace and tolerance about which I so often preach. I have also violated the humanitarian teachings of Judaism regarding kindness and respect for others that I am bound to uphold. “
He added that he was taking “100% responsibility” for his actions.
The settlement followed a Court of Appeal ruling last November that Neuwirth could sue Hillel on a respondeat superior theory.
Reversing a contrary ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James A. Bascue, Div. Seven said there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether the rabbi was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the incident.
Seidler-Feller has headed the UCLA affiliate of Hillel, which serves Jewish students on more than 500 campuses throughout the world, for more than 30 years.
The suit resulted from a brouhaha outside Royce Hall on the Westwood campus, following an address by Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz, who was promoting his book “The Case for Israel.”
Outside the hall were some Palestinian or pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The rabbi stopped to talk to one of them about an upcoming event involving Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian then involved in a non-governmental peace effort.
Neuwirth, who has suggested in her writings that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is an impossibility, that responsibility for the Palestinians should be placed on the Arab nations, and that President Bush’s “road map” for Mideast peace is doomed to failure, attended the speech and overheard the rabbi’s conversation.
She alleged in her complaint that she “calmly” told the rabbi that Nusseibeh had been identified by Israeli intelligence during the Gulf War as having phoned Iraqi officials and urged them to “send the Scud missiles not to the Negev, but to more effective places.”
Neuwirth said that Seidler-Feller then “flew into a rage,” called her “a liar,” grabbed and twisted her right hand and scratched her thumb and index finger with his fingernails. Neuwirth said she was shocked and outraged, causing her to exclaim that Seidler-Feller was a “kapo”—the title given to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis by helping administer concentration camps.
The rabbi had to be pulled off Neuwirth by “three or four large college men,” Neuwirth said in the complaint.
In reasoning that she had shown enough evidence to obtain a trial on Hillel’s responsibility, Justice Fred Woods cited a case in which the Court of Appeal held that a car rental agency had ratified an employer’s assault on a customer because it knew the employee was volatile, yet placed him in a sensitive situation where customers were likely to get emotional.
Woods wrote that “whether the attack arose out of Seidler-Feller’s employment or whether he substantially deviated from his duties for personal purposes, and whether the attack was unusual or startling given this rabbi’s duties and his prior history are fact issues which cannot be determined at the demurrer stage.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company