Monday, November 24, 2003
Writer’s Suit Claims Rabbi Attacked Her During Political Argument
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A conservative Jewish writer has sued a prominent local rabbi, claiming he attacked her without provocation and injured her after they argued about Middle East politics.
Rachel Neuwirth sued Chaim Seidler-Feller in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday. Also named as defendants were Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and its local affiliates.
The case was filed in Santa Monica, assigned to Judge James A. Bascue, and set for status conference March 1.
Seidler-Feller heads the UCLA affiliate of Hillel, which serves Jewish students on more than 500 campuses throughout the world. The rabbi, who has been at the post for 28 years, denied Neuwirth’s claims Friday through his attorney, Donald Etra.
Neuwirth filed suit in order to advance her hawkish political agenda and embarrass the rabbi, an outspoken dove and advocate for liberal causes, Etra told the MetNews. Neuwirth has suggested 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.
The brouhaha occurred on Oct. 21 outside Royce Hall on the Westwood campus, following an address by Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz, author of a new 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 event involving Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian involved in an ongoing non-governmental peace effort.
Neuwirth alleges 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 claims 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 claimed.
Campus police investigated and referred the matter to the City Attorney’s Office, which determined that charges were unwarranted and referred the matter for a Dec. 2 administrative hearing. Such hearings usually result in some form of mediated resolution, but attorneys for both sides said the filing of charges remains a possibility.
The City Attorney’s Office was unaware of the extent of Neuwirth’s injuries when they made the initial decision not to prosecute, plaintiff’s attorney Robert Esensten said Friday.
Esensten said his client is suffering from a stiff left shoulder and needs to undergo further medical testing. The incident also left her with emotional trauma, he said.
“This was a high person in her religion that attacked her,” the attorney said.
Etra said his client has offered Neuwirth his apologies for what he termed “a minor incident” that the plaintiff wants to blow “way out of proportion.” Neuwirth provoked the incident, he added, and was angry and belligerent.
Neuwirth made the “kapo” remark before, not after, the rabbi responded, Etra insisted, acknowledging that his client was upset at the “incendiary remark.”
“Many of his family perished in the Holocaust,” the attorney said. “He’s been a staunch supporter of Israel,” Etra added, saying the rabbi bristled at Neuwirth’s willingness to equate his support of Middle East peacemaking with Nazism.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company