Defamatory Ad in Yiddish Newspaper Sparks Controversy, Raises Questions in Brooklyn City Council Race

rsz_derblattOn August 27th, an anti-gay ad published in the Borough Park Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt sparked controversy in the race for the coveted Brooklyn City Council seat in the 39th District.  The ad used homophobic language to support candidate Brad Lander.

CityHallNews.com reports that the ad, which Lander has publicly denounced and maintains he did not authorize, praises him as a candidate who “strongly opposes various types of abominations and immoral laws that are major issues in the current elections.” According to the Brooklyn Downtown Star, a professional translator confirmed that the Yiddish word toyvos ‘abominations’ is commonly understood to refer to homosexuality.  The Der Blatt ad went on to criticize Lander’s fellow Jewish progressive candidates saying “it would be a desecration in the name of God to support the other candidates who support laws permitting abominations…even if such candidates happen to be Jewish themselves.”

This publication set off a series of reactions from other candidates running for that Council seat as well as LGBT advocates and organizations who were understandably concerned and outraged by the anti-gay content they believed Lander had endorsed.  However, Mr. Lander has issued a public statement and confirmed in a letter to the Campaign Finance Board and in several interviews that his campaign team “did not request, see, authorize, approve, or pay for this advertisement.”

Lander told YourNabe.com:

“We had nothing to do with it.  It would have been a preposterous thing to do. People in Borough Park know of my support of marriage equality and no one would believe that we would have placed this ad. It could only serve to do me harm.”

Lander’s LGBT support base seems to be standing behind him, despite the allegations, though former-Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean did tell The Power, an online organizing network, that he would pull his endorsement of Lander if he fails to condemn the language of the ad.  The New York Daily News reported that New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda Alan Van Capelle issued a joint statement Monday morning calling all attacks against Lander unfair, while denouncing the content of the ad itself.

“I know Brad Lander and am confident that he had absolutely nothing to do with the ad,” Quinn said. “I was pleased that he took immediate action to denounce it.  Any attempt to use this ad against Brad is just plain wrong.”

Media and blog reports suggest that Der Blatt has a history of using defamatory language to promote certain candidates without approval.  Chris Bragg of CityHallNews.com reported that in this case Rabbi Yitzchok Fleisher asked Der Blatt to publish an ad on behalf of Lander, and that the paper responded, “We’ll know what to write.”  When Fleisher saw the result of his request, he was “very upset.”  Bragg’s article is the only one to point out the striking similarity of the August 27th ad to one which Der Blatt published on June 20th in support of another Council candidate, John Heyer, which also contained unapproved anti-gay language.

Lander, who has been active in the Brooklyn community for many years, has shown a commitment to marriage equality while also building allies in the orthodox Jewish community – a must for any 39th District hopeful, as the area encompasses both progressive Park Slope and the largely Hasidic Borough Park.  In an article published before the present controversy, The Jewish Daily Forward reported that Rabbi Ellen Lippman, a “prominent local voice for marriage equality” and leader of Lander’s progressive congregation Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Out Lives, fully supported his candidacy.

Still, many feel that Lander has not done enough to correct the newspaper’s misuse of his name to promote homophobia.

Der Blatt is expected to print a retraction, and GLAAD will keep you informed of any further reports regarding the publication of defamatory language in relation to the Brooklyn City Council race.