A staff member for State Senator Simcha Felder allegedly told one of his constituents that the senator didn't condemn President Trump's remarks about white supremacist violence in Charlottesville because the events were a false flag operation, and sent her a link to a conspiracy theory website pushing the idea. The comments by the Felder staffer were first reported by Kings County Politics.
Eliana Meirowitz Nelson, a resident of Kensington, which sits in Felder's senate district (Borough Park, Midwood, Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst) said that she regularly makes calls to Felder's office to register her opinion on one issue or another. Nelson said there was a concerted effort from District 17 residents last week and earlier this week to lobby Felder to speak out about the violence in Charlottesville and Trump's response to it.
Nelson told Gothamist that she reached Felder's Director of Operations, Darlene Leder, on Tuesday and said that while Leder was friendly, she told Nelson she "didn't understand why it was necessary" for Felder to make any statements since Trump had already done a good job of addressing the violence. Nelson said that after giving Leder examples of what she considered Trump's equivocating and excusing the white supremacists, Leder then turned conspiratorial.
"She told me she'd been hearing that the Charlottesville violence was a manufactured setup between the mayor and the police," Nelson told us. "She told me that James Fields was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and that fact was being suppressed, and she offered to send me an article about it."
Leder then did send the article she was referencing to Fields, which Fields shared with Gothamist. The article, from the conspiracy-minded website News Punch was headlined "Charlottesville Killer Was Hillary Supporter, Funded By Soros," and unconvincingly makes the case that accused Charlottesville murderer Andrew Fields is "actually a left-wing operative at the heart of a false flag designed to spark civil war."
Beyond the article's unfounded conspiracy theory itself, and the fact that Nelson said she had friends in Charlottesville that weekend who were not on shadowy left-wing payrolls, Nelson said she was shocked to be handed an anti-Semitic conspiracy by the staff of a prominent Orthodox Jewish politician.
"The way the right smears George Soros is quite anti-Semitic. It's playing into the centuries-old trope of international Jewish banking conspiracies," Nelson told us.
Nelson said she was given a strange reason for Felder's silence on the issue by the senator's Director of Communications, Avi Fertig. When Nelson called Felder's Brooklyn office and spoke to Fertig, she says the comms director made a somewhat novel argument. Nelson told us that Fertig "said that Felder strongly believed that words have power, and of the impact his words can have. If the senator came out with a statement about the tragedy in Charlottesville, he'd be called on to make a statement after every similar tragedy, and that if that happened, it would dilute the power of what he could do and say to comfort his own constituents if something like this happened in his district."
Fertig did not return a request for comment to Gothamist confirming that the conversation happened, but another one of Felder's constituents, Jess Byrne, reported getting a similar answer to his question from the communications director.
"I guess if I get hate crimed, Senator Felder wants to comfort me?" Nelson asked Gothamist rhetorically.
This too, struck Nelson as a bad response, which she says she told Fertig.
"I told him that Jews have a responsibility to speak out against Nazis, and that this doesn't happen every day. To say he doesn't want to speak out against Nazis now in case they come out and attack his district is disgusting and an abdication of his duties," Nelson told Gothamist.
It was especially disappointing, Nelson said, to see this kind of silence from one of the most prominent Orthodox Jews in state government, and that Felder had an opportunity to be a role model in speaking out against a rise in Naziism across America.
Nelson, a member of the group NY Senate District 17 for Progress, said she's looking forward to voting against Felder in the next election. "I wouldn't want Simcha Felder to represent me much longer," she told us. "He's not listening to his constituents, and he's blocking a lot of progress, so I wish someone else were my state senator."
Felder is one of the nine elected Democrats who have helped the Republican Party hold on to a majority in the state Senate. While not a member of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Felder caucuses with the Republican Party. He has called on the IDC to return to the mainline Democratic conference, though he hasn't answered whether he actually would do so.
The state senator told Kings County Politics that while he was upset with some of Trump's comments, he didn't believe the president should be impeached. Regarding the email that Leder sent, Felder confirmed that she had done so, and told the site that "I don’t know why anyone would send anything from such a crazy website. I will discuss my dissatisfaction with her shortly."
Nelson said that she regularly calls her elected officials, including Felder, and that this was "certainly the strangest interaction I've had" while doing so.