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Prominent rabbi defends L.A. Mayor Garcetti as his ambassadorial nomination stalls

Sharon Brous, who has called for accountability for enablers of sexual abuse, questioned a report saying her congregant abided harassment in his office

Sharon Brous, one of the nation’s most prominent rabbis and a vocal advocate for progressive causes, on Friday defended Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose ambassadorial nomination has been held up over allegations that he failed to act when one of his top advisers was accused of sexual harassment.

Brous, who delivered the invocation for Garcetti’s inauguration in 2017, spoke up publicly for the first time about the controversy when asked by the Forward about a report that a Senate Republican recently released on the mayor. Several people interviewed for the report said Garcetti knew or should have known about his aide’s behavior. 

Garcetti has said he had no knowledge of it.

Brous would not say whether she had read the report, but said in a statement that Garcetti is “a person of integrity and moral seriousness.” She expressed “full confidence not only in Mayor Garcetti’s moral character but also his ability to serve our country well in India.”

Last July President Joe Biden nominated Garcetti, a member of Ikar, Brous’ synagogue, to serve as ambassador to India.

Brous, who is close with Garcetti, has invited him to lead prayers at Ikar. She also blessed President Biden during his inaugural prayer breakfast.

The controversy has swirled around Garcetti for nearly two years and involves his former deputy chief of staff, Rick Jacobs.

A former member of Garcetti’s security detail filed a lawsuit in July 2020 that claimed Jacobs made crude sexual comments and inappropriate physical contact numerous times, and that Garcetti was aware of the behavior and did not stop it.

More allegations emerged in the months following that suit, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Garcetti’s former spokeswoman, Naomi Seligman, brought a raft of other allegations against Jacobs and claimed that Garcetti knew about Jacobs’ ongoing misconduct. Journalist Yashar Ali described several more anonymous allegations against Jacobs from City Hall staffers in a first-person article published to Substack.

At the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office request, an outside law firm conducted an investigation into Jacobs, who left Garcetti’s staff in October 2020, and report its results to City Hall. In 2021, that firm, Ellis and Makus, acquitted Jacobs of wrongdoing, and cleared Garcetti by default.

The Grassley report said that because witnesses who spoke to Ellis knew their testimony would be viewed by Garcetti, the report’s conclusions were unreliable.

Though Garcetti’s nomination was approved in January by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it is not clear whether he has enough votes to be confirmed by the full Senate.

 

Sharon Brous delivers the invocation at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s inauguration in 2017. In the speech, Brous said Garcetti “wears the clothes of a politician but has the heart of a prophet.” (Screenshot via YouTube) Image by

The White House dismissed the report’s findings, with a spokesperson calling it a “partisan hit job.”

Brous also called into question the motivations for the report, which was spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Grassley, co-chair of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus.

“The Mayor cooperated in multiple investigations, all of which cleared him of any wrongdoing,” Brous said in her statement, seemingly referring to separate versions of the Ellis report. “That the Grassley report comes to such a different conclusion indicates that it is driven more by political interest than a genuine commitment to uncovering the truth, which is not surprising in our current political climate, but still, deeply disappointing.”

Brous, who addressed the Women’s March in 2017, has been outspoken about the need to hold enablers of sexual abuse accountable. In her 2018 Yom Kippur sermon, she described how the “epidemic of sexual assault and harassment thrives on many layers of cowardice and indifference, all too abundant in our culture of complicity.”

On Friday, she was firmly in the mayor’s corner. 

“I was concerned when I heard allegations of sexual harassment against one of the Mayor’s top former staffers; all allegations of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and examined carefully,” she said in her statement.

“The Mayor himself was also concerned — for years he has been a leader not only in the fight for gender equity and justice, but also in building systems to protect against workplace misconduct.”

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