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He Said, Then She Said What He Said Was Hateful, Then He Said It Wasn’t, But He’s Still Sorry (Oy, Black-Jewish Relations Are Fraught!)

Okay, so this story from the L.A. Jewish Journal is a doozy. To summarize:

Israeli-born philanthropist Daphna Ziman was honored at an event by a black fraternity for her work helping African-American foster children. Then, along came the event’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Eric Lee, head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, who, as Ziman tells it, launched into a rant accusing Jews in Hollywood of oppressing blacks, prompting the philanthropist to storm out in tears.

“[H]e looked right at me and started talking about the African American children who are suffering because of the JEWS that have featured them as rapists and murderers,” Ziman wrote in an e-mail that has since been widely circulated.

In her e-mail, Ziman then proceeded to point a finger at… Barack Obama, whose candidacy Lee apparently touted in his speech. “I cried for our beloved country and the division that Barack Obama has caused with his Rev. Wright opening the gates to ‘hate’ against the Jews and whites,” Ziman wrote.

Lee, for his part, vigorously disputed her characterization of his remarks. “None of those words are what I said. Not a single word. My goodness,” Lee told the Jewish Journal. In an official statement, he insisted: “I did not make any statement that was offensive regarding the Jewish community and I completely deny and refute any accusation that I have done so.”

But Lee also sent Ziman an apology of the sort that you wouldn’t necessarily expect that a fellow who maintains he didn’t say anything wrong would send to his accuser. “It is with deep regret and my sincerest apologies that any comments I have made have caused you pain and distress,” he wrote to Ziman. “It was never my intent to insult you or the Jewish community, with whom I have a respected and long standing relationship.”

So what, exactly, did Lee say at the event? Several attendees reached by Journal say they weren’t paying much attention during his keynote speech. But, the Journal reports, “The guests who accompanied [Ziman], including two women who work for her and a friend, have corroborated her account.”

UPDATE: The L.A. Jewish Journal is still having trouble figuring out exactly what the Rev. Lee said at that event. “”This has really taken its toll on me. I’ve taken the brunt, and it seems there is no question about whether Ms. Ziman inaccurately heard, and I was misinterpreted. It has just been really rough to me and my family,” Lee tells the Journal. Regarding his apology, he says: “”What I issued an apology on was her misunderstanding, not what I said. I didn’t say anything wrong.”

Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman, meanwhile, is reserving judgment — and, given the season, poses four questions that the episode raises.

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