Peace and Justice Committee Looks At Its Own ‘Racist Propaganda’

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 01, 2007

One might anticipate little tranquility at Monday evening’s Peace and Justice Commission meeting, when commissioners address an item placed on the agenda by Commissioner Elliot Cohen: 

“Discussion on the use of e-mail system by commissioners to spread racist propaganda.”  

Also on the agenda will be recruiting for the military at Berkeley High, making Berkeley a city of sanctuary for conscientious objectors, discussion strategies to address prejudice and more. 

Cohen’s item refers to the use of the commission’s email list, particularly by Commissioner Jonathan Wornick, who sent out a video clip to commissioners that condemned Islam as a religion of war and its prophet Mohammad as “some rambling ancient desert nomad with a psychological disorder.” 

The tape, which Wornick told the Daily Planet at the time was sent out to provoke dialogue, stated: “Muslim women in Britain who cover their faces are mentally ill. If God had intended for you to cover your face then in His wisdom He would have provided you with a flap of skin for the purpose.” 

“The issue has been misconstrued as a question of the First Amendment,” Cohen told the Planet on Wednesday. “As commissioners, we are not acting as private people. We are representing the city.” 

The emails go to the commission staff that sends them to commissioners. “We shouldn’t be spreading racism through city computers,” Cohen said. 

The way the item is written on the commission agenda “is accusatory,” Wornick told the Daily Planet on Thursday, arguing that what he had sent to the commission was not “racist” but “critical of an ideology within a religion.”  

Wornick added that Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who appointed him, stands by the appointment. “Gordon is very supportive although he doesn’t always agree with me,” Wornick said. 

Wozniak has told the Daily Planet that Wornick’s voice is an important addition to the commission as it adds diversity of thought. 

Wornick added that he will be working out of town during Monday’s commission meeting, but that he expects people will be at the meeting to support him. 

The Monday meeting is at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.