In her post, city council candidate Mozhgan Savabieasfahani depicts pigs with cash and calls out Jewish donors.
Ann Arbor city council candidate Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani has come under fire for posting cartoons in local political Facebook pages that carried anti-Semitic connotations.
Savabieasfahani, a longtime local protester who frequently targets Israel, is running in the August 4 Democratic primary to represent the city’s fourth ward. In a now-edited post in the “Ann Arbor Politics” Facebook page, a public group with more than 800 members, she posted a caricature of one of her opponents, Jen Eyer, popping out of a wallet. Next to Eyer in the image is a pig in a suit, smoking a cigar and holding a wad of cash.
The original post, published June 22nd, mentioned that Eyer has received donations from “old party hacks”. When asked by a group moderator to clarify the post, Savabieasfahani changed the word “hacks” to “honchos.” She also added that Ron Weiner and Lon Johnson, both former chairs of the Michigan Democratic Party, and retired school administrator Neal Elyakin, whom she noted in her edits is a former board member of the Friends of the IDF, have given money to Eyer.
Eyer is not Jewish. Weiner and Elyakin are both Jewish; neither are top donors to Eyer, according to the most recent campaign finance documents available from the campaign.
When Elyakin, who is not a member of the Facebook page, saw the post, he was upset. Though he has given $100 to Eyer’s campaign, he does not consider himself a party “honcho”. To him, the post felt like an anti-Semitic attack. He contacted the Facebook group’s moderator and posted a note on his own Facebook page to call awareness to the situation.
“I generally don’t get upset about politics like that, but I felt I needed to say something,” Elyakin, who lives in Ann Arbor’s fifth ward, told the Jewish News.
Michigan Jewish Democratic Caucus issued a statement later that week, condemning Savabieasfahani’s campaign tactics and anti-Israel views. In addition to the post, Savabieasfahani has been known to protest outside of Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Congregation, where a group has staged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic pickets every week for over 16 years. She and her husband Blaine Coleman have also earned local notoriety for frequently attending city council meetings, imploring Ann Arbor to divest from Israel and carrying signs with swastikas equating Israel with Nazi Germany.
“The Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus urges Ann Arbor Democrats to reject the hateful and extremist candidacy of Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, who is far more interested in elevating her own pet prejudices than representing the values and interests of Ann Arborites,” the MDJC’s statement reads.
Eyer also denounced Savabieasfahani’s post as anti-Semitic in her own note on Facebook June 23rd.
Joan Lowenstein, MDJC’s Washtenaw County chairwoman and the treasurer of Eyer’s campaign, said she thinks the imagery in Savabieafahani’s post was a clear hallmark of anti-Semitism.
“For anybody that’s Jewish, it’s like an alarm going off or something, to see the pig with the cigar,” Lowenstein, who previously served on Ann Arbor city council, told JN. “This is directly from Nazi propaganda. And so that alone was more than a dog whistle… I think non-Jews might not recognize it unless they’re real students of history, but certainly Jews do.”
But Savabieasfahani, a native of Iran who works as an environmental toxicologist, insists otherwise. She said she chose to use pigs in both the caricature of Eyer and another in another cartoon she posted of her other opponent, incumbent Jack Eaton, because of their history as a symbol of capitalism.
“I hope you know that pig images are an old American labor tradition. That couldn’t be more obvious,” Savabieasfahani wrote in an email to JN. “Pig is shorthand for the capitalist side in labor disputes.”
Not everyone in the Ann Arbor Jewish community agrees that the post was anti-Semitic, either. Ann Arbor resident Marjorie Winkelman Lesko said she has concerns about Eyer, a non-Jewish candidate, flagging the post as anti-Semitic.
“The thing that strikes me about this election cycle… is not so much whether Mozghan is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel – that’s pretty obvious. But rather it’s how other candidates are jumping on this weird anti-Semitism bandwagon that’s really made me uncomfortable,” said Lesko, who lives in the city’s first ward and belongs to Beth Israel.
“That sounds anti-Semitic to me, that Jen Eyer’s supporters are saying – and Jen Eyer herself – that big money equals Jews,” she said. “They’re saying it’s an anti-Semitic slur against a non-Jewish woman.”
Though Elyakin asked “Ann Arbor Politics” moderator Stephen Lange Ranzini to remove Savabieasfahani’s post last week, it remains public. However, in comments to the post made within a few hours of its publication, Ranzini asked for Savabieasfahani to make extensive edits. In a second call for edits, he asked her to remove Elyakin’s name and mentions of the IDF from the post. According to Ranzini, Savabieasfahani has made all the corrections he’s asked her to make.
The group’s moderators also changed the group rules to no longer allow caricatures “that support or stir up trouble” to be posted, and asked Savabieasfahani to remove the images in her post or delete it altogether. She has since removed the images.
Savabieasfahani is still a member of the Facebook group, but according to Ranzini, she has been placed on prior review for her posts until the end of the primary season. He said the group has a two-strikes policy before removal. “She has been publicly Moderated, which is a kind of naming and shaming,” he wrote in an email.
Elyakin would still like to see Savabieasfahani removed from the page – he said she has been banned from at least one other local politics Facebook group. More than that, though, he’d like to see someone else win the primary.
“And that might or might not quiet her down a little bit, though I doubt it will quiet her down,” Elyakin said. “It will just not give her an official elected voice, which is what she is striving to do, because her singular passion is the destruction of the state of Israel.”
For her part, Savabieasfahani said she’s running for council this year because she feels the current city government has not provided environmental security for residents. This is her first time on the ballot. Though she has been an active speaker at council meetings for years, she said this will also be her first time voting in a city council election.
“I will do everything to be heard when it comes to Palestinian human rights, and I will do everything to be heard when it comes to the environmental health of the public, right here in the town that I’ve lived in for almost 20 years. And I am proud of doing both of those things,” she said.
Elyakin doesn’t want to think about what it would mean to have Savabieasfahani on council, though.
“For me to even think about her in any kind of official, elected official capacity is abhorrent,” he said.