Some say controversial email sent by Birmingham commissioner may have antisemitic themes; some say it’s “only political.”
In a political email sent to Birmingham residents prior to the Nov. 2 election, some say Commissioner Clinton Baller went too far with his words, bringing out antisemitic themes.
Now, the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, has sent a complaint to Birmingham officials asking for Baller to issue a retraction and public apology. The international group, which works to stop the defamation of Jewish people through reducing antisemitism and other hate speech, has also called on the city to “take appropriate disciplinary action” in regards to Baller’s expressions.
The controversial email in question accused fellow city commissioner Brad Host of being a “marionette of the cabal,” says David Bloom, who ran as candidate for Birmingham Commission. It also claimed Host, who isn’t Jewish, was part of a political action committee supporting Baller’s opponents that was funded by Jewish Birmingham residents.
In the same email, Baller hints that the Jewish residents used their wealth to influence the Nov. 2 election. “He said that two families pumped this money into my campaign and into Andrew Haig’s campaign,” Bloom explains. “He said that they were buying the ponies and we were going to be doing their bidding.”
Baller also hinted at a political agenda, Bloom continues. “He suggested that perhaps these families were donating to the political action committee that was backing us as well.”
Commissioner Baller’s Response
Following the complaint, the issue was referred to Birmingham’s Board of Ethics to review both the letter from the ADL and Baller’s email. Though Baller has not yet issued a formal apology, he responded with email blasts earlier this month defending his earlier email as purely political.
In his email, Baller wrote that he doesn’t have “an antisemitic bone in his body,” sharing that his father and ex-wife were both of the Jewish faith. He also insinuated that the ADL’s complaint further proved a political agenda influenced by wealthy donors.
“The ADL letter is born out of a politically motivated desire to continue the pre-election deceptions, misinformation and fear-mongering of a political faction clawing for traction and relevance,” Baller wrote in the latest email blasts.
Bloom says he’s been contacted by a myriad of people concerned about the antisemitic and offensive undertones of Baller’s comments. “I had people that were Christian contact me and think this was antisemitic,” he says.
This isn’t Baller’s first controversial move. His statements in previous elections against those he wanted to see out of the race led to the city’s Board of Ethics requiring him to add a disclaimer on his emails that states he’s expressing his own personal opinions, rather than official statements on behalf of the City Commission.
Bloom says Baller has an extensive email list of Birmingham residents that he believes numbers in the thousands, meaning his comments have high visibility in a community with a large Jewish population. While emails are sent out with a disclaimer that the words and statements are his opinion only, they come from Baller’s commissioner title, which adds to the controversy.
Though Baller’s actions have left some in the Jewish community upset and frustrated, Bloom says others continue to view the moves as entirely political.
“When you use the word cabal, when you say that a city commissioner is a marionette of a cabal and there’s wealthy Jewish financing involved … to me and to a lot of other people, it looks antisemitic,” Bloom explains, “but there are other people saying it’s [only] political.”
Michigan’s ADL chapter, however, argues that Baller’s statements qualify as antisemitic speech. “Using expressions like ‘willing marionette’ and ‘this cabal,’ as well as calling out members of the Jewish community accusing them of using wealth and ‘buying the ponies,’ are common anti-Jewish themes that promote hatred of the Jewish community,” said ADL Michigan regional director Carolyn Normandin in her complaint letter regarding Baller.
Yet for Bloom and others who believe Baller’s agenda played on antisemitic themes, it’s the combination of statements that made the messaging so upsetting.
“He created a cocktail by using the word cabal, buying the ponies and influencing people,” Bloom says. “There are some people who say that’s not antisemitic, but the Anti-Defamation League looked at that and they had a number of people who contacted them [about it].”