LACONIA — A meeting to mend fences between the local Jewish community and State Rep. Dawn Johnson, a candidate for mayor, derailed Friday before it could begin, with sides disagreeing over whether Ira Keltz, who is president of Temple B’nai Israel, could and should be part of the meeting.
Keltz, in a letter to the editor, said Johnson came with two supporters, including State Rep. Norman Silber of Gilford, a former Temple member, and Johnson campaign advisor. Silber said Johnson would only meet the local congregation’s Rabbi Dan Danson, and not with Keltz, because, as one of Mayor Andrew Hosmer’s panelists on a mayoral debate tomorrow, Keltz has a conflict of interest.
There is disagreement over the arrangements.
Keltz, in his letter, said “I was concerned that this outreach this month to the Jewish Community could be a political ploy, but we gave Rep. Johnson the benefit of the doubt and accepted her request to meet with me and our Rabbi. I felt it was important for us to sit down together,” Keltz stated. “All emails around the request clearly stated that they would be meeting with both of us.”
Johnson said Monday that she only requested to meet with Rabbi Danson, who she had contacted for about a month through emails and messages left in the Rabbi’s voicemail.
Keltz said they refused his and Danson’s offer to meet after the election. Johnson said Monday she’d be happy to meet with the Rabbi, but not Keltz.
Hurt, anger and disapproval continue to fester in Laconia and among area Jews over Johnson’s linking on social media to an article on election rigging from the The Daily Stormer website, which contained an anti-Semitic caricature at the end of the link. Its caption read, “Riggers and Jews, Bad News.”
Johnson has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the caricature when she posted a link from website she said she was not familiar with. The Daily Stormer is considered the voice of a hate group, and a neo-Nazi website.
The Jewish community has heavily criticized Johnson for not publicly apologizing for the content of the cartoon after the event, or agreeing to meet with Temple members soon after. Keltz in his letter said asking to meet with the local congregation’s Rabbi at this time was politically motivated.
“After 10 months of no response to our request to meet to discuss how the incident of December 2020 impacted the Jewish Community of Laconia, I was hopeful this would provide an opportunity for healing and understanding,” Keltz wrote.
“It’s important to us because it’s important to the Jewish community that Rep. Johnson understands why these postings are so destructive to us,” Keltz said Monday. “If she doesn’t know why, we’d like to educate her why these are so offensive and why her apology was insufficient. After 10 months of silence, to have Rep. Johnson reach out was an encouraging sign. I felt it was worth the effort if she was ready to hear from us. Our Temple is located in Ward 4, the same ward she represents” on the school board and in the state legislature. “We’ve been disappointed by the lack of response,” said Keltz.
Johnson offered a different sequence of events.
“I asked to speak to the Rabbi, and the Rabbi refused to meet with me,” said Johnson Monday. "I was trying to meet with a man of the cloth, not someone in the congregation, who is also a panelist for Andrew Hosmer” in Wednesday’s mayoral debate.
“I never asked to speak with Ira Keltz,” Johnson said. “Ira took it upon himself to insert himself into the discussion and the meeting. I was very disappointed and hurt that I reached out to the Rabbi and he refused to speak with me.”
Johnson said the reason why she didn’t respond to requests from the Temple and Jewish community to meet after the event sparked widespread outrage, “is that they didn’t want to hear the truth. They just wanted to attack me. I needed everyone’s emotions to calm down, and for them to hear a clear perspective on what happened.”
At this point, “Things have calmed down and tempers have cooled,” said Johnson. “Now it the time to discuss what happened, not when everyone was on an emotional rollercoaster. Nobody wanted to hear the truth. They just wanted to attack me.”
Johnson said she never posted the cartoon which appeared at the end of her link to an article about fraud in the 2020 presidential election. “I apologized for the source this article came from because I don’t agree with it (The Daily Stormer). As soon as I was made aware of the site, I removed the post. I didn’t even know organizations like this existed. I don’t live in that world. I judge nobody by the color of their skin or their religious beliefs,” she said.
Johnson said the Laconia Human Relations Committee requested a meeting. “And it wasn’t to try to resolve the issue, just to attack me more. Nobody wanted to hear the truth,” she said. “My family and I were getting death threats. I couldn’t take that chance anymore."
She said community critics "had no intention of trying to heal the community. They just wanted to keep that narrative going and attack me. Ira Keltz wanted to keep the narrative going. He was an instigator."
Johnson said she would welcome a meeting with Rabbi Danson alone, before or after the election, but not a meeting with Keltz.