This story was originally published in The Dayton Jewish Observer.
Tipp City Board of Education Member Anne Zakkour told The Observer Thursday morning that she is sorry for giving the Nazi salute and saying, “Sieg heil” to then board President Simon Patry during a work session Tuesday evening.
“In hindsight, I regret having done this,” Zakkour said via email. “As I explained to you, after four years of attacks by a board member that I believe has been acting as a dictator spreading lies and division, my action was spur of the moment and I’m very sorry for that. My heart is open to all religions, and it was never my intent to offend anyone of the Jewish community.”
In an unexpected move, Patry announced he was resigning from the board at the end of the Sept. 5 meeting, for “business and family obligations.”
Zakkour had already announced she was not running for reelection. Her term expires in December.
Her apology follows denouncements from two of the remaining three board of education members, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, Ohio’s regional Anti-Defamation League office, and Ohio Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of Ohio’s eight Jewish Federations.
Since Tuesday evening, local media coverage and video of the outburst have been picked up by local media outlets across the United States.
As seen in video of the Sept. 5 Tipp City Board of Education working meeting, Zakkour attempted to cut in while Patry was speaking.
“I’m talking, do not interrupt me, do not make any noises or else I will…I will not tolerate that. Stop talking,” Patry told Zakkour. She then raised her hand in the Nazi salute and said, “Seig heil.”
“Invoking Nazism with a ‘Sieg heil’ salute during a school board meeting, a place meant to support and guide our youth, is outrageous, offensive, and potentially dangerous,” Kelly Fishman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League based in Cleveland, told The Observer. “Hateful gestures and words cannot be normalized by local officials who are tasked with representing everyone in their communities. The ADL denounces hate in all its forms and is available to provide resources to support the school community.”
In March, ADL’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents reported that Ohio experienced a 37-percent increase in reported antisemitic incidents in 2022, 107 compared to 78 in 2021. And 2021’s numbers were a 22-percent increase from the previous year.
With a population of just above 10,000 people, Tipp City is approximately 16 miles north of Dayton. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton is aware of 36 people in 21 Jewish households who reside there.
Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton CEO Cathy Gardner described the incident as “shocking and disturbing.”
“While I do not believe this woman had antisemitic intent, her actions highlight the need for education and a deeper understanding for all,” Gardner noted in a statement. “This incident is a reminder of how damaging words and actions can be…Flippant, casual references to Hitler, the Nazi regime, or the Holocaust grossly diminish the tragedy that still affects so many. Seeing this image splashed in the news in reference to a disagreement at a board meeting desensitizes people to the terror that ensued at the command of Hitler.”
In a phone interview with The Observer the evening before her apology, Zakkour had difficulty understanding why anyone would be offended by her outburst, though she said, “I feel like crawling in a hole.”
“It came out of my mouth right there and then because I was just frustrated,” Zakkour said. “This has been building up. I think he (Patry) does have a dictator mentality. It was like the symbolic, sarcastic gesture of…submission to a board member trying to act like a dictator. That was in no way meant to be anything towards the Jewish people. If we don’t identify, even at a local level, if we don’t call out suppression and oppression, I’m not an expert at this, but isn’t that how some of this snowballed with Hitler and Nazism?”
Zakkour added she wasn’t trying to say that her situation “equates to somebody that’s (gone) through the Holocaust, and that “what the Nazis did, I’m not saying that Mr. Patry did things like that and physically harmed people.”
In a Wednesday interview with the Dayton Daily News, Patry denied Zakkour’s allegations that he is a bully and acts like a dictator. He also called on Zakkour to resign.
In recent years, Tipp City Board of Education meetings have become known for acrimony and fighting among its board members.
In December 2021, petitioners sought through the Miami County Common Pleas Court to have Zakkour and Theresa Dunaway removed from the board. At the time, Zakkour was the board’s vice president and Dunaway was its president.
The court had scheduled a trial for this October, but the group that filed the complaint dropped it in March, citing expenses.
Zakkour said the media coverage of her “Sieg heil” incident this week makes her sick.
“I have been getting hate mail. You wouldn’t believe the four-letter words I’m being called.”
Howie Beigelman, president and CEO of Ohio Jewish Communities, told The Observer that in 2023, it’s never acceptable to compare a political opponent to Hitler.
“It’s never acceptable to use a Nazi salute in debating and discussing policy or political differences. As the (Ohio) governor and legislators are putting more of a focus on Holocaust education, this is a sad reminder of why such efforts and leadership are needed.”
Two of the remaining three members of the Tipp City Board of Education have denounced Zakkour’s incident.
Amber Drum, who is now president of the Tipp City BOE, said in a media statement that she was shocked by Zakkour’s lack of professionalism. She didn’t notice the incident when it happened, only afterward when she saw the video.
“At Tipp City Schools, our district motto is ‘Where Excellence is a Tradition’ and we ask those in our district to follow the 3 Pillars: ‘Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and to have Integrity.’ Those expectations were not met by Mrs. Zakkour’s actions at last night’s board meeting.”
Regarding Patry, who resigned as president and from the board Sept. 5, Drum’s statement said she has never felt bullied by him “or been made to feel less-than by anything he has said to me.”
BOE Member Theresa Dunaway, who was out of town during the Tuesday night meeting, declined to comment.
Tipp BOE member Richard Mains Sr. said in an email interview that like Drum, he didn’t see the incident when it occurred.
“I, too, was offended and insulted when I saw the video replay,” Mains said. “No one should imitate Hitler. My father fought in the U.S. Army to defeat Hitler and the Nazis. I’m sure my father is equally offended even though he is now deceased.”
The Observer reached out to Tipp City’s mayor, Mike McFarland, for an interview about the incident. He replied by email: “Regarding the unfortunate situation that occurred, the city is not involved with the school board as they are a separate organization and not under city control. The city has no comment at this time.”
Tipp City Board of Education Superintendent Aaron Moran also declined to comment.