A New Jersey NAACP official was suspended Tuesday over comments he made about Jewish people that were deemed anti-Semitic.
During a Dec. 30 community meeting, James Harris, the Montclair NAACP’s education committee chair, accused the local Jewish community of gentrifying the area and hurting black and Latino families.
“The Jewish community controls the Board of Education and the City Council — but they spent huge amounts of money sending kids to the Yeshivas,” he said during the meeting. “And, they’ve gutted the budget for the black and Latino students who are left in the public schools.”
Later in his speech, Mr. Harris lamented that people have been too quick to label anything that’s critical of Jewish people as anti-Semitic.
“Excuse me,” he said, “if the facts are facts, it doesn’t necessarily make it anti-Semitic.”
Mr. Harris’ comments, which came after a spate of anti-Semitic attacks and a shooting in Jersey City that targeted Jews, sparked outrage in the community.
He issued a statement Monday apologizing for his wording.
“My personal statement was meant to focus on the impact of gentrification on lower socioeconomic communities in Montclair, NJ,” Mr. Harris said, the Montclair Local reported. “Instead, I used a regional example of Lakewood, NJ real estate and public education funding. Unfortunately I used terms and examples that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic.
“My statements were in no way connected to or reflections of views and values held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) or the New Jersey Association of Black Educators(NJABE),” he said. “I will remain dedicated to working for equal; rights and justice for all residents of Montclair. I respectfully ask that everyone please accept my apology.”
Montclair NAACP President Al Pelham announced Tuesday that Mr. Harris would be temporarily suspended from his position for six months over the comments.
“The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons,” Mr. Pelham said, the Montclair Local reported.
“While Mr. Harris clearly stated at the beginning of his address that he was representing the New Jersey Association of Black Educators, he went out of his way to mention and bring the NAACP into the conversation,” he said. “Some of Mr. Harris’s overall comments and tone that evening were in clear contradiction of the NAACP’s mission and thus the Montclair Branch condemns them.”
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