Aug. 13, 2020 10:57 am

‘As a nonprofit, our job is to work to create a better, more equitable society’

In light of the anti-Semitic meme recently shared by Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, guest columnist Steven Rosenberg writes about the need to work together in a common pursuit of racial equality and religious tolerance.

Clockwise from top l: Henry Moskowitz, Joel Spingarn, Lillian Wald and Arthur Spingarn, four of the Jewish cofounders of the NAACP.

(Photos from the NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

This guest column was written by Steven Rosenberg, the chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is not an organization that generally takes part in “cancel culture.”

As the hub of Jewish life in Philadelphia, our focus is on raising funds that will support our most vulnerable populations, convene our community in times of crisis like COVID-19, and to provide grants that will strengthen a secure and vibrant Jewish future.

However, on July 24, after a vile, anti-Semitic Facebook meme was shared by Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, we were the first organization to publicly call for his removal from this position. Muhammad is a minister of the Nation of Islam, a group that frequently espouses anti-Semitic rhetoric and is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Muhammad has repeatedly shared anti-Semitic content from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on his personal social media channels, and his mosque’s.

Muhammad’s actions are a result of personal prejudice and are not the values of the NAACP, an organization that was cofounded and has been led by Jews. As of now, his fate is still undetermined, and if the national NAACP refuses to remove him, he faces the possibility of being voted out of the position in November.

However, for the Jewish Federation, this incident goes far beyond one simple social media post, or one-person espousing hateful beliefs.

Our region is home to hundreds of Holocaust survivors, people whose very lives are a vivid, daily reminder of what happens when hate spreads without reproach. The six million Jewish lives that were lost are also a tragic testament to the dangers of indifference and deeply divided societies.

Anti-Semitism is a thousand-year old ideology, one that constantly finds new forms, like the “Happy Merchant” meme favored by white supremacists shared on Muhammad’s page. More recently, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews started the Coronavirus, or that the Jewish State of Israel is to blame for most of the world’s problems, are increasingly widespread and blatantly wrong.

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Jewish history and our religious texts guide us to speak out and stand up against any power that would silence another. In the past few months, our country has been reckoning with institutional racism and the oppression of our Black citizens. Like anti-Semitism, anti-Black agendas are deeply rooted in history and constantly finding new forms to appear.

Bigotry expressed toward Black and Jewish people is deeply intertwined, as evidenced by the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville three years ago this month. As our country remains divided, it is even more imperative for all minority groups, and nonprofit organizations like ours, to lead the way in educating our local communities about hate and bigotry and to encourage dialogue and understanding across racial and religious lines.

Following Muhammad’s actions, the Jewish Federation organized a press conference with local Black elected officials. It was a chance for us to collectively express our pain and our outrage over what had taken place, and serve as a stark reminder that we can never take our relationships for granted.

On that day, we agreed not to let Muhammad’s actions prevent us from continuing to unite Philadelphia’s Black and Jewish communities in our common pursuit of racial equality and religious tolerance and understanding. Today, programs and plans are in place to help us achieve this goal.

As a nonprofit, our job is to work to create a better, more equitable society. It is therefore imperative for groups like ours to take a lead role in advocating against hate speech and reaching across communities to build a world that is truly safe and welcoming for people of all races and faiths.


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