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HACKENSACK – It’s now becoming common for local politicians to join with clergy to proclaim solidarity and to condemn hate.
It’s always debatable what like-minded folk speaking to other like-minded folk accomplishes, but it’s hard to find fault with the intent.
A gathering of precisely that type ensued Tuesday afternoon at the city’s Performing Arts Center. Led by Reps. Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer, about a dozen political, civic and religious leaders took turns denouncing a society that has seen growing attacks against Jews and others.
Two most recent incidents occurred in the last month – a knife invasion on the home of a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y. and the attack on a kosher deli in Jersey City. No one was killed in the Monsey attack, but three innocent people, including a police officer, were killed in Jersey City.
The overall message from the series of speakers was that we must do better as a society to not merely find hate, but to prevent it from festering.
The words are easy to say; translating them into action is not. Hate in the form of racial, religious and ethnic bigotry, has a long history.
Gottheimer said he’s optimistic – perhaps overly so – that the American people over time will come together and work to stamp out raw prejudice.
Assemblymen Gary Schaer, another speaker, spoke of developing state legislation to expand the criminal scope of domestic terrorism. There was also talk about more state funds to promote tolerance and understanding in school.
Pascrell said what everyone knew, “There is a rising tide of hate in America,” ticking off local and national stats to prove the point.
Here, of course, is where things can get political. Many on the left point fingers at Donald Trump for flaming the embers of division.
Pascrell had that in mind when he brought up the 2017 Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. that resulted in a protester being killed. The congressman reminded an audience of about 100 that the president said afterwards that there were good people on both sides.
All the politicians on stage were Democrats, so Pascrell was on safe political ground criticizing Trump.
But it’s not that simple.
Over the last few months here in New Jersey, we have seen harsh anti-Semitic statements coming not from white supremacists, but from African American leaders.
That has included the head of the Passaic NAACP, whose offensive comments got him fired from a state job, and after the Jersey City incident, a city school board member, Joan Terrell-Paige.
Among other things, Paige wrote that orthodox Jews were “brutes” trying to change the neighborhood in which they just moved and that the killers had a message that deserved to be heard.
And just today, James Harris, an official with the Montclair NAACP, apologized for prejudicial remarks about orthodox Jews that included derogatory comments on their appearance.
All this was in the background when Nathaniel Briggs of the Bergen County NAACP rose to speak at today’s forum. He said that the NAACP wears its opposition to anti-Semitic policies “as a badge.” And he brought up support Jewish groups traditionally have given to African-American concerns over the years.
All that is well-known to any educated person. And it makes some of the recent anti-Semitic comments by black leaders so sadly ironic and so hard to swallow.
Asked about them, Briggs said such prejudice is “not what we’re about” and is not part of the NAACP’s history. He said the solution is for the NAACP to shut down such sentiments whenever they arise.
One hopes it’s going to be that easy.