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January 8, 2020 4:28 pm

Local New Jersey NAACP Board Member Suspended After Making Antisemitic Remarks

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

James Harris. Photo: Facebook screenshot.

A National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) board member from Montclair, New Jersey, has been temporarily suspended by the group after making antisemitic remarks at a meeting.

During a Dec. 30 discussion on housing, James Harris — the education chair of the local branch of the NAACP — said the “Jewish community controls the Board of Education and the City Council, but they spend huge amounts of money sending their kids to the yeshivas, and they’ve gutted the budget for the black and Latino students who are left in public schools.”

“I’m seeing these folks walking down the street, long black suits, curly locks,” he continued, and said locals were afraid of “being replaced by these strangers, who weren’t all that friendly.”

The Montclair Local reported that Harris was immediately criticized by Rabbi David Greenstein, who was present at the meeting.

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“We’re all supposed to be defending each other,” said Greenstein. “To generalize and to paint with that kind of broad brush a situation that is so much more painful and complicated is a sin. And I’m going to say Jews are not the problem. Hasidics are not the problem.”

According to the Montclair Local, the NAACP branch president, Al Pelham, announced Harris’ suspension on Tuesday, saying, “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.”

“Unfortunately, his comments come at a time in this divided country when hate has overpowered love and compassion,” Pelham added. “His comments have created a firestorm and will only serve to further divide us as a community.”

Harris issued an apology on Monday, but stopped short of acknowledging that his remarks were antisemitic.

“My personal statement was meant to focus on the impact of gentrification on lower socioeconomic communities in Montclair, NJ,” he said. “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 antisemitic.”

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