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December 5, 2021 2:54 pm

Philadelphia Commerce Dept. Head Resigns After Reports of Antisemitic Comments, Workplace Harassment

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The Liberty Bell is seen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Feb. 12, 2015. Photo: Reuters / Charles Mostoller

The head of the Philadelphia’s Commerce Department resigned on Sunday, days after allegations surfaced of antisemitic comments and abusive behavior in the workplace.

“My continued service would serve as a distraction from the work of the Department, which is far too important to the City and region,” Michael Rashid said in a statement. “I also have had the opportunity to speak with leaders of the Jewish community in Philadelphia and apologize for my previous comments which were inappropriate and insensitive. I look forward to future engagement with the community going forward.”

Among other incidents, department staffers had told the Philadelphia Inquirer of multiple instances when Rashid discussed the film Schindler’s List, the 1993 historical drama based on a German industrialist who saved the lives of Jews. Rashid allegedly related to them how he had previously thought the film was “Jewish propaganda” and avoided watching it, but later did so and changed his mind, the paper reported.

Offensive social media posts by Rashid have also emerged, including one in which the official quotes Malcolm X as complaining that while “Jew Town” neighborhoods have Jewish stores, Black areas did not have equivalent shops. Another criticized the portrayal of a “white Jesus” as a “psychological tool” that “subliminally engrains the myth of white superiority into the subconscious minds of people of color,” according to PhillyVoice, which first surfaced the posts.

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Commerce Department staffers had also accused Rashid of fostering a toxic work environment and verbally abusing employees, with several leaving the agency in protest.

“The work of the Commerce Department is far too crucial — and it’s important that the Department stays focused on its mission of supporting Philadelphia’s business community at this critical time as we continue to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who appointed Rashid in 2020, said in a statement accepting the official’s resignation. “The City is committed to ensuring a fair and inclusive working environment where the values of respect and dignity are upheld.”

Jewish groups had condemned the revelations about Rashid’s past comments, with the American Jewish Committee calling for his resignation.

“AJC calls on Mayor Kenney to take immediate action in line with this pledge by calling for Rashid to resign and work with the Jewish community to educate all city offices and city-funded institutions on the IHRA working definition of antisemitism,” the group said in a statement. “Only through education and accountability will Philadelphia truly be the city of brotherly love where pluralism and diversity are respected and honored.”

Michael Balaban, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, had also condemned the revelations in a statement to the Inquirer.

”Kenney, earlier this week, stood side by side with leaders of the Jewish community to condemn the rise of Antisemitism,” Balaban said Saturday. “If there is no room in our City for antisemitism, as Mayor Kenney said, then Mr. Rashid should be removed from office immediately.”

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