An NAACP official in New Jersey was removed from his position following backlash to comments he made about Jewish people.
The Montclair, New Jersey, branch of the NAACP voted Monday night for education chair James Harris to step down for six months. The vote came after Harris said at a Dec. 30, 2019, meeting that the “Jewish community controls the Board of Education and the City Council but they spend huge amounts of money sending their kids to the yeshivahs, and they’ve gutted the budget for the black and Latino students who are left in public schools.”
Harris said Lakewood, New Jersey, residents feared “being replaced by these strangers who really weren’t friendly,” referring to Hasidic Jews, video posted online shows. He also said “people are very, very quick to label anything that’s critical of Israel or the Jewish as anti-Semitic. Excuse me, if the facts are facts, that doesn’t necessarily make it anti-Semitic.”
Harris’s comments came fewer than three weeks after the anti-Semitic mass shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey. Harris also said at the meeting that he believed the mass shooting received disproportionate attention, compared to murders in the black community
“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. 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,” Montclair NAACP president Al Pelham said Tuesday in a statement released to local media.
Harris also released a statement to local media apologizing for his comments.
“I condemn the recent violence in Jersey City, NJ, Monsey, NY and all of the recent hate crimes against the Jewish communities. I offer my condolences. I would like to express my sincere regret and apologize for the remarks I made about the Hasidic community and the development of Montclair, NJ,” he said.
“My personal statement was meant to focus on the impact of gentrification on lower socioeconomic communities in Montclair, NJ. 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,” Harris added.
“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). 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.”