Jewish activists in the Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Newton were condemned Monday in a joint statement from two local Jewish organizations, saying that fighting against anti-Semitism should be a part of a wider effort to build "tolerant communities."
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The statement was addressing an incident last week in which an African-American mother was heckled at a community meeting to discuss anti-Semitic incidents in the area and other forms of intolerance and racism. The meeting, which was called by Newton Mayor Setti Warren, hosted several speakers from the community, including the African-American woman who discussed her son's experiences with racism in school.
"There were loud contentions that the only concern worthy of discussion was anti-Semitism," read the joint statement issued by American Jewish Committee Boston and the Jewish Community Relations Council. "The overall affect was to shift the focus of the meeting from concerns about Anti-Semitism, as well as racism and homophobia to the conduct of the meeting itself."
In early March, two anti-Semitic incidents at a local middle school came to light that had gone unreported for months, beginning a local firestorm regarding tolerance in the community.
The AJC and JCRC argued in the statement that the surfacing of anti-Semitic incidents did not excuse the behavior of the individuals at the community forum.
"In a multi-cultural multi-faith society like our own, the struggle against anti-Semitism does not take place in a vacuum," the statement said. "It is part of a larger struggle to build respectful tolerant communities where citizens not only tell their own story, but are able to listen and have empathy for the struggles of others."
AJC Boston Director Robert Leikind told the Boston Globe that "There were people whose experience with prejudice and whose pain was being diminished, and that called for a response. This seemed like a moment that called for civility and respect, and that seemed absent."
Charles Jacobs, founder of Americans for Peace and Tolerance and leader of the condemned group of activists, told the Globe that the statement had surprised him as the believed that the meeting had been "quite civil."
“Given that Jews in Europe and in the Middle East are hunted, hounded and murdered because of an anti-Semitism which falsely portrays the world’s only Jewish state as among the cruelest of nations charged with committing human rights horrors, and given that the Saudis and United Arab Emirates have been caught funding ‘lessons’ that taught these things in the Newton schools, and given that the synagogues in Newton are now guarded by security in response to the dangers caused by this hatred, and given that [Newton] School Superintendent David Fleishman was forced to remove some of this material and yet told the people at the meeting that he knew nothing about it, I think the meeting was, under these circumstance, quite civil,” he said.
Jacobs has been outspoken regarding the material in local school textbooks, which he says are pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic.
"I was quite surprised by their joint statement," he told the Globe. "They have never created any joint statements focused on the anti-Israel bias in high school curricula, which they now seem to acknowledge is a serious problem."
Jacobs was referring to a passage in the statement in which the Jewish groups said, "The recent string of anti-Semitic incidents in several Newton schools ... requires serious attention. Moreover, it is hardly a secret that pernicious elements exist that are seeking to import anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias into American school curriculums. We share this concern. However, it does not justify conduct that was manifest at this meeting or the disrespect that was shown to neighbors, who also had difficult experiences of their own to discuss."