Joint Statement of AJC Boston and JCRC Concerning Newton Public Schools – April 11, 2016

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In recent months there has been increasing concern regarding anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and other matters that affect safety, civility and respectful relations in the Newton public schools.  In an effort to allow community members to share their concerns and generate constructive discussion, Newton Mayor Setti Warren hosted a community forum on April 7th, which was attended by students, parents and interested community members – including representatives of our agencies. 

There were presentations by high school students, teachers, a civil rights lawyer, the Newton Superintendent of Schools and others.  Concerns were expressed about manifestations of bias and bigotry and how to build healthy community among diverse constituencies within the schools.  It was an effort to initiate a much needed community dialogue and we welcome this effort.

To our dismay, a group of activists – who have been identified in the media as members of the Jewish community - disrupted the proceedings.  An African-American mother was heckled while discussing her own child’s experience of racism.  There were loud contentions that the only concern worthy of discussion was anti-Semitism.  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.

To be clear, anti-Semitism has once again emerged as a virulent global phenomenon.  Members of the Jewish community have legitimate reasons for concern and reasonably wish to encourage vigilance and forthright measures to address anti-Semitic activity in our region. The recent string of anti-Semitic incidents in several Newton schools, for example, 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.  These activities do not represent the broader sentiments of the Jewish community.

In a multi-cultural multi-faith society like our own, the struggle against anti-Semitism does not take place in a vacuum.  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. 

At the forum we also heard strong moral leadership from within our Jewish community, in the powerful voices of students like Rebecca Wishnie, a senior at Newton North, who said she has seen anti-Semitism in the hallways of the high school, but she has also seen racism and homophobia. “It does not diminish me as a Jew to say anti-Semitism is not the only issue,” she said.

We cannot fight anti-Semitism by showing disrespect to those from whom we also need understanding and support.  Anti-Semitism is far too serious a problem for such ill-conceived activism. We need to build community with others in our common struggle against hate. As Josh Sims Speyer, a Jewish junior at North so eloquently stated: “When we say one type of hate speech is worse than another, we build walls in our community.”

We, therefore, affirm our commitment to respectful discourse and advocacy and encourage all concerned people to transform current challenges into opportunities for building a healthy and respectful community.

Respectfully,

 

Mel                       AS

Mel Shuman, President                      Adam Suttin, Chair
AJC Boston                                                      Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

 

 

leikand           JB

Robert Leikind, Director                 Jeremy Burton, Executive Director
AJC Boston                                                    Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston