NEW YORK, April 24 (JTA) – A New York Knicks basketball player has more to worry about this week than his team’s current opponent in the NBA playoffs – despite his apology.

The American Jewish Congress is calling on Florida’s secretary of state, Katherine Harris, to bench point guard Charlie Ward as the official spokesman for a state reading program after Ward was quoted in the April 22 edition of The New York Times Magazine as saying that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.

In an article on the Knicks, Ward also was quoted as saying that Jews are persecuting Christians “every day.”

Ward’s “comments are hurtful and he needs to be responsible for them. The state needs to be responsible by not associating with him,” said Jack Karako, the executive director of the AJCongress’ Southeast region.

If Ward is allowed to continue in his role for the “Born to Read” program, it would be “as if the state is endorsing his comments,” Karako added.

Harris, who made headlines during last fall’s Florida vote recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush, has yet to respond to the call.

After he was publicly reprimanded by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Ward apologized in a statement released by the Knicks.

“I want to truly apologize to everybody who was offended by the New York Times Magazine story. I will say again that I would never condemn or criticize any group or religion,” the statement said.

Ward also agreed to engage in a dialogue with Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, “in an effort to heal the wounds of the last few days.”

Despite the apology, the AJCongress’ Karako said Tuesday that his group still is calling to have Ward replaced on the state reading program. He added that his group would wait to make its next move until after Ward and Eckstein meet.

After the initial comments were published, Ward told reporters that if they want to know the context for his statements, they should read the Bible. He added that his best friend – Jesus – is Jewish.

He further clarified his comments by saying that when he talked about Jews persecuting Christians, he was referring to Jews who denounce family members who convert to Christianity.

The AJCongress isn’t the only Jewish group criticizing Ward.

Ward’s published comments revive the “historic myths that have been the source of anti-Semitism for centuries,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, accepted Ward’s apology Tuesday.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has invited the entire Knicks team to visit the Nazi-hunting group’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The center is awaiting a response.

In the article, teammate Allan Houston was quoted as defending Ward’s statement, while a third teammate suggested the Jewish writer join Jews for Jesus.

Despite the reprimand, Stern said he did not fine Ward – as was done in other incidents in which players, coaches and broadcasters made inappropriate remarks – because the commissioner “did not wish to enhance his sense of martyrdom.”

Stern added that Ward “will have to accept the reactions and judgments of fans and all fair-minded people who have been offended.”

Knicks’ fans booed when Ward took the court for a Sunday playoff game against the Toronto Raptors. But by the end of the game they were cheering Ward, who helped the Knicks win.

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