(JTA) — Two Boston-area Jewish organizations criticized Jewish activists for disrupting a meeting called to discuss prejudice, including anti-Semitism and racism.
By trying to make the April 7 meeting in Newton, Massachusetts, only about anti-Semitism, the Jewish activists shifted its focus to the conduct of the meeting itself, the American Jewish Committee Boston and the Jewish Community Relations Council said in a statement issued Monday. A group of Jewish students later stood and spoke in favor of addressing the many forms of prejudice, including anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia.
Setti Warren, the mayor of the suburban Boston city, hosted the meeting attended by students, parents and members of the community following a series of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic incidents in local schools.
During the meeting, Jewish activists heckled an African-American woman who spoke of her son being slurred at school, the superintendent was booed and had to be escorted to his car by police, and a woman held a sign reading “It’s not prejudice, it’s anti-Semitism,” according to the Boston Globe.
The Jewish activists were led by Newton resident Charles Jacobs, who has campaigned for years against city school textbooks that he sees as pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic.
The two Jewish groups acknowledged in the statement that the uptick in global anti-Semitism as well as the local incidents of anti-Semitism are concerning, but added they do “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.”
The statement added that the Jewish community “cannot fight anti-Semitism by showing disrespect to those from whom we also need understanding and support,” calling it “ill-conceived activism.”
Three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were reported last month at predominantly Jewish Newton North High in the days after fans of an opposing Catholic school basketball team shouted anti-Semitic chants during a championship game, which the students said came after homophobic comments from the Newton High fans. And a Newton middle school was the target of at least three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti since October, including one in March.
Warren, who is African-American, called on the crowd at the meeting to show respect and try to understand their neighbor’s perspective.
In a letter sent to the community following the meeting, Warren, who called the community meeting “difficult, but essential,” announced continuing steps to halt the problem, including hiring a civil rights attorney to work with teachers and students to address issues of prejudice and discrimination and tracking the progress made by the community .
“It will take work on the part of all of us to maintain Newton’s tradition as a welcoming, inclusive community,” Warren wrote. “It is not enough to acknowledge the groundbreaking work that came before us. Each community and each generation must keep up these efforts.”