It started when Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, posted an anti-Semitic meme on his Facebook page. And, after two weeks of silence from the Black civil rights organization’s national leadership, it seems to have ended in a place that has satisfied no one.
But it’s clear the incident has brought long-simmering tensions between Black and Jewish people to the surface.
WHYY reporter Nina Feldman and Billy Penn’s Max Marin explain why this moment could push the two groups to talk honestly with each other about their common enemy: white supremacy.
Max on Muhammad’s explanation for posting the meme
He just said, “Oh, I didn’t realize that was anti-Semitic.” And then he said, “I didn’t even realize that this image was there, really, I didn’t see it” … And after a long conversation about that, he did not offer an apology, but he told me that he didn’t mean it to be offensive and he would take it down. And so I showed him how to take down the Facebook post. And the conversation kind of ended there.
Nina on the fallout from Black and Jewish communities
The first call for [Muhammad’s] resignation came from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. They immediately called upon the NAACP, the national organization, to remove Muhammad from his post, saying it’s completely unsuitable for a civil rights leader to have posted something like that. From there, there were reactions from local City Council members who said it was unacceptable, many of them Black. The state attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said he had a conversation with Rodney Muhammad to try to understand a little bit better what was going on with this cartoon and was not satisfied with the explanation he got, which is why he was calling for Muhammad’s resignation. And most recently, Mayor Jim Kenney, who initially came out against the image, has joined the voices calling for Muhammad to resign …
There is one person I talked to that I wanted to highlight. His name is David Love. He’s a Philadelphia writer who’s Black and Jewish. And he made the point that it’s really doing a disservice to both of those communities who have been oppressed historically … He pointed to both the desecration of synagogues and black churches in recent years … But he also said some some African-Americans feel that Jews sort of abandoned African-Americans in the fight for civil rights or after the fight for civil rights … I also talked to Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who said that … many, many Jews might not even necessarily think of themselves as white, even though they’re benefiting from white privilege.
Nina on where the conversation can go from here
A lot of the people I talked to said two things can be true at once: This post can have been anti-Semitic and unacceptable. And also, this can offer an opportunity to have real hard, complicated conversations about historical tensions between the Jewish community and the Black community in the United States. And I think it can be hard to hold those two things in your head at the same time. But, you know, the reason that people don’t like cancel culture is because it strips somebody of their whole career or their reputation without offering the opportunity to have a conversation, right the wrongs that maybe one post or one comment expressed. And I think in order for that to be a valid critique, you have to have that conversation. And so far, Rodney Muhammad has not stepped up to the plate to have the conversation and neither has the NAACP.