What’s at stake in Jersey City debate over anti-Semitism?

By Lea Sherman
January 27, 2020
Thousands march in New York against deadly Jew-hatred attack on deli in Jersey City. Rulers scapegoat Jews as evil cabal responsible for high rents and all social ills, not capitalist system.
Sam Aronov/Pacific Press via ZUMA WireThousands march in New York against deadly Jew-hatred attack on deli in Jersey City. Rulers scapegoat Jews as evil cabal responsible for high rents and all social ills, not capitalist system.

UNION CITY, N.J. — A sharp debate broke out when an elected member of the Jersey City Board of Education made blatantly anti-Semitic statements, justifying the murderous attack on the JC Kosher Supermarket Dec. 10.

Joan Terrell-Paige posted an anti-Jewish rant on her Facebook page five days after African Americans David Anderson and Francine Graham, who are associated with the Jew-hating Black Hebrew Israelites, shot dead store owner Leah Mindel Ferencz and customer Moshe Deutsch, who are Jewish, and store worker Douglas Miguel Rodríguez, who is from Ecuador. Anderson and Graham died during an hourslong gun battle with the police.

Terrell-Paige, who is Black, claimed the attack was a legitimate response to some 100 Jewish families, many from the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, who have moved to the predominantly Black Greenville neighborhood of Jersey City in the last few years, seeking cheaper housing. In the past decade all working people living in New York City have faced skyrocketing rents and many have had to move farther away.

Irate at a Dec. 14 article in Insider NJ titled “Faith and Hope to Fight Hate in Jersey City,” on a meeting where Black, Latino and Jewish civic and religious figures spoke out against the anti-Semitic attack, Terrell-Paige wrote on Facebook, “Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the jewish community?” who she claimed were waving “bags of money.”

She even wrote that “6 rabbis were accused of selling body parts,” a modern-day version of the old anti-Semitic libel that Jews drink Christian blood.

Terrell-Paige tried to use the reality of the racist discrimination confronting African Americans to justify the Jew-hating murders and turn Anderson and Graham into martyrs. “Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message?” Terrell-Paige states. “Are we brave enough to stop the assault on the Black communities of America?”

In reality the capitalist rulers, who also try to sow divisions among working people of different races to weaken the working class, utilize anti-Semitism at times to divide and conquer workers as the crisis of their system deepens.

In response to Terrell-Paige’s scapegoating of Jews, several public officials called on her to resign. While most Black working people are appalled at the violent anti-Jewish attacks — and many Black neighbors from Jersey City gave their condolences to the families of those who were gunned down — the defense of Terrell-Paige by at least one middle-class organization in the Black community and some prominent individuals is a reflection of a deeper problem.

The Hudson County Democratic Black Caucus stated that while they don’t agree with what they obliquely call “the delivery” of Terrell-Paige’s comments, they claim her “statement has heightened awareness around issues that must be addressed.”

At a Jan. 2 Jersey City School Board meeting, only one person spoke up to answer 20 supporters of Terrell-Paige who defended her statements.

Carolyn Oliver Fair, who identified herself as the executive director of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network North Jersey chapter, told the press that those calling on Terrell-Paige to resign “need to shut their mouths. She said nothing wrong. Everything she said is the truth.”

The National Action Network quickly denounced her statement and said she is not an official of the group.

On Dec. 30 James Harris, chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators and of the Montclair NAACP’s education committee, made similar remarks as Terrell-Paige at a community forum in Montclair. He claimed the Jewish community in Lakewood “controls the Board of Education and the City Council, but they spend huge amounts of money sending their kids to the Yeshivas and they’ve gutted the budget for the Black and Latino students who are left in public schools.”

When he questioned why murders of “people of color” don’t get the same attention as the assault on the kosher grocery store he got applause from many in the crowd.

“If you take the word ‘Hasidics’ out and replace the word with ‘Blacks,’ this whole room would be in an uproar,” Rabbi David Greenstein responded. “Jews are not the problem. Hasidics are not the problem.” He also got applause.

The Montclair NAACP’s executive committee unanimously voted Jan. 7 to suspend Harris from his position for six months for his anti-Semitic speech.

It is welcome that a wide variety of organizations have rejected the anti-Jewish diatribes of Terrell-Paige, Harris and Oliver Fair, but none of them are able to explain what is at stake.

The overwhelming majority of landlords, real estate agents, store owners and big capitalists are not Jewish. But that makes no difference to the purveyors of Jew-hatred who try to make working people believe that the problems we face are not due to the dog-eat-dog capitalist system and its insatiable drive for profits, but to “evil Jewish capitalists.”

As the crisis of capitalism intensifies class tensions, the rulers will turn to those forces who promote the poison of Jew-hatred as they have done before in history. In fact there was a powerful ultrarightist anti-labor movement in Jersey City under Frank Hague in the late 1930s. Answering all forms of anti-Semitism and mobilizing public opposition to it will be necessary to build the kind of fighting workers’ movement that can confront the real problems workers face and advance a road forward.