Jewish leaders expressed outrage Friday and Saturday over an anti-Semitic meme posted on the Facebook page of Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP. They called for Muhammad’s removal as head of the local civil rights group.
“This vile behavior from a civic leader is incredibly dangerous for Jewish communities across the world,” said Laura Frank, interim director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. In a statement, Frank demanded that the national NAACP remove Muhammad from his post immediately.
Shira Goodman, Philadelphia regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “We denounce the anti-Semitic meme posted [by] Rodney Muhammad in the strongest possible terms.”
The post, which was taken down, showed photos of Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, and Nick Cannon above a cartoon image of a hook-nosed, yarmulke-wearing figure crushing a mass of people with a ring-bedecked hand.
Next to the image, which The Inquirer is not republishing because of its offensive nature, is a quote attributed to Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
Mayor Jim Kenney was highly critical of the post and called on Muhammad to apologize.
“I share the outrage of Philadelphia’s Jewish community to this offensive message, and I am extremely disappointed that Minister Muhammad saw fit to post it,” Kenney said in a statement.
The image is a relatively common one on the internet, where it is often used by white supremacist groups to attack Jews. The quote is not from Voltaire, the French philosopher. Most likely it is the work of Kevin Strom, a white supremacist, according to the website Media Matters.
Muhammad could not be reached for comment Saturday, but in a brief exchange Friday with the website Billy Penn, which broke the story, he said he didn’t realize the image was offensive.
“To be real honest with you, I didn’t even pay attention to the picture,” he reportedly said. Muhammad said he wanted to show support for rapper Ice Cube, football player Jackson, and comedian Cannon. All have been recently criticized for anti-Semitic public pronouncements and social media posts. Jackson and Cannon have apologized; Ice Cube has not.
Muhammad later released a statement Friday that said: “I was not familiar with the image at the bottom of the post. I was responding to the individuals not able to speak out. I have worked with many in the city over the years. I would be happy to have a discussion with other leaders to better understand our history.”
The national office of the NAACP in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke said on Saturday that he had seen the meme posted on social media.
“I oppose offensive speech of any kind directed at any ethnic, racial or religious group,” Clarke said in a statement. “We must come together as a people to solve the many issues magnified by COVID19 and the unrest over systemic racism in our country.”
Kenney called for an apology. “I know Minister Muhammad to be a bridge builder, and I hope he is up to the task of rebuilding the bridges that his unfortunate post has now damaged,” Kenney said.
“It is inconceivable that a person who theoretically works to uphold civil rights would engage in such blatant hate,” the ADL’s Goodman said. “To defend the anti-Semitic rhetoric of others is bad enough, but to post virulently anti-Jewish symbols and conspiracy theories is simply unacceptable.”
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans also criticized Muhammad.
“I am appalled at Minister Rodney Muhammad’s sharing of a clearly anti-Semitic meme,” Evans said Friday on Twitter. “He was wrong and he should apologize.”
Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said the incident “calls into question [Muhammad’s] competence” as a civic leader and as a leader of the NAACP.
In a statement released Friday, she said she hoped that the episode would “generate dialogue.”
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D, Phila.) and Councilman Allan Domb also criticized Muhammad for the post.
“It speaks to some of the vilest stereotypes that Jews have endured for generations. There is no way of explaining it or excusing it under any set of conditions, Williams tweeted.
“This incident only further proves our need to create larger platforms to discuss and understand our diverse cultural and spiritual beliefs in Philadelphia,” Domb said in a statement.