The Teaneck Democratic organization is in the crosshairs of state and national Indian American leaders after they passed a controversial resolution that potentially divides New Jersey’s Hindu and Muslim communities by labeling some U.S.-based Hindu organizations as foreign hate groups.
Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, the Teaneck Democratic municipal chairman is now taking heat from fellow Democrats after a national Hindu organization has threatened to urge their community to withhold vote sin the upcoming election from all New Jersey Democrats unless the resolution was pulled back.
Under pressure from some Bergen Democratic leaders, Soriano-Taveras issued a statement on Saturday night expressing regret that the resolution was “mischaracterized as a statement against Hinduism in general, rather than a condemnation of nationalist rhetoric that is aimed at inflaming communal tensions, and particularly arousing tension against Muslims, Christians, and other minority religions in India.”
Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), the only South Asian American in the New Jersey State Senate, condemned Teaneck Democrats for rhetoric that “unfairly declares almost every major Hindu American organization in the United States to be an organization which promotes hate and terrorism.”
“Every religion and every organization has extremist elements in it,” Gopal said. “This is a time of promoting diversity and inclusion, and it is for this reason that I stand with the Hindu American community in condemning this anti-Hindu resolution and calling for its immediate recission.”
But Soriano-Taveras doubled down on the resolution itself, saying that Teaneck Democrats stood by the resolution.
“We stand in solidarity against hate and strongly support a safe environment for all, in support of the core principles of the Democratic party,” she said in a statement on Saturday that appeared to make the situation worse.
New Jersey’s Asian American population has swelled over the last decade to over 1 million people, a 44% increase.
There has been no discernable conflict between Hindu and Muslim South Asians in Democratic and Republican circles. Now the Teaneck conflict could create a divide, especially when Democratic candidates in close races fear the loss of Hindu support in the upcoming election.
“Instead of working to unite residents and elect Democrats locally in Teaneck, the municipal Committee is instead creating divisions and focused on politics thousands of miles away in India,” Gopal said.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) has disassociated herself from the second statement and told party leaders that Soriano-Tavares did not share it with local party officials.
The global issue involves longtime allegations that Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister and a Hindu nationalist, has advocated for depriving Indian Muslims of certain rights, including land ownership.
The issue began to simmer in New Jersey last month after a bulldozer – the symbol of destroying Muslim property in India – adorned with a photo of Modi, was featured in Edison India Day Parade.
“To those who understood Bulldozer symbolism, it was a blunt and sinister taunt later likened to a noose or a burning cross at a Ku Klux Klan rally,” the Indian American Muslim Council said on Sunday.
The Indian Business Association has issued an apology.
“Our parade should never be about politics and should never include these blatant divisive symbols,” the group said. “We hereby make the commitment that we will not allow these symbols in the future and that we will work with all different groups of South Asian heritage to make sure that our parade remains the best in the State of New Jersey.”
CAIR-NJ executive director Selaedin Maksut said the group’s acknowledgement of the issue was a “necessary step toward making future parades representative of the Indian diaspora, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Tribals.”
“Such hatred cannot be tolerated. Instead, the parade should celebrate India’s independence and rich culture and diversity,” Maksut stated.
As a result of Teaneck’s resolution, an attorney representing the Hindu American Foundation has accused the Indian American Muslim Council of making false and defamatory statements in a press release that labels the group as Hindu supremacists that have “infiltrated all levels of politics.”
“These accusations are absolutely false and highly defamatory and damaging to HAF,” their attorney, Ryan Stonerock,” said in demand for a retraction and apology.
Gopal suggested the Teaneck Democratic party is playing with fire.
“The Hindu American community, like other minority communities, has recently experienced numerous instances of vicious hate crimes because of their faith and the color of their skin, including against many of the Hindu temples in the New Jersey area,” the Senate Democratic leader said. “It is unfortunate that this committee that purports to support the ideals of the Democratic Party would act in a manner that illustrates the type of bigotry and hatred that we are working hard as a country to eradicate from our society.”
Gopal pushed back on Soriano-Taveras’ call for the FBI to investigate some groups, including Sewa International, as a terrorist group.
“I personally worked with Sewa International … during Covid to help get ventilators for all individuals, regardless of their race or religion.
This is Soriano’s second brush with controversy in as many years.
In 2021, she had captured the Democratic organization line for an open State Assembly seat in the solidly blue 37th district, but a video that captured her suggesting a boycott of Jewish businesses in Teaneck led to Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano pulling his support.
Soriano-Taveras took part of a small protest in July 2020 after the Teaneck Township Council went with an all-white leadership team and rejected a bid for deputy mayor by a Black woman, Gervonn Romney Rice. Ironically, Romney Rice was her opponent in the Democratic primary last year.
In the video, she was heard to say, “Boycott those businesses, including the Dunkin’ Donuts and everything else, and we hurt them in their pockets. Who owns those businesses that we continue to support on Cedar Lane?”
In her resolution, Soriano-Taveras sough to pressure U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Gov. Phil Murphy’s and Teaneck’s legislative delegation to become more involved in the issue.