The Chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators drew fire after statements at a town hall in Montclair Tuesday during which he made comments some saw as disparaging Hasidic Jews, according to a report in TapInto Montclair.
In what was reported to be a 20-minute speech, James Harris took aim at Lakewood, which hosts the state’s fastest-growing Hasidic community.
“The Jewish community 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,” Harris said. “$15M went for transportation to send the Jewish kids to the Yeshivas when they couldn’t get the additional funding for regular public schools.”
Lakewood spends as much as $28 million per year on busing its more than 38,000 students, more than 80% of whom attend private schools in the area.
State law requires towns fund buses for private school students if their home is more than 2 miles away from their school.
Harris, who chairs the Montclair NAACP’s education committee but said he was speaking in from his role with the NJABE, further raised alarms about the Hasidic community in Jersey City, saying black and Hispanic residents there feared they were being pushed out “by strangers who really weren’t friendly.”
A recent shooting targeting a kosher market in Jersey City’s Greenville section left six dead.
Harris echoed comments made in a Facebook post penned by Jersey City School Board member Joan Terrell-Paige, who questioned why the shooting, which authorities deemed a hate crime, was receiving attention while other violent incidents in the area received little such attention.
“Is there a situation where some lives are worth more than others’ lives? Because I didn’t see the governor … hanging up there … when these other shootings go down, so I think that we have to have an honest conversation,” he said. “Not only are all lives important, but the response to murder has to be just as intense.”
Terrell-Paige’s comments drew condemnations from Gov. Phil Murphy and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, though others, including House candidate John Flora, defended her statements.
Harris further espoused fears that black and Hispanic Montclair residents would be pushed out by Jewish residents.
“Are we going to be displaced by these people who are not all that friendly?” he said.