By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — The national leadership of the NAACP says it will not cut ties with Philadelphia chapter President Rodney Muhammad over the anti-Semitic meme he posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.
Ending weeks of media silence, NAACP leadership condemned Muhammad’s social media post but stopped short of calling for him to resign on Wednesday, according to an emailed statement from NAACP spokeswoman Austyn Ross.
Backing Muhammad pits the national office against some in state and local NAACP offices — where tensions are simmering over Muhammad’s post — and several high-ranking Pennsylvania officials, who have called for Muhammad to resign.
Ross said national leadership was “saddened and deeply disappointed by the harm caused by Mr. Muhammad’s actions” and that Muhammad “now recognizes the offensive nature of the imagery and post.”
“Hate speech has no place at the NAACP, and such language and imagery are reprehensible,” Ross said in the statement.
Ross’ statement was nearly identical to a so-called “unsigned letter” attributed to the national office that was circulating in media reports last week.
Ross did not respond to requests for additional comment.
Muhammad did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson and Muhammad will meet with community and faith leaders in the coming weeks to “open a dialogue and continue the educational conversations,” Ross said.
Bishop J. Louis Felton, first vice president of the Philadelphia branch, said in an email that local leadership has not gotten any direction from the NAACP national office on the issue.
“Congratulations on actually getting a response from the National office, as we certainly could not,” said Felton, who is pastor at Mt. Airy Church Of God In Christ.
Felton seemed resigned to abide by the NAACP’s decision but noted Muhammad’s position is up for election in November, along with all the other branch officers.
“Inasmuch as the National officers desire to come to Philadelphia, then so be it,” Felton said. “They should be given an opportunity at dialogue. If it is not effectual, then let the people decide in the branch election in November.”
While Ross’ statement said Muhammad apologized for the ant-Semitic meme, Muhammad has not explicitly said he is sorry.
Muhammad said last week he was not anti-Semitic and removed the post after learning it “bared significant offense to the Jewish community.” He said he regretted the “insult, pain and offense it caused to all particularly those of the Jewish community by this unfortunate episode.”
Some leaders of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference and the the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP are unhappy with Muhammad.
“There are a lot of people in the state organization who want him out. That’s true,” said a member of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, who requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, on Monday.
The state conference executive committee will meet on Aug. 15, when the more than 30 members could vote to boot Muhammad from his position on the committee and other state leadership positions.
On Monday, Felton said Muhammad’s post has done “tremendous damage.” Felton would be first in line to head the local branch should Muhammad step down.
While not explicitly calling on Muhammad to resign, Felton said on Monday: “We have asked that the right thing be done,” adding: “And any time you damaged your brand, any time you bring damage to your branch, obviously you’re not doing the right thing.”
Kenneth Huston, president of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, declined to comment.
Muhammad has hurt the the organization’s relationships in the city.
Laura Frank, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said on Wednesday that the group will not work with the Philadelphia NAACP as long as Muhammad remains in his post, reiterating the organization’s stance from last week. The group will work with national leadership and other chapters, though.
Frank was unaware of any impending meeting with NAACP national leadership.
“No one has reached out to us, there’s been no communication from them, no asking for meetings,” Frank said.
In a statement last week, the Jewish Federation said it was “extremely disappointed” with the NAACP for refusing to remove Muhammad, who has has yet to fully apologize and whose social media channels “shows an alarming amount of bigoted and anti-Jewish sentiments.”
Since he posted the anti-Semitic meme in July, Muhammad has faced significant backlash and calls to resign from local leaders and elected officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Yet the opinion of Muhammad remains split among the Black community.
Muhammad is the minster at North Philadelphia’s Mosque Number 12 of the Nation of Islam and is a long-time adherent of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.
The Anti-Defamation League lists Farrakhan as an extremist and anti-Semitic figure, who has denied the legitimacy of Judaism, claimed Jewish people are responsible for the slave trade, and targeted Jews, as well as whites and the LGBT community, in his speeches.
Muhammad, who has served as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP since 2014, is a long-time Democratic consultant for Mayor Jim Kenney. The Kenney campaign has paid Muhammad more than $95,000 over the years for consulting services.
Kenney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.