Wolf, Shapiro, Black and Jewish leaders call for Philadelphia NAACP president to resign

Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, speaks at a news conference on July 22 (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA — The governor, the state attorney general, numerous elected officials and the leaders of several groups that represent the Black and Jewish communities have called on Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad to resign his post just days after he posted an anti-Semitic meme on social media.

Muhammad has removed the post from his social media accounts, but not explicitly apologized for it.

Gov. Tom Wolf called Muhammad’s social media post “vile.”

“Sharing this type of racist content is unacceptable—especially from a civic leader,” the governor tweeted. “I’m joining the call for Minister Muhammad to resign. Hate has no place in Pennsylvania.”

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro also joined the call for Muhammad to resign.

“As soon I learned about Rodney Muhammad’s post I reached out to him directly to understand what happened and ask for a sincere apology. His response to me was offensive and we are all still waiting for that apology,” he tweeted.

Shapiro also tweeted that Muhammad’s actions are a hindrance to the good works that they could be doing together and he expected more from a civil rights leader.

“I join so many Black leaders in calling on Rodney Muhammad to resign as President of the Philadelphia NAACP. The NAACP is a crucial civil rights organization that deserves better than Rodney Muhammad,” Shapiro tweeted.

Wolf’s and Shapiro’s tweets came as Congressman Dwight Evans; state Sens. Anthony Williams, Vincent Hughes and Sharif Street; state Rep. Joanna McClinton; and the leaders of the NAACP PA State Conference, Philadelphia Urban League, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Defamation League, and other groups denounced Muhammad’s social media post and racism and anti-Semitism in general in a news conference on Tuesday.

State Sen. Anthony Williams said the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP should remove Muhammad from office if he does not resign.

“Anyone that can’t bring themselves to apologize when someone says that you stepping on their toes or kneeling on their neck, I can’t stand with that person,” Williams said. “For me, it’s very clear, until the NAACP decides to remove Rodney Muhammad, I can no longer participate with them.”

Kenneth Huston, president of the NAACP PA State Conference, said there was no place for hate at the local, state or national level.

“Our mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. As our organization is 111 years old, the NAACP has fought for years to ensure equality for all persons,” Huston said.

He went on to say Muhammad’s actions are of great concern to the organization.

The meme Muhammad shared showed photos of Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, rapper Ice Cube and TV host Nick Cannon, all of whom have faced criticism recently for making anti-Semitic statements, along with a cartoon image of a yarmulke-wearing man with a large nose and a black beard. Written under the photos was a quote the meme attributed to French writer and philosopher Voltaire, but Voltaire did not or write say it; the quote is more commonly attributed to white nationalist and Holocaust denier Kevin Alfred Strom.

Muhammad said in a written statement that he had shared the post “in an attempt to start a dialogue around criticism and understanding” and only later learned that the quote was used by white supremacists.

“It was never my intention to offend anyone or cause any hurt,” Muhammad said.

“The NAACP strongly condemns any offensive language or imagery and stands against all forms of hate speech and anti-Semitism,” he continued.

“I stand with all members of the Jewish faith in the fight for social justice, and I intend to use this opportunity for thoughtful conversations with both the Black and Jewish communities.”

Leaders of a group that represents the Jewish community said they were disheartened by Muhammad’s post, but thought some good could come of it.

“Hate speech in any form is not acceptable. We cannot allow this type of behavior, much less from a leader of one of our nation’s most prolific and important civil rights organizations,” said Steve Rosenberg, chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “Looking at the positive side, I am incredibly proud of how our communities have worked together over the years, not just in Philadelphia, but across the United States. Our shared struggles and our fortitude to overcome obstacles are truly great American success stories.”

Laura Frank, interim director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the incident offers an opportunity for the Black and Jewish communities to work together.

“While we must, and will continue to, call out any and all incidents of racism and bigotry, we must also work to educate each other and build a dialogue with people from all walks of life,” Frank said.

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.