Why Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman deserves to be called out
We all tend to hope that times of crisis bring out the very best in us. During this unprecedented crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all being tested. We worry about the continued impact of this silent killer on our families, loved ones, neighbors and all citizens of New Jersey and beyond. Every story we hear about the heroic first responders, medical personnel, caregivers, supermarket clerks and delivery personnel who put themselves at risk constantly for the rest of us, reassures us all that the greatest strength of the U.S., is its citizens.
We hope and expect that our elected leaders, from the president on down to our local council, are people up to the challenges unique to leaders. Sometimes, however, the very people we rely on fail their constituents.
In Edison, New Jersey the pandemic has brought about a modern-day version of A Tale of Two Cities. Over the past several days, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with its local partners, exposed and protested anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-Chinese social media posts of the City’s Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman.
The Facebook posts inexcusably and inexplicably gave credence and echo to age-old tropes about the Jewish people and lurid messaging connecting, inexplicably, Israel’s existence to the virus. But it wasn’t just about Jews; the council president also posted a call for African-Americans to boycott Chinese-owned business establishments in retaliation for their alleged connection to COVID-19.
Earlier, in week two of the coronavirus crisis, Ship-Freeman’s colleague, Edison Council Vice Chairman Sam Joshi, had also made an offensive post related to the spread of the coronavirus, but he immediately apologized and has since demonstrated true leadership in pushing back against the targeting of any community, including the Jewish community.
Tragically, Ship-Freeman has chosen an entirely different tact for which she deserves all of the harsh criticism that followed. Over a 24-hour period following the exposure of her posts, she alternated between claims that her Facebook page had been hacked, to her being a target of a political conspiracy against her leadership by “men” because she is a woman or because of her race.
At no point, however, did she take any responsibility or apologize to the offended New Jersey resident who had called her out. That is not the kind of leadership we need from our public officials.
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with law enforcement, civil rights organizations and media outlets, are already tracking and reporting hate crimes and social media onslaughts against Asian-Americans. People are targeting innocent people and are certainly not merely criticizing the Chinese communist government in Beijing or its actions for the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile hate groups across the tri-state area, from Ocean County to Rockland County and everywhere in between, are following the historic precedent of blaming Jews for pandemics.
We are buoyed that Ship-Freeman’s political colleagues have not given her a pass. From the New Jersey South Asian American Caucus to Councilman Sam Joshi, the public messages have been clear––there will be no tolerance or acceptance of hate in the public square.
I have always been inspired by the leadership of Congressman John Lewis, who once put his hand on my shoulder and said, “We might have all gotten here on different ships but we are all in the same boat.” That is the only acceptable message we should be hearing from all our leaders.
If you see anti-Semitism or hate, do not just let it pass. Those forwarding or sharing such sentiments will only push the envelope further the next time around. If you know or learn of a hate-based act or post, advise local law enforcement or let us at the Simon Wiesenthal Center know by reporting such instances to www.SWCNY.com so that we can promptly investigate and take action.
We will emerge stronger from this crisis if we are united. People with hate on their hearts, lips or social media, need not apply.
Michael Cohen is the eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.