July 9, 2024
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Ethics Commission Denies Complaint Filed Against Clifton BOE Members

The New Jersey School Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint filed against two Palestinian-American commissioners on the Clifton Board of Education, which charged them with violating state law by making statements at a board meeting that “negatively impacted the welfare of Jewish students.”

The complaint, which was filed by former Englewood Board of Education member Elisabeth Schwartz against Ferris Awaad and Fahim K. Abedrabbo, was dismissed on January 25 by the commission, part of the state Department of Education.

Members of the Jewish community had dubbed the commissioners’ statements as “dangerous” and “untruthful” and their accusations against Israel of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and comparing its treatment of Palestinians to the killing of George Floyd as antisemitic. The statements made at the May 20, 2021 meeting sparked two-and-a-half hours of heated public comment, largely on the Middle East situation, at the August 5, 2021 meeting by members of the public on both sides of the matter.

Schwartz said the commission had censured a board member last year for “offensive, private” Facebook posts. “I think it was inconsistent that they didn’t move forward with charges of blatantly offensive and false comments in a public school meeting forum,” she explained. “I am determining now if I should appeal.”

In their response to Schwartz’s complaint, a response filed by Awaad and Abedrabbo denied making any remarks contrary to the educational welfare of children and termed the allegations against them “conjecture” and “unsupported by facts or actual evidence” that they could cause harm to any student or school employee.

Among the allegations Schwartz cited in her compliant were the two commissioners’ statements in support of Palestinians and the Free Palestine Movement, which she said is “intensely antisemitic and anti-Israel.”

In a 10-page letter from Executive Director Salma T. Chand and signed by Commission Chair Robert W. Bender, the commission laid out its reasons for the denial “because Complainant failed to plead sufficient, credible facts to support a finding” that the commissioners violated any laws.

If the commission had found “probable cause” that Awaad and Aberdrabbo ran afoul of ethics laws, it would have referred the case to the state Department of Administrative Law, according to the department’s website. Penalties that could have been imposed by the commission were censure, suspension or removal, which the board members could have appealed.

By Debra Rubin

 

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