PHILADELPHIA – A community meeting in a gentrifying neighbourhood of Philadelphia was forced to end abruptly after local activists hurled anti-Semitic comments at Jewish real estate developers.
At the Feb. 22 meeting in Point Breeze, in South Philadelphia, activists with Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze yelled “Go back to Israel!” and other insults at developers who were making presentations, Philly.com reported.
“This was not one person with a screw loose. This was a mob mentality,” Ori Feibush, a local developer who is Jewish but was not presenting at the meeting, told Philly.com.
One witness, who asked not to be identified, told Philly.com he heard someone shout “Go back to Lakewood,” a town in New Jersey with a large concentration of Orthodox Jews.
It was not clear from the reporting how many of the developers presenting at the meeting were Jewish or if any were Israeli, but Philly.com said at least one was wearing a kippah. Feibush, according to the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, has dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, but grew up in and still lives in the Philadelphia area.
The meeting was adjourned after the head of the organization hosting the meeting learned of the anti-Semitic comments, but participants continued to shout at one another outside.
Concerned Citizens leaders, many of them African-American, have clashed with Feibush and other developers before, voicing concerns that new developments will displace lower-income minority residents from the neighbourhood.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Feibush told the Exponent. “There’s been a crescendo over the last several years. But this was incredibly antagonistic. No ambiguity: This was 100 per cent anti-Semitism.”
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said that while past meetings concerning gentrification have “become heated,” it “never rose to this level of disrespect.”
Johnson, who was not at the meeting but heard about it from an aide who was attending, added that “those comments — whether anti-Semitic or racial — are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Attempts by the Jewish Exponent and Philly.com to reach the Concerned Citizens group for comment were unsuccessful. The group did, however, issue a strongly worded email denying its members had made anti-Semitic comments.