CAIR-NJ Supports Response to Anti-Muslim Quiz at Wayne School, Calls for Diversity Training

CAIR-NJ Supports Response to Anti-Muslim Quiz at Wayne School, Calls for Diversity Training

(NEWARK, NJ, 6/25/2024) – The New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today welcomed the swift response from school administrators in Wayne, where middle school students were given a quiz containing questions stemming from anti-Muslim bias.

CAIR-NJ also called on administrators to implement meaningful and appropriate trainings to educate faculty and teachers about Islam and Muslims in America.

Late last week, CAIR-NJ received complaints from parents whose children in grade 7 at Schuyler-Colfax Middle School in Wayne, New Jersey, were asked to take a multiple-choice Social Studies quiz containing questions and answers that were anti-Muslim in nature and implications.

One of the anti-Muslim questions asked 7th grade students about the definition of the “Islamic State” and included the “Palestinian Liberation Organization” as a choice to that question.

In a statement, Wayne Township Public Schools Superintendent Mark Toback apologized for the question, saying it was “unacceptable and [does] not reflect the standards we uphold for our educational community.”

“The question was offensive and contrary to our values of respect, inclusivity, and cultural sensitivity,” Toback said. “We understand the deep concern and disappointment this has caused among students, parents, and the broader community.”

Wayne Township Public Schools district officials met with CAIR-NJ and the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) leadership on June 21 to discuss why the quiz was littered with anti-Muslim bias and next steps on how to prevent this matter from happening again.

Such questions presented in a formal school setting absent the appropriate historical context have the potential to perpetuate bigoted and anti-Muslim rhetoric while also fueling negative stereotypes of Muslims. Muslims, like any other group, deserve to attend school without feeling fearful of such insinuations and macro-aggressions.

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut welcomed the school district’s response and called on leadership to implement trainings aimed at educating staff about Islam and Muslims.

“Our CAIR-NJ office has been in close communication with the Wayne Township Public Schools district, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue to address this issue. Most importantly, we’ll be working to help Wayne administrators provide staff the tools they need to cultivate a more inclusive and understanding environment for Muslim students in Wayne. 

“We value the district’s commitment to growth. Now, we hope to see administrators take tangible action by implementing more careful and precise diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings to all staff, especially teachers who shape our nation’s young minds.” 

Earlier this year, CAIR released new civil rights data showing that it has received 3,578 complaints during the last three months of 2023 amid an ongoing wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate.

SEE: 2024 Civil Rights Report: The Resurgence of Anti-Muslim Hate  

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

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CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Interim Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi, aelamroussi@cair.com, 551-208-5482

East Brunswick High School

CAIR-NJ Commends Efforts to Investigate East Brunswick High School Yearbook Incident, Calls on Mayor to Apologize

CAIR-NJ Commends Efforts to Investigate East Brunswick High School Yearbook Incident, Calls on Mayor to Apologize

Newark, NJ (6/20/2024) — The New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today welcomed the findings of the investigation into the yearbook incident at East Brunswick High School in which a photo of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) was erroneously used in place of a photo of a Jewish student group. CAIR-NJ today also called on the township’s mayor to apologize for publicly releasing a harmful and presumptuous statement on the sensitive matter prior to the probe’s conclusion.

The East Brunswick Public Schools district hired an independent law firm to investigate how a photo of members of the MSA replaced a photo of the high school’s Jewish Student Union group in the yearbook. The probe followed swift backlash to the incident, which resulted in hateful comments both online and in-person directed toward the Muslim students pictured after a photo of the misplacement was posted on social media.

SEE: CAIR-NJ Demands ‘Transparent and Fair’ Probe of East Brunswick High School Yearbook Photo Incident

On Wednesday, the East Brunswick Public Schools district released the findings of its investigation, concluding the photo error “was not purposeful, but rather was a highly unfortunate error,” it said in a press release Wednesday, citing the probe report.

The probe, conducted by attorney Yaacov Brisman of Brisman Law, determined the lead yearbook advisor mistakenly placed the incorrect photo herself.

“I find that the Lead Advisor was at best careless, but her actions can also be considered negligent. She should have exercised greater attention to detail when selecting the photograph,” the attorney wrote in the report.

Earlier this month, East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohn described the production error as a “blatant Anti-Semitic act” and questioned whether the incident was a “hate crime,” implying the mistake was intentional. The mayor’s one-sided and flagrant statement remained posted on his Facebook page as of Thursday afternoon.

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Interim Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi said:

“CAIR-NJ commends the efforts to investigate the yearbook error and the release of the independent investigation’s findings. The probe’s conclusion affirms what CAIR-NJ already knew: the Muslim Students Association played no part in this incident nor did it have knowledge of the error prior to the yearbooks publications.

CAIR-NJ condemns the mayor’s inciteful statement, which many in the Muslim community felt it was partially responsible for fueling the backlash Muslim students faced in the aftermath of a mistake they played no part in.

It’s shameful for an elected official to jump to conclusions on such a sensitive issue, particularly during the ongoing tensions in our social climate. At a time when it is easy to be divisive, leaders should always be pushing for unity and understanding— not unfounded hostility toward Muslim students.”

Here’s what else the investigation found, per the report:

“[The Lead Advisor] admittedly only ‘assumed’ it was the correct photograph. The photograph clearly has a number of students who are identifiably Muslim. Even accounting for diversity among students, this should have triggered greater awareness.

“Moreover, as an experienced educator, in light of domestic and international events, [the Lead Advisor] should have had a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity surrounding students of Jewish ethnicity and/or faith. This sensitivity also holds true for students of the Muslim faith who were clearly identifiable by their dress and who were also mislabeled.”

“I found [her] credible, and I have no basis to find that she acted out of any animus, racial, religious, or political, towards Jewish or Muslim students.”

CAIR-NJ applauds and supports the investigator’s recommendation to implement more thorough review measures, including rolling out formalized training sessions for yearbook advisors, administration review before official publication and add an additional advisor to help facilitate the process.

Washington, D.C., based CAIR and the American Muslim community stand in solidarity with all those challenging antisemitism, systemic anti-Black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and all other forms of bigotry.

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

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CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Interim Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi, 551-208-5482, aelamroussi@cair.com

CAIR-NJ Calls State Senate Committee to Oppose Bills Crafted to Gut Free Speech 

CAIR-NJ Calls State Senate Committee to Oppose Bills Crafted to Gut Free Speech

(Newark, NJ, 06/14/2024) —  The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today once again called on the New Jersey Senate to oppose Senate Bill 1292 and Senate Bill 2937, both of which are designed to redefine antisemitism using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

A State Senate committee plans to conduct a remote meeting via Zoom on Monday during which it will take oral testimony on both bills. CAIR-NJ is urging New Jerseyans to engage with their Legislature and oppose both the bills.

WHEN: Monday, June 17, at 9 a.m.

WHERE: Registration online is required to attend meeting via Zoom

HOW: Protect free speech by opposing the bills when registering online

In an open letter addressed to the New Jersey Senate, CAIR-NJ wrote, “While we appreciate and support efforts to combat hate and discrimination, these bills carry consequences that would suppress legitimate advocacy and free speech.”

SEE: Oppose Bill S1292 and S2937 to Protect Free Speech 

The proposed measures attack freedom of speech in New Jersey. The bills risk conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, which is dangerous to constructive discourse on this crucial, nuanced topic that affects millions of people. This would ultimately result in the silencing of Palestinians and those who advocate for them by potentially painting them as anti-Semites when they speak up against injustices.

CAIR-NJ unequivocally rejects and condemns the attempted weaponization of anti-Semitism in what appears to be an intentional effort to decenter what’s really important: the freedom of speech to advocate for the liberation of Palestine and Palestinians.

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said:

“If these bills pass, they will effectively undermine free speech by discouraging open dialogue at a divisive time when we should be seeking mutual understanding and unity.

“Our elected officials in the New Jersey Senate should not vote for a measure that would put our Muslim and Palestinian communities in harm’s way when anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry is already on the rise. Americans should be focused on protecting their right to the First Amendment, not prioritizing a foreign entity.”

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice and empower American Muslims.

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CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Interim Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi, aelamroussi@cair.com, 551-208-5482

East Brunswick High School

CAIR-NJ Demands ‘Transparent and Fair’ Probe of East Brunswick High School Yearbook Photo Incident

CAIR-NJ Demands ‘Transparent and Fair’ Probe of East Brunswick High School Yearbook Photo Incident

(NEWARK, N.J. (6/6/2024) – The New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today demanded a transparent and fair investigation into an incident at East Brunswick High School in which a yearbook photo of apparently Muslim students was used to show members of a Jewish school club.

A photo of the yearbook page has gone viral online, triggering anti-Muslim bigotry targeting the students pictured. CAIR-NJ has seen hateful comments on social media, including some that called the students terrorists and that they should be deported.

East Brunswick Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski apologized to the Muslim parents and students: “As I mentioned impacts to our Jewish students and families earlier today, I want to offer sincere apologies to our Muslim students and families, as well.  I am aware that the picture placed in the yearbook has caused pain for our Muslim students and for that I am deeply sorry.”

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi said:

“It is crucial that school officials ensure their investigation is transparent, fair and thorough so those responsible are held accountable. This incident has triggered heinous backlash against the Muslim students pictured whom CAIR-NJ believes had no knowledge of their photo being misused.

“The hateful comments attacking Muslim high school students are deplorable. We call on East Brunswick’s mayor and public schools superintendent to offer support to their Muslim student community and be leaders for the entire township.” 

East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen one-sided statement posted June 4 on his Facebook account does not mention nor address the distressful impact this has had on Muslim community members who are equally a part of his constituency.”

Washington, D.C., based CAIR and the American Muslim community stand in solidarity with all those challenging antisemitism, systemic anti-Black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and all other forms of bigotry.

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

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CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Communications Manager Aya Elamroussi, 551-208-5482, aelamroussi@cair.com 

CAIR-NJ Applauds American Muslim Participation in NJ Primaries, Notes 40,000+ Votes for Ceasefire in Palestine

CAIR-NJ Applauds American Muslim Participation in NJ Primaries, Notes 40,000+ Votes for Ceasefire in Palestine

NEWARK, N.J. (6/5/2024) The New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) applauds the thousands of American Muslim voters who participated in the state’s primary election on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

As of Wednesday, 90% of the votes have been counted. So far, the results show the uncommitted choice on the ballot received more than 40,000 votes.
CAIR-NJ worked to galvanize Muslim Americans through voter outreach efforts to increase the community’s civic engagement throughout the state of New Jersey.

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Advocacy Coordinator Mousa Naji said:

“Voting is an essential part of our democracy. It is necessary for citizens to exercise their right to vote as a means of expression and to shape the world to be a better place.

“More than 40,000 New Jerseyans took the opportunity to vote uncommitted, making it clear the genocide in Palestine must end. Collectively, they expressed their demand for a ceasefire and for the US to stop sending weapons that have been fueling Israel’s bombardment of Palestine.”

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut also welcomed the voter turn-out Tuesday, saying it was a crucial part of CAIR-NJ’s mission to get as many Muslim Americans to the polls as possible.

“New Jersey’s Muslim community cares deeply about Palestine. Many have family and friends impacted by Israel’s war on Gaza. We expect that it will continue to be an important issue for voters as November approaches,” Maksut said.

“CAIR-NJ will continue to educate the public about the electoral process, key policy issues, and encourage civic participation for larger future turn outs. It’s crucial to continue this momentum into the general election to ensure our voices are heard.”

CAIR-NJ is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization and does not participate in political candidate endorsements. However, the chapter has urged eligible voters to hit the polls to make their voices heard through choosing a candidate that best aligns with their values and views.

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CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Senior Communications Associate Aya Elamroussi, 551-208-5482, aelamroussi@cair.com