East Brunswick High School

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

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