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After honoring Kahane, high school tests Montclair parents’ patience with Palestinian poet

A week after its inexplicable highlighting of Meir Kahane, a convicted terrorist, for Jewish American Heritage Month, Montclair High School has once again angered some parents — this time, by honoring a Palestinian poet for Asian American and Pacific Islander month.

The Jewish-American pick included in Wednesday’s daily announcement e-blast was the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But the same email highlighted a poet, Suheir Hammad, who first came to prominence by writing about the Muslim American experience following the Sept. 11 attacks. Hammad’s 2001 poem titled “First Writing Since,” includes the lines: “if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is / feeling right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.”

The selection, amid the second week of spiraling violence between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, made some parents feel that the school administration was inappropriately taking sides in the conflict.

One parent, voicing that concern to the school, wrote, “After the debacle with Meir Kahane earlier this month, I would have thought that the school would be more careful about the people it selects for the morning announcements.”

The Kahane and Hammad controversies are not the only problems Montclair has had with its heritage emails. One sent last week omitted the first name of its Jewish American choice, the activist Joel Spingarn, who was one of the first Jewish leaders of the NAACP.

“One time you can ascribe to a screwup,” said the parent who complained to the administration, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern it would affect his child. “The second time, it was careless. The third time, it really does seem like there’s something else going on.”

The United States Census Bureau does not include West Asia under the AAPI umbrella — it defines Asian as “a person having origins in the in any of the original people of the Far East, for example, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.” Therefore, it would appear to exclude Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, where Hammad was born to Palestinian refugee parents, and Israel. (Other definitions, such as that of the Asian Pacific Institute of Gender-Based Violence, do include West Asia in their list of Asian countries.)

After the inclusion of Kahane caused an uproar from Jewish parents at the school, the school’s assistant principal, Reginald Clark, sent an apology e-blast to the high school list. The day after the Forward published an article about the controversy, the district superintendent, Jonathan Ponds, issued his own apology e-blast — this one, to all students, teacher and parents in the system. Neither statement explained how the mistake had happened.

In response to a follow-up email from the Forward, Ponds said the heritage picks had been drawn from a website that contains a timeline of American Jewish history and suggested that Clark had been disciplined for the Kahane move. Clark has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Forward.

“High school announcements go out daily and are researched usually the morning of by the assistant principal, who is responsible for the content on recognitions and celebrations,” Ponds wrote. “To be inclusive and highlight the histories and heritages of all of our stakeholders, the assistant principal, came across the following website: https://ajhs.org/timeline. He believed he was using a reputable site. Unfortunately, his research did not go further and the announcement was sent out. This is also a personnel matter and is being handled internally.”

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