A community meeting in a changing neighborhood of South Philadelphia known as Point Breeze was the site of an ugly incident on Monday night, Feb. 22.
High levels of crime and urban decay have had their way with Point Breeze for years. But such a depressed housing market beckoned real estate developers to the area. Recent interest and efforts at renewal have created exactly the kind of resentment that arises whenever a down-and-out neighborhood begins to attract the kind of attention that leads to clean-ups and demolitions to create newer, pricier housing stock.
Into this cauldron was thrown a spark of racism during Monday night’s meeting.
Real estate developers were giving a presentation when members of an activist community group, Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, took the criticism to an unproductive level.
According to the local Philly.com media outlet, anti-Semitic verbal attacks rang out.
Those comments included, “Why don’t you go back to Israel?” and “Go back to Lakewood,” which is an ultra-Orthodox community in nearby New Jersey.
The report noted that “some of the presenters were Jewish,” and that at least “one was wearing a yarmulke.”
The meeting was shut down due to an outcry after the anti-Semitic comments were made. Hostilities continued outside the building after the meeting ended.
Ori Feibush is a local real estate developer who was at the meeting merely in his community resident capacity. Feibush wrote on Facebook:
I am sorry to say that after tonight’s meeting, there is no question that anti-semitism is alive and well in America. I was told to go back to Israel. I was cursed at for being a Jew. I watched as 3 Jewish developers presented and the heads of a registered community organization in my neighborhood said “oh they are Jews.” This is not OK. I made it clear to everyone within shouting range that it would never be OK.
The Philadelphia City Councilman representing the district, Kenyatta Johnson, had a staff person in attendance at the meeting on Monday night. Johnson said that because of the comments made at that meeting he had reached out to the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission.
The Councilman issued a statement after the incident in which he said “an individual” made an “anti-Semitic comment” which was “totally inappropriate and will not be tolerated.”
Feibush, who unsuccessfully challenged Johnson in the most recent election, said about the incident: “This was not one person with a screw loose,” Feibush said. “This was a mob mentality.”
Councilman Johnson also notified the Philadelphia Planning Commission of the incident.
On Tuesday, Feibush received an email from the Concerned Citizens anti-gentrification group. According to Philly.com, the email claimed Feibush, with whom the group has clashed in the past, was lying about what happened. It claimed Feibush tried to “twist what was said at the zoning meeting” and was “play[ing] the victim.”Lori Lowenthal Marcus