A Jewish inclusion officer for a children’s book society resigned last month after she received a barrage of death threats and abuse for speaking out against antisemitism.
April Powers, the former Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), posted a statement on Twitter in response to the recent spate of antisemitic attacks that occurred across the United States.
The statement, released on behalf of the SCBWI, read: “The SCBWI unequivocally recognises that the world’s 14.8 million Jewish people (less than 0.018% of the population) have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear. No person should be at risk because of their heritage, religion, disability, or whom they love.
“In the last several years, antisemitism has been on the rise globally, and has fuelled a 75% increase in hate speech and random violence against Jewish people in the last few weeks alone. Because antisemitism is one of the oldest forms of hatred, it has its own name. It is the example from which many forms of racism and violence are perpetrated.”
Ms Powers received online abuse for the statement, as some Twitter users argued that she should have also included a statement on Islamophobia in the release. Ms Powers engaged in an online debate with one of the users before blocking them. However, she regretted her handling of the incident and resigned as a result.
Speaking on her experience, Ms Powers said: “This person is calling me a white supremacist and that I deserve to die and so does my family. It doesn’t matter if it’s credible or not, the feeling that you have when someone threatens your life and that of your family online and publicly is a terrorist act.
“I am so sad and disheartened that this is the world that we live in right now because none of them deserve any of this and their lives, safety and careers are on the line because of it.”
The SCBWI received criticism for its handling of the situation and was even accused of not standing with Jewish people. One of those criticising the SCBWI included PEN America, a non-profit organisation that aims to protect free speech through literature and human rights.
On its website, PEN America said: “Issuance of a factual public statement within the scope of a professional’s job should not be grounds for discipline or resignation under pressure. Biases and bigotries take on many variations and targets – anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms each have their own distinct characteristics and are worthy of forceful denunciation in their own right. The fight for human rights and dignity must oppose such hatreds in all their forms…absent any such indication, the condemnation of one form of hatefulness should not be read to imply indifference toward others.”
Following Ms Powers’ resignation, the SCBWI released a statement that said: “As an apolitical literary organization, it is not our mission to promote any specific political viewpoint or policy. Instead, we provide our members the opportunity, space, tools, exposure, and empowerment they require to make the high-quality, diverse children’s books that all children need.
“Recently, our Equity and Inclusion officer resigned by her own choice, not at any request or demand of our organisation, as she felt she had made mistakes in her professional decisions in managing social media. Today, we want to be sure that our community understands our core mission as an organisation of children’s book writers, illustrators, and translators.”
Last week, Ms Powers released a Facebook post in which she clarified that the SCBWI did not fire her or ask her to resign, going on to say that “there are good, kind people who work and volunteer there, many of whom are from marginalised, minority, or underrepresented backgrounds (including Jewish) themselves who have also been harassed and trolled relentlessly.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “It is extraordinary that an inclusion officer at a major organisation has seen the need to resign following a negative reaction to her bravely calling out antisemitism. It is all the more outrageous that she was pilloried for having spoken out against a form of racism to which she, as a Jewish woman, would be particularly sensitive.
“This incident stands in stark contrast to the mere reassignment a few weeks ago by Google of its Head of Diversity Strategy after he was revealed to have made antisemitic comments. Yet again, it seems that diversity is inclusive of all minorities except Jews, and opposed to all forms of discrimination except antisemitism.
“If it becomes impossible to call out antisemitism in the corporate world, it will become even harder to combat it. It is past time that corporations and unions live up to their values and protect their Jewish workers and members.”