April Powers spoke to Bari Weiss’s newsletter to describe how she was hounded from her job by an online mob after she posted a Facebook message, in her role as chief inclusion officer, condemning anti-Semitism
A black Jewish woman has described being ‘terrorized online’ for writing a Facebook post condemning anti-Semitic attacks – a post which ultimately forced her from her job.
April Powers was appointed the first chief equity and inclusion officer of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in June 2020.
On Tuesday she spoke to Common Sense with Bari Weiss to describe how she was hounded out of her job within a year of being appointed, because of her religion.
‘It was, ‘You’re Jewish, you can’t be in a role like this,’ she told Weiss’ newsletter.
‘I lost credibility in that exchange because I’m Jewish.’
The story began in May, as the Israel-Palestine conflict was unfolding and Jewish Americans were being targeted by pro-Palestine protesters.
Powers, horrified by scenes in Los Angeles of Jews being attacked in the street, decided to post a statement condemning anti-Semitism.
Powers’ post, on June 10, was in response to a spate of attacks on Jews in the United States
‘The SCBWI unequivocally recognizes that the world’s 14.7 million Jewish people (less than 0.018% of the population) have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear,’ she wrote.
‘No person should be at risk because of their heritage, religion, disability, or whom they love.’
Powers pointed out that anti-Semitism has seen a marked increase in recent years, and added: ‘As writers, illustrators, and translators of children’s literature, we are responsible for promoting equity and humanizing people in our work-all children and all families.
‘Silence is often mistaken for acceptance and results in the perpetration of more hatred and violence against different types of people.’
Powers’s June 10 post was intended as a move towards tolerance and peace – yet backfired
Yet the response to her June 10 post surprised her.
‘I was terrorized online,’ she said.
I’m still receiving horrible messages. I wasn’t willing to endure that for any job.’
Her initial attacker was Razan Abdin-Adnani, a Montessori teacher from Arkansas and member of the society, who identified herself as the daughter of Palestinian refugees.
She commented on the post asking if the organization also planned to denounce violence against Palestinians.
Powers replied: ‘As a new member, you may not have noticed our statements are very recent & reflect surges in hate crimes & violence around the world. If we see a surge against Muslims globally as we have w/ other groups, expect us to speak out.’
Powers told the newsletter that, in hindsight, said she should not have replied.
‘If I had it to do over again, I would have turned off comments for the statement,’ she said.
‘We were attempting to create a safe space.’
Powers initially debated with Abdin-Adnani in the comments, but then stopped and deleted several comments.
Razan Abdin-Adnani, a Montessori teacher from Arkansas and member of the society, led the attacks against Powers
Abdin-Adnani took to Twitter, accusing the organization of being anti-Muslim and demanding a refund of her membership dues, writing: ‘I had no idea this was a Zionist/politically motivated organization that doesn’t serve ALL children.’
Powers said she had no regrets about the statement.
‘I will not apologize for making a statement on anti-Semitism,’ she told the newsletter.
‘It needed to be said and it still needs to be said. The silence is deafening.’
Yet the executive director of the society, Lin Oliver, wrote an apology two weeks later – and announced that Powers had resigned.
She expressed her remorse to ‘everyone the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized.’
Oliver apologized ‘the pain our actions have caused to our Muslim and Palestinian members.’
Lin Oliver, the executive director of the society, accepted Powers’s resignation
She continued: ‘I also want to offer my apologies to Razan Abdin-Adnani for making her feel unseen and unheard by blocking her. She has been unblocked from our feed.’
Powers insisted that SCBWI did not force her to resign, but they stated: ‘As a remedy to these events, we have taken some initial steps: 1. Effective immediately, we have accepted the resignation of April, our Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer.’
Powers herself concluded with an apology.
‘By posting an antisemitism statement, our intention was to stay out of politics,’ she wrote.
‘I neglected to address the rise in Islamophobia, and deeply regret that omission.
‘While this doesn’t fix the pain and disappointment that you feel by my mishandling of the moment, I hope you will accept my sincerest apologies and resignation from the SCBWI.’