Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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Philadelphia Commerce Head Under Fire for Antisemitic Comments

Update December 5th: Michael Rashid has resigned; more here.

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Senior department leaders and other staff have left the Philadelphia Commerce office over the last year, with some blaming the allegedly abusive behavior of Commerce Director Michael Rashid. Others described antisemitic comments allegedly made by the former health-care executive, who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney in November 2020 and earns $170,874 a year, according to payroll records.

In interviews with The Inquirer, staff recalled Rashid recently relating an anecdote about his viewing of Schindler’s List — Steven Spielberg’s award-winning movie about the Holocaust — as a confusing inspirational metaphor. On several occasions, Rashid reportedly said he had avoided watching the 1993 film because he perceived it as “Jewish propaganda,” but upon viewing came to appreciate the story of a heroic businessman in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Rashid’s social media posts, surfaced by news website PhillyVoice on Thursday, also contain inflammatory statements about Jewish people and law enforcement. In one post he made in April, he appeared to condone the shooting of police officers who are deemed racist. Another features an unverifiable quote attributed to Malcolm X that describes Jewish neighborhoods as “Jew Town.”

Kenney condemned the comments and said they would be investigated, but did not say whether he would ask Rashid to step down. Rashid did not respond to calls or text messages for comment.

At Rashid’s urging, however, the former CEO’s allies have rallied around him, arguing that staff allegations about his workplace demeanor are reflective of a “culture clash” between the public and private sectors. One noted that Rashid was considering stepping down.

Mayoral spokesperson Kevin Lessard said Rashid apologized for the Schindler’s List comments.

“The Mayor obviously doesn’t support it and believes it was offensive,” Lessard said in a statement to The Inquirer, adding that Kenney also “doesn’t support the messages in any of the social media posts and thinks they are inappropriate and offensive.”

On Saturday, Michael Balaban, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said he was “appalled” by Rashed’s comments, and called on the mayor to fire the commerce director.

”Kenney, earlier this week, stood side by side with leaders of the Jewish community to condemn the rise of Antisemitism,” Balaban said in a statement. “If there is no room in our City for Antisemitism, as Mayor Kenney said, then Mr. Rashid should be removed from office immediately.”

The administration said Rashid’s conduct would be investigated for compliance with city workplace rules, but officials declined to discuss the personnel grievances. However, staff concerns about Rashid date to the beginning of his tenure, and officials acknowledged that questions about his leadership in part led to a $505,000 audit of the department’s culture. That report, reviewed by The Inquirer, described low morale and high turnover among staff.

Some have already left the department over issues with Rashid. In a resignation letter shared with Kenney administration leaders last week, former Commerce Department communications director Taj Magruder wrote that Rashid, 74, frequently “berated” staff members, made “irrational” decisions, and appeared disinterested in the workings of the department, which was recently tasked with distributing millions of dollars in pandemic relief.

Magruder shared the resignation letter with The Inquirer out of concern for his former colleagues and fear that conditions would not change . He called Rashid’s behavior the motivating factor for his departure and those of other top employees. He also called for Rashid’s immediate dismissal.

“He will continue to lose employees and hollow out the Department, and his antisemitic comments could eventually become public,” Magruder wrote to Kenney chief of staff Jim Engler and mayoral spokesperson Lessard on Nov. 22.

In the letter, Magruder recounted Rashid’s comments about Schindler’s List, which he’d heard him relay in public and in private among staff.

Pat Christmas, policy director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Committee of 70, also called for an immediate leadership change.

“Things are not working in Commerce Department,” said Christmas. “And it’s not just the disturbing comments that were made, or the toxic workplace environment. It’s the critical services they are meant to be providing for local businesses.”