New Jersey high school yearbook ‘error’ deemed not antisemitic after investigation
(Clockwise from top left) High school yearbooks in East Brunswick, New Jersey; Bellaire, Texas; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; and Glenview, Illinois went to press during the 2023-24 school year with material that Jews said was antisemitic or insensitive, ranging from the swapping out of a Jewish student group photo with a Muslim group, to descriptions of the Israel-Hamas war that avoided the Oct. 7 attacks.
Photo: Collage by JTA

By Andrew Lapin
June 20, 2024

(JTA) — A New Jersey high school yearbook’s misprint of a photo of Muslim students in place of its Jewish Student Union “was not purposeful, but rather was a highly unfortunate error,” an independent investigator has concluded.

The controversy at East Brunswick High School was one of several yearbook incidents that had concerned Jewish parents in recent months, as student yearbook editors attempted to capture a year of toxic dialogue surrounding the Israel-Hamas war. Many observers, including the local Jewish federation and the Jewish mayor of East Brunswick, said they feared the picture swap was antisemitic in nature.

Soon after attracting national attention, East Brunswick’s board of education recalled the school’s yearbooks and announced an independent investigation headed up by attorney Yaakov Brisman, a Yeshiva University law school graduate. The findings, released this week, determined that the lead yearbook advisor — “an experienced educator” — had made an “at best careless” error unprompted by “any animus, racial, religious, or political, towards Jewish or Muslim students,” Brisman wrote.

“She should have exercised greater attention to detail when selecting the photograph,” Brisman wrote about the photo misprint, which also printed without the names of the Jewish students in the club. “She admittedly only ‘assumed’ it was the correct photograph. The photograph clearly has a number of students who are identifiably Muslim. Even accounting for diversity among students, this should have triggered greater awareness.”

The photos for the Jewish and Muslim student clubs, the report found, had been grouped in the same folder under the same keywords. The Jewish Student Union also failed to provide the yearbook editors with the names of its student members when asked.

Both the superintendent and the board president said they would work to make changes and bring more oversight to the yearbook. 

“While I’m grateful that the results of this investigation show that these actions were serious mistakes without malice, we must now focus on repairing the deep hurt and division that has been created in our school and community,” Superintendent Victor Valeski said in a release.

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