Saturday, July 02, 2022

Just one month ago, on December 13, 2021, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) stood in front of students at Rutgers University to discuss rising antisemitism across the state and country. Drawing from his own experiences, Gottheimer outlined the threat that antisemitism poses, notably that it reinforces the existence of hate in all of its forms.

During his speech, Gottheimer recalled an incident from September in which members of the Working Families Party disrupted an event in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and shouted “Jew!” at him. He used this occurrence as one of many
examples of antisemitism that people face far too often.

The mention of this incident during Gottheimer’s speech at Rutgers reignited a reaction from the Working Families Party leadership. In an article published by The New York Post on December 25, New Jersey
WFP director Sue Altman denied Gottheimer’s allegations of antisemitism. She stated: “We have reviewed video footage from our protests and interviewed many, many participants in them, including Jewish WFP members. All the footage has been made available to the press. We found no sign of such an outburst. No one we spoke to witnessed any antisemitic speech, and most volunteered that they’d have shut down such behavior immediately.”

Altman and the state WFP so staunchly denied Gottheimer’s claim of antisemitism that The New York Post reached out to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was with Gottheimer during the incident in Glen Rock. Raimondo was able to confirm what happened, sharing that she heard the same hateful jeers that Gottheimer heard.

“We were entering a bakery, and this group of protestors were pushing and shouting, and someone derisively screamed, ‘Jew!’” Gottheimer told The Jewish Link. “I remember Secretary Raimondo turning to me, with this look of great disgust: ‘Did they just scream Jew at you?’ and she could not believe it.”

Gottheimer explained that despite confirmation from Raimondo, the Working Families Party has doubled down and is insisting that he must have misunderstood what was said during the protest. “There was no misunderstanding—we both heard it.

“The fact that they refuse to acknowledge the incident, and continue to claim that both Secretary Raimondo and I fabricated the story, is hard to fathom. They should acknowledge what happened, recognize that it’s unacceptable, so that we can move forward and join in rejecting hate speech.”

Several weeks later, on January 17, a protestor who was present at the event came forward to admit that he did in fact yell “Jew” at Gottheimer, insisting that it was part of a broader statement, that "as a Jew, you should be doing the right thing." The organization has continued to deny allegations that the jeer was antisemitic. In a statement sent to The Jewish Link, Altman commended the “brave activist” for stepping forward and said: “Russell Miller came forward to truly set the record straight. Far from uttering an antisemitic slur, Russell was invoking their shared Jewish heritage. He told Gottheimer that his legislative brinkmanship was a shame, a shande, and that as a Jew he should do the right thing and fight for Build Back Better … this wasn’t antisemitism.”

The statement, which still denies the congressman’s experience, highlights Gottheimer’s concern that antisemitism is often dismissed without consequence. “You don’t claim that the person who experienced hate is lying about it. It’s a very old trope used to minimize the victim’s experience,” he shared. “You don’t blame the victim of hate in this situation … you should take responsibility and move forward.”

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, New Jersey, echoed the same sentiments. He told the The Jewish Link: “When it comes to antisemitism, no one believes the victim. We live in a society where people are found guilty before there is even a trial to find them innocent … unless it’s for antisemitism. I believe Josh unequivocally on this.”

Gottheimer said that the Working Families Party’s reaction is indicative of how hate is handled in a broader context. “We should be joining together in rejecting hate. I believe we have to address hate, and wherever we see antisemitism we should speak out against it and address it. That’s very important, and these are not things we should sweep under the rug.”

By Channa Fischer

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