Within the past few months, the state of New Jersey has earned a distinction that most Jews would find rather undesirable—according to the ADL’s Annual Audit of anti-Semitic Incidents, released in April, New Jersey had the third highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2018 (after California and New York).
Recognizing that many of the catalogued anti-Semitic incidents took place in public schools and colleges, on June 24 two New Jersey State Senators—Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D- District 3) and Senator Robert Singer (R—District 30)—introduced a new bill to strongly discourage anti-Semitism in school settings. The new legislation, Senate Bill No. 4001, adds religion to the list of causes protected from discrimination in public schools under public law. It also adds a section to the law that forbids discrimination based on religion at institutions of higher education in the state.
The bill goes far beyond merely decrying anti-Semitism. A large section of the legislation defines the forms anti-Jewish hate-speech have taken in recent years. Quotes from the proposed bill can be found below:
“Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jewish people”
“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jewish people or the power of Jewish people as a collective, especially... the myth about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.”
“Accusing Jewish people as a whole of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person, or group, or the state of Israel.”
“Accusing Jewish people as a whole or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”
“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
“applying a double standard to Israel by requiring behavior of Israel not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
“Delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist.”
When the bill was introduced, Senate President Sweeney and Senator Singer issued a press release that stated: “The intent of this bill is to prevent acts of anti-Semitism, hatred and bias in our schools and universities, especially the expressions of hate that are employed to incite acts of intimidation and violence....We believe that free speech and political opinions can be preserved at the same time we counter the actions that condone and even promote discrimination and violence. We welcome a constructive dialogue about preserving the rights of free expression as we oppose acts and expressions of hatred and bias. A discussion on how to best achieve these goals with this legislation is worth having.”
Their statement also pointed out that “much of the language in the legislation is taken from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism and has been adopted by nearly 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.”
Though it’s barely one month old, the proposed Senate bill has already attracted a coalition of opponents. In a front-page story on July 22, the Home News Tribune reported that a group of 15 organizations sent a letter to New Jersey legislators criticizing the bill. The 15 groups include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild International Committee.
In the joint letter, the groups wrote: “In our experience defending civil rights on college campuses, we have seen first hand how the redefinition that the [anti-Semitism] Act would codify has been used as a tool to silence students, faculty and staff who advocate for Palestinian rights.” Additionally, the Star Ledger printed an editorial opposing the bill (July 21), stating: “College kids should grapple with these tough issues, not have to tiptoe around them because the government wrote its own rules on what can be said.”
In response to this opposition, Senate President Sweeney shared the following statement with The Jewish Link: “The goal of this bill is to prevent and eliminate acts or expressions of anti-Semitism, hatred and bias in our schools and universities. New Jersey had the third-highest incidents of anti-Semitism in the country last year. At a time when President Trump is fueling divisiveness and condoning acts of violence, it is important that we take a stand against bias and hatred. Free speech and political opinions will be protected and preserved, but the language and actions that condone and even promote discrimination and violence should not be part of our public dialogue.”
Also responding to the coalition of critics, Senator Singer said to The Jewish Link: “Our state is now the third in the country with anti-Semitic acts and we are not going to take it. Much of the opposition is using double standards and stifling the speech of Jewish groups on campus.... As with any proposed legislation, this bill will go through a process, be amended, and accept revisions. The aim of the bill is to denounce anti-Semitism and make sure it’s not a factor when children are taught in schools. We must do something.”
The bill was introduced in the New Jersey State Senate’s Education Committee and a companion bill is sponsored in the New Jersey State Assembly by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). Senator Singer stated that he hopes the Education Committee will take action on the bill in the fall. The Jewish Link intends to keep track of this bill as it advances in the new Senate session.
By Harry Glazer