April 8, 2024
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April 8, 2024
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Legislation Targeting Antisemitism Introduced By Assemblyman Gary Schaer

Legislation that would target growing antisemitic threats to New Jersey’s Jewish community has been introduced by Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36).

The three-bill package would create a statewide definition of antisemitism as well as recognize both swatting and doxxing as crimes in New Jersey. Schaer said he was motivated to introduce the legislation by the “disturbingly rapid rise” in antisemitism over the last several months on college campuses, K-12 schools, houses of worship and online.

“The rise of antisemitism in states, the country and worldwide has been extraordinary,” said Schaer in a phone conversation, noting the antisemitism that has always been there beneath the surface has exploded into the open since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas, fueled by misinformation on social media.

“These social media posts get affirmed and reaffirmed and no question they get a life of their own,” said Schaer. “I don’t do social media but I have staff that do and there is no question it is affecting people and the rise of antisemitism is frightening.”

Doxxing is searching and publishing private or identifying information about someone online, typically with malicious intent. It can also involve harassing a person’s employer or family, identity theft, threats and cyberbullying.

Swatting is deceiving an emergency service such as police, fire or emergency medical services into going to an entity or another person’s address. A number of Jewish institutions have been targeted by swatting.

Like most states, New Jersey doesn’t have any statutes specifically addressing doxxing and legal authorities must rely on existing laws to charge an individual with crimes relating to doxxing. Under the provisions of the legislation, it would become a crime to knowingly disclose personal identifying information of another person online without that person’s consent to purposely subject them to violence or to cause them to fear for their own safety.

Swatting would also become a crime if it targets a church, synagogue or other place of public worship.

Schaer’s proposal would also have the state adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, a non-legally binding resolution adopted by 31 member countries, including the United States, stating that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and cites several examples, including the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

While some municipalities throughout New Jersey have adopted the IHRA, Schaer noted the state has not taken such a step.

With antisemitism spiking to record levels within the state and across the country, he said he believed government could play a significant role in helping to stem the increase, especially on college campuses.

“We need to take a more aggressive view of universities and colleges that allow themselves to be used by people who support a lie,” said Schaer. “Steps need to be taken and I think these three steps are a good start.”

The proposed legislation, on which Schaer worked closely with the Attorney General’s office and Anti-Defamation League to draft, will also benefit other targeted minority groups.

Jewish Federations of New Jersey Director Harris Laufer applauded the proposed measures, adding “it solves a few problems.” He said doxxing, which was an issue even before Oct. 7, has risen since then. However, there have also been instances where some claim to be doxxing victims who probably aren’t.

“We need to differentiate doxxing from protests and counter-protests and actions that frankly aren’t doxxing,” said Harris. “It’s one of those legal definitions that is overused. There’s a threshold for doxxing that people need to understand and frankly this legislation seeks not only to define it but also to penalize it.”

He added: “It is high time the state of New Jersey defined what antisemitism is, especially in this new world we live in,” and wholeheartedly endorsed adopting the IHRA definition. “I think these three bills are a good starting point but there is certainly more to do and Assemblyman Schaer took the first step in trying to solve the problem,” noted Laufer.

Chip Michaels, chief security officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, called the bills “an absolutely brilliant piece of legislation.”

He added, “It all comes down to penalties,” he said. “Now we can leverage penalties.”

He used the example of drunk driving, explaining that when the state significantly dropped the blood alcohol threshold for being considered intoxicated it “drastically reduced” drunk driving because drivers feared being penalized.

Since the beginning of 2023 Michaels said there have been five swatting incidents during services at synagogues in MetroWest’s catchment area, including one that took place during a bat mitzvah.

When Michaels, who responds to all incidents with law enforcement, arrived at the synagogue he found the rabbi had taken the congregation to a church parking lot across the street where he found them singing “Hatikvah.”

“It was actually very moving how they just carried on after the incident,” he said.

Some swatting incidents are committed by those “who like to watch the chaos they created,” much as those who get a kick out of setting fires just to watch the response.” Michaels said recently some have been motivated by antisemitism.

Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey leaders pointed out the legislation tackles problems confronting the community on multiple fronts. Dan Rozett, director of community relations and Israel engagement, called the bills “long overdue” and said they would provide tools to address bias against the Jewish community and others.

“The IHRA would be incredibly helpful in identifying antisemitism and bias and when it’s not antisemitism,” he said. “It talks about legitimate criticism of Israel and when it crosses the line into antisemitism. It definitely would help educate and identify antisemitism for those who may not know.”

Amy Keller, the federation’s director of security initiatives and external affairs, said the trio of bills also would help shift the focus from not only organizational protection to “protecting the people.” She said the federation has excelled at receiving grants to protect infrastructure and harden targets but the bills would provide “multiple layers of protection” for the community.

“Anytime we can give law enforcement the resources and tools to do their job it is a plus for everyone,” said Keller. ”It is something they can refer back to and define what the degree of crime is and what the punishment is.”

She noted within the federation catchment area there have been recent incidents of swatting and doxxing and was pleased that “here in New Jersey, as the threat landscape has changed and as these things occur, we are being proactive and reacting in a timely manner.”

Timothy Torell, director of security at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said since the Oct. 7 attacks he had been “inundated” by calls from community members who had been doxxed, swatted or otherwise subjected to antisemitic acts.

“I unequivocally support the efforts of Assemblyman Schaer because much of what’s being reported to our federation goes way beyond First Amendment rights,” he said. “Our laws need to be overhauled to address this epidemic of Jew-hatred, so those who engage in this type of behavior face consequences in our legal system.”

Alana Burman, federation’s director of its Jewish community relations committee, said it has been advocating for the legislation such as this for years and expressed hope it would receive legislative support, adding, “This legislation will ultimately impact Jews and non-Jews as well as students, kids, and adults and all members of our community.”

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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