May 16, 2024
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New Jersey State Senate Cancels Hearings on Antisemitism

Rally by members of the Jewish community in Trenton also canceled.

Jewish community leaders and members of the New Jersey State legislature are urging state senate leaders to move forward with hearings on legislation to tackle antisemitism after they were canceled earlier this week.

N.J. Senate Bill No. 1292 would have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism statewide, while Senate No. 2937 would require definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia be included in state’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging policies.

The N.J. Senate was to hear testimony on Thursday on the bills. However, on Monday, news broke that the hearings were canceled. Also canceled was a planned rally outside the State House in Trenton in support of the measures.

“I am extremely disappointed that leadership decided to hold these bills,” said State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30), who sponsored Bill No. 1292 with State Sen. James Beach (D-Dist. 6). “Hopefully, they will reconsider this decision and the bills will be reposted in June. It is more important than ever that we clarify the proper definition of antisemitism.”

State Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), who has sponsored Assembly Bill No. 3558, the companion legislation to 1292, also urged the state to “get this done.

“It is crucial that a definition of antisemitism be codified into law which explicitly defines expressions of hatred toward Jewish people. This will help the state and other entities to define Jewish bias incidents, which is especially pertinent as antisemitic incidents in New Jersey are at an all-time high,” he said. “The working IHRA definition has been adopted by 36 other states, including North Carolina just last week, the U.S. State Department, and 30 plus countries. There is no reason New Jersey, a state that leads on so many issues, should be so far behind on this widely accepted working definition. “

According to a leaked memo posted online by a writer for the Forward that was reportedly sent to Jewish federations in New Jersey, the hearings were canceled because “Senate leadership has signaled that they have safety concerns and are not comfortable hearing bills supporting Jews at this time.” As for the rally, the memo said, “… we have been discouraged from gathering at the statehouse.”

Dov Ben-Shimon, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, said hundreds of people were expected to show up for the rally, including many college and high school students concerned about antisemitism on campus.

“Senate leadership claims there were ‘security concerns’ which led them to pull the two bills from the agenda. In doing so, however, they are preventing elected leaders from hearing constituents’ concerns, evaluating the testimony on its merits, and deciding whether to forward two critical bills designed to combat antisemitism to the floor of the senate for a vote,” he said.

Harris Laufer, state director of the Jewish Federations of New Jersey, said, removing the bills from the docket “undermines efforts to address and eradicate antisemitism, a grave issue in our society.

“We are committed to working with senate leadership to alleviate any concerns and reinstate these bills,” Laufer continued. “Let’s stand united against hate and discrimination.”

After hearing of the cancellation on Monday afternoon, #EndJewHatred, a grassroots Jewish civil rights group, mobilized its supporters. As of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, more than 4,000 emails had been sent to state officials urging them to “bring this to a vote because without it we risk undermining our ability to fight Jew hatred,” said Adar Rubin, director of mobilization at #EndJewHatred.

The nonbinding IHRA definition, which has bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers, has already been adopted by 43 countries, more than 30 states nationally, including New York, along with many cities and local municipalities around the world. The definition has met with opposition from anti-Israel advocates who claim it stifles their right to criticize the Jewish state, an allegation that supporters deny.

“The IHRA definition of antisemitism serves as an essential tool in combating the pervasive and insidious threat of antisemitism in our communities,” said Shlomo Schorr, director of legislative affairs for the New Jersey office of the Agudath Israel of America in a press release. “It provides a clear framework for identifying and addressing acts of hatred and discrimination against Jewish people.

“By not holding a hearing, we risk missing a critical opportunity to educate, discuss, and adopt measures that could help protect the Jewish community and uphold our state’s commitment to justice and equality,” he continued, adding, “The need for such a bill is perfectly illustrated by the fact that Jews are being denied the ability to testify in support of a bill granting them protections from antisemitism due to the threat of antisemites disrupting the hearing.”

Avi Posnick, regional director of StandWithUs Northeast, who was scheduled to speak at one of the State Senate hearings, agreed.

“The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is invaluable in helping to identify antisemitic incidents so they can be dealt with appropriately,” he said. “With antisemitism on the rise, it is incumbent upon our elected officials to do what they can to move this bill forward.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the vote on it is now delayed even further.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2023 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, antisemitic incidents in New Jersey increased by 103% last year, going from 409 in 2022 to 830 in 2023.

“A clear definition of antisemitism is a crucial tool to help address the indisputable surge in antisemitism,” said Scott Richman, the ADL’s NY/NJ regional director. “We must not miss this critical opportunity to educate others and adopt measures to protect the Jewish community of New Jersey. We urge the N.J. Senate to hold a hearing on S1292 in order to move this critical proposal forward.”

Several people The Jewish Link spoke to said they understood that the bills, particularly the bill on IHRA definition, may come back before the State Senate in June. While that would be better than it not being taken up at all, observers say time is of the essence.

“I think it needs to be brought to the table a lot sooner,” said Rubin of #EndJewHatred, because “antisemitism in New Jersey isn’t getting any better.”


Faygie Holt is the author of the bestselling Jewish children’s book series, “The Achdus Clu” for girls ages 8-11. The books, “The New Girl” and “Trouble Ahead,” are available at Jewish bookstores across the country and online at menuchapublishers.com. An award-winning journalist and editor, Faygie’s work appears regularly on chabad.org and in The Jewish Link, among other outlets. Learn more about the author, her books and her writing at faygielevy.com.

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