June 20, 2024

NJ Senate Committee Votes to Advance Antisemitism Legislation

After listening to nine hours of online testimony, the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee voted 4-1 in favor of Senate bills S1292 and S2397 – that will support the establishment of a statewide definition of antisemitism based on the International Holocaust and Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, and its inclusion in all DEI curriculums taught by state institutions. 

Jewish residents from across the state who’ve been targeted by antisemitism made the case for why legislation to provide protections against hate speech and incitement is sorely needed. Should New Jersey adopt the IHRA definition, it will join 36 other states and 45 countries which are using this language to identify modern-day iterations of antisemitism, namely that which denies and delegitimizes Israel and those who support it. 

See below for transcripts of the testimony by our own Federation CEO Dov Ben-Shimon and JCRC Director Linda Scherzer. 

Thank you to all who contacted the committee members to express your concern on this issue. Now we encourage you to send an email via Voters Voice or call the following state senators, including our own Sen. John McKeon, to thank those who voted to pass these bills out of committee and send them to the senate for a full vote. 

Sen. James Beach (Chair), (856) 429-1572
Sen. John McKeon (Vice-Chair), (973) 377-1606
Sen. Vincent Polistina, (609) 677-8266
Sen. James Holzapfel, (732) 840-9028 

Hearing Testimony by Federation CEO Dov Ben-Shimon on Monday, June 17:  

Thank you Chairman Beach and committee members.
My name is Dov Ben-Shimon, and I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, the largest Jewish community organization in New Jersey. 
The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community stands in favor of S1292 and S2937.
They are genuine, decent attempts to protect us against the wave of Jew-hate that we have seen in our country and our state.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism rooted in these bills explicitly affirms that criticism of Israel per se is not antisemitic, and that governments that use it have found it entirely possible to sharply criticize Israeli policies and practices.
But in our schools and college campuses, particularly Rutgers; in towns and school boards and in the public square, free speech has crossed a dangerous line where Jewish students and faculty are threatened and unsafe. 
We need your protection, and we need it right now.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, using double standards, Nazi imagery, or claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, are all antisemitic and hateful. They rest on a view that Jews are unworthy or undeserving to define their own national identity.
You will hear today from those who themselves use anti-Zionism as a weapon for their Jew-hate, claiming that they can point to a (small and unrepresentative) number of token Jewish acquaintances to show their credentials.
They, and their unrepresentative friends, mostly Iranian-backed fringe cultists, do not speak for the vast majority of American and New Jersey Jews, who realize that supporting free speech doesn’t mean you have to give arsonists in crowded theaters a megaphone and a box of matches.
Our State funded institutions need to be held accountable in ways that are meaningful, to prevent free speech from turning to hate speech. When the match has been lit, we have seen, through tragic experience, how quickly violence follows.
Senators, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community of New Jersey asks you to pass these bills to protect us, and to make sure that a message is sent out from Trenton to our entire State:
that Jew-hate is unacceptable; that some forms of hating Israel are equivalent to hating Jews;
and that there should be consequences in a decent, civilized society for expressing and articulating such hate. 
Thank you.   

Hearing Testimony by JCRC Director Linda Scherzer on Thursday, June 20: 

Thank you Chairman Beach, Vice-Chair McKeon, and committee members. My name is Linda Scherzer and I’m here in support of bills 1292 and 2937. 

I serve as Director of the Government Affairs, and Community Relations building wing of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, our state’s largest Federation. My job is to advance the legislative agenda of the Jewish community and strengthen civil society by building bridges between our community and ALL faith and ethnic communities. 

For the last eight months, I’ve had to delegate much of that work, as I confront almost DAILY incidents of antisemitism and toxic anti-Israel activity in our schools, on our campuses and in the public square. 

Like 90 percent of the American Jewish community, I believe in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our historic homeland. Zionism is a fundamental tenet of my Jewish faith and identity as it is for the VAST majority of New Jersey’s Jewish community which supports these two bills. 

Being a Zionist does not mean that I think everything that Israel’s government does is beyond reasonable criticism. 

As a former Mideast correspondent for CNN who covered the Israel-Palestinian conflict for eight years, I often asked tough questions of Israeli government leaders. I took issue with certain policies THEN and will criticize policies now, if I feel they’re wrong or harmful. Reasonable people know that adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism will NOT criminalize that form of criticism. 

But when students at Rutgers chant, ‘Palestine is ours alone,” that is a denial of Israel’s right to exist and creates a hostile environment for 6000 Jewish students on the campus of our state university. 

When certain faculty celebrate the massacres committed on October 7th, and others deny it happened, that creates a chilling environment for Jewish students in the classroom. 

And when a student at Montclair State asked for a customized t-shirt that said, “I LOVE HAMAS” at a Hillel event – that is a celebration of a genocidal terrorist organization, committed to Israel’s destruction. 

These agitators have created a climate of fear and intimidation. They exacerbate that fear by hiding their identities behind masks, something that would never be tolerated if say, the KKK wanted to parade on campus in white robes. 

The very fact that this hearing was moved on-line, after State Capitol police expressed concerns about securing the Capitol building, is a perfect example of what hate speech is leading to. 

The obscenities hurled at elected officials speaking in favor of the bills at the beginning of Monday’s on-line hearing is further evidence of how hate has infected civil discourse. 

We cannot keep watching as the right to freedom of expression is being weaponized by people sowing hate and division. Hate speech is a danger not only to the Jewish community, but our very democracy and the values that underpin it. 

No rights, including those protected by the First Amendment, are UNLIMITED. Guardrails can and must be imposed to protect our community before incitement escalates and, G-d forbid, leads to violence. I URGE you to vote in favor of these two bills, and advance them to the Senate, thank you.