Open Letter to New Jersey Legislature: Vote NO on Fake “Prohibiting Anti-Semitism” Bill

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July 24, 2019

Jews for Palestinian Right of Return calls on New Jersey state legislators to vote No on proposed Senate Bill 4001/Assembly Bill 5755, “Prohibiting anti-Semitism in public schools and institutions of higher education.”

Even were this bill actually intended to prohibit genuine anti-Semitism, it should be rejected on the basis that a) existing anti-discrimination laws already protect against anti-Jewish bigotry, b) it is tone deaf to the suffering of others in this country subjected to systemic oppression, and c) it creates the inaccurate impression that Jews are uniquely vulnerable.

But S. 4001/A. 5755, despite its title, has nothing to do with prohibiting genuine anti-Semitism in the first place. Like anti-BDS legislation already passed in 27 states muzzling our constitutional right to boycott Israel, its real goal is to legally enshrine a fabricated definition of anti-Semitism that would wed Jewish identity to Israel, criminalize opposition to a settler-colonial state, and silence those calling for equality, freedom, and justice throughout historic Palestine.

According to the bill, anti-Semitism includes “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions,” and “focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel.” 

It is past time to call these arguments out for what they are: double-speak to distract from Israel’s long-standing oppression of Palestinians. 

In what is known as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, Zionist settlers violently expelled and dispossessed more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 to establish the Israeli state. Ever since, Israel has denied these refugees and their descendants their inalienable right to return to their homeland. Those Palestinians who were able to resist expulsion are treated as second-class Israeli citizens, subject to over sixty discriminatory laws.

Since 1967, the West Bank has been ruled by a brutal Israeli military occupation, under which Palestinians have no citizenship rights at all. Since 2007, Israel has enforced a barbaric siege of Gaza — whose residents are overwhelmingly 1948 refugees and their families — turning it into a virtual concentration camp.

In 2018, Israel reinforced its status as an apartheid regime through the Nationality Law, which officially declared Israel a state of its Jewish citizens only. 

To oppose the existence of such a state is not anti-Jewish; it’s anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-occupation, and anti-injustice.

This is precisely why Israel supporters have had to resort to a fictional definition of anti-Semitism. Unable to morally defend Israel, their only option is to criminalize arguments for which they have no answer, while smearing U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — many of them Jewish — to justify stripping away our First Amendment rights. 

Meanwhile, this McCarthyite lawfare campaign conspicuously fails to acknowledge that recent violence against Jews in the U.S. — the Tree of Life massacre, the Charlottesville rally (“Jews will not replace us!”), the Poway shooting — has been perpetrated not by Palestine supporters but by self-proclaimed white nationalist anti-Semites and Islamophobes. Not surprisingly, white supremacist admiration for Israel and Zionism, and Israel’s cozy relationship with anti-Semites, also go unmentioned.   

Real anti-Semitism — hatred of Jews as Jews — must, like all bigotry, be condemned at every turn. As descendants of Holocaust victims, we need no reminding of that. But S. 4001/A. 5755 is no more than a transparent attempt to distort and weaponize the meaning of anti-Semitism to attack advocates of Palestinian human rights.

Vote NO on S. 4001/A. 5755.

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