In Brief

Lawmakers advance bill adopting antisemitism definition after nine hours of testimony

By: - June 20, 2024 3:10 pm

People gave the middle finger and shook their heads after the senators advanced bills to adopt an official definition of antisemitism. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

A Senate panel voted Thursday to pass a controversial bill that establishes a state definition of antisemitism, with the vote coming after hundreds of people testified during two hearings that took nine hours.

Critics say the definition approved by lawmakers conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and would restrict their rights to free speech, but supporters of the bill said it would not.

“If you want to tomorrow talk about Israeli genocide and Palestine and criticize the United States for it, there is nothing in this legislation — that I hope will be signed by the governor — that will infringe upon those rights,” said Sen. John McKeon (D-Essex). 

The measure would implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 2016 definition of antisemitism into state law and policies. The definition includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

The senators on the Senate’s state government committee also approved a bill to require the state Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging to ensure the definitions of antisemitism, as defined by the Holocaust remembrance organization, and Islamophobia, as defined by the United Nations, are incorporated into state law. 

Both bills passed in a 4-1 vote, with Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) opposing both measures.

In the virtual hearing, people raised their middle fingers and shook their heads after the bills passed. It’s the second hearing the bills faced this week — Monday’s went so long that lawmakers adjourned before everyone got a chance to speak. 

Supporters of the measure implementing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism say it would give officials guidelines to determine whether an act is an example of hate speech or antisemitism.

McKeon said he would support a bill, if one is put forth, to help the Palestinian community “deal with similar type of prejudices that are now being visited upon our Jewish brothers and sisters.” 

Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic) noted dozens of states and countries have passed similar legislation adopting the same language. He added that the “passionate” testimony shows the topic needs “more discussion and more understanding.” 

“I think the paramount issue for us is to do what we can to protect our citizens. This is a measure that can help do that,” Polistina said.

Companion bills in the Assembly have not been scheduled for a hearing.


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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting. You can reach her at [email protected].

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