Panel set to vote on controversial bill adopting definition of antisemitism

Hundreds attended marathon remote hearing Monday that ended with no vote

By: - June 20, 2024 7:12 am

(Bill sponsor Assemblyman Avi Schnall said the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is accepted by the "vast majority of Jews across the spectrum."  Andrii Koval/Getty Images)

A controversial bill that would require the state to adopt a specific definition of antisemitism is scheduled for a vote by a legislative panel Thursday, three days after a four-hour-plus hearing on the bill ended without the committee voting on it.

Supporters of the measure say it’s needed to define the boundaries of hate speech and antisemitic incidents, which have “skyrocketed” since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to the Anti-Defamation League. They say incorporating the definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance into New Jersey’s policies would help fight against antisemitic attacks.

Critics of the bill decried that definition as one that would limit their freedom of speech. During Monday’s remote hearing on the bill, which was attended by more than 600 people, dozens voiced concerns that the definition conflates criticism of Israel and Zionism with discrimination against Jewish people. 

Meera Jaffrey of Jewish Voice for Peace stressed it is not antisemitic to criticize Israel’s government. Several speakers noted the number of people who have been killed in the war in Gaza, including tens of thousands of children. 

“The fact that the state of New Jersey would even consider adopting two bills which would potentially make it a crime to speak out against oppression, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide is alarming,” she said. “Our children deserve to live in a state in which they don’t have to fear standing up for safety, freedom and human rights of all people.”

But bill sponsor Assemblyman Avi Schnall (D-Ocean) said the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is accepted by the “vast majority of Jews across the spectrum.” 

During Shalom’s remarks, an unidentified person said, “F— you.”

Students quickly mobilized to make campus a place that’s unsafe for Jews. They celebrated violence and the massacre of Jews.

– Rutgers University student Joe Gindi

The alliance’s definition of antisemitism 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.”

Sen. James Beach (D-Camden), chair of the State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation committee, adjourned Monday’s meeting without a vote.

Another bill at the center of the hearing would require the state Office of Diversity Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to ensure the proper definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia are incorporated into all state policies and laws. They would follow the definitions of antisemitism from the Holocaust remembrance organization and the Islamophobia definition adopted by the United Nations.

The committee was initially scheduled to hear the bills in May, but that hearing was canceled due to security concernsofficials said at the time.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism has been adopted by 36 other states and countries around the world. The U.S. House of Representatives also approved a bill to adopt the definition in May, though its fate is uncertain in the U.S. Senate.

Gabriella Rubinstein, a lifelong New Jersey resident, a Rutgers University graduate student, and an American Jew, said she opposes the bill.

“We should be allowed to criticize any government or country in the world if it’s doing something that’s illegal or wrong. Doing so is not bigotry, and it’s not antisemitic,” said Rubinstein. “Please don’t say that speaking the truth is hatred towards my people.”

Several other speakers noted the bill says it would not diminish or infringe upon any free speech protections under the First Amendment.

“The detractors of these bills offer no real counter-proposal to combating this alarming rate of antisemitism. The reason being that relying on the false pretenses of First Amendment concerns, detractors seek to continue to bully, harass, and intimidate Jews,” said Cory Rothbart of the Jewish Bar Association of New Jersey.

Jewish residents who spoke during the virtual hearing said they’ve faced harassment in their communities and workplaces following the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Many said they are scared to wear necklaces that identify them as Jewish or are fearful of people at work finding out about their religion.

Reports of antisemitic incidents have reached an all-time high around the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In 2021, New Jersey saw 370 reports of incidents, ranging from verbal harassment to a swastika sticker found outside a synagogue.

Rutgers University student Joe Gindi said he’s witnessed a “normalization of antisemitism” on campus, like harassment in libraries and dorms.

“Whenever I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. Students quickly mobilized to make campus a place that’s unsafe for Jews. They celebrated violence and the massacre of Jews,” he said, referring to a short-lived encampment on the university’s New Brunswick campus.

Others think the definition of antisemitism under discussion isn’t going to do much for a community fearful of vandalism, physical attacks, and a growing threat of white nationalism.

“This definition has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Jewish safety, and it would divert attention from these threats,” said Rebecca Smith, a Jewish resident of Jersey City.

The hearing will continue Thursday morning at 9 a.m. over Zoom.


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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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