With acts of anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, the New Jersey State Assembly joined the Senate in passing what is believed to be the nation’s first state-sponsored resolution condemning hatred of Jews.
At the Statehouse in Trenton on June 11 — just hours before the Assembly vote to ratify a companion bill to one passed in the Senate on May 18 — a throng of legislators, representatives of Jewish organizations, and religious leaders of many faiths from across the state came to a press conference to show their solidarity with the landmark legislation.
“We are here today because we have to stand against all forms of anti-Semitism,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 27), a prime sponsor of the Senate bill along with Republican leader Sen. Tom Kean (Dist. 21) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Dist. 3).
“Through expanded education, we can work to counter prejudice and intolerance, and through increased vigilance by citizens, we can help to prevent acts of violence fueled by hate, bigotry, and ignorance,” she said. “With this resolution we are coming together as a state to say that we are committed to working together for a more tolerant and peaceful world.”
Anti-Semitism has been rising globally; New Jersey is no exception. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents found that in 2014 there were 107 incidents in the state, a 27 percent increase over 2013.
ADL NJ regional director Joshua Cohen said the legislation was an important step to counter “the disturbing surge of anti-Semitism” and noted the historic struggle to counter persecution of Jews has resulted in some of the world’s basic human rights instruments and treaties.
After the vote, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations executive director Jacob Toporek told NJJN he hoped the stand taken by New Jersey’s leaders would serve as a model for other states.
Last year, the U.S. Congress passed resolutions condemning anti-Semitism, applauding foreign leaders who took similar stands and maintaining the fight against anti-Semitism as a key element of U.S. foreign policy. The Senate resolution was sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
Kean stressed the importance of working across the political aisle and the spectrum of nationalities and religions, and said he was hopeful the state’s historic action would set off a chain reaction across the globe. “It’s the only way we’ll stand up against the hatred and violence, and everyone will realize it started here in New Jersey,” he said.
Sweeney said throughout history, religious hatred has been the cause of more wars and conflicts than anything else. “To hate someone because of their religion is unacceptable,” he said, calling anti-Semitism “a deplorable expression of hatred and bigotry that cannot be ignored and should not be tolerated.”
Assembly Member Pamela Rosen Lampitt (D-Dist. 6) one of seven prime cosponsors of the Assembly bill, said she was deeply troubled by the fact that “when I go to a Jewish federation meeting in my town of Cherry Hill, I hear we still have anti-Semitism in Cherry Hill, or at the University of Pennsylvania, where I work. There was actually a swastika engraved into our Hillel.”
The other primary cosponsors in the Assembly were Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Dist. 6), Deputy Speaker Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), Vincent Mazzeo (D-Dist. 2), Joseph Lagana (D-Dist. 38), Tim Eustace (D-Dist. 38), and Raj Mukherji (D-Dist. 33). There were numerous other cosponsors from both parties.
The Rev. Sara Lilja, executive director of the Lutheran Episcopal Advocate Ministry of New Jersey called anti-Semitism “an affront to the Gospel.”
“We are all harmed when any person of faith is treated with injustice,” said Lilja. “As persons of faith come together, we build mutual understanding and respect for the needs, pains, and mission of all God’s children.”
Rabbi Avi Richler, legislative director for the Rabbinical College of America and its affiliated Chabad centers, called on the legislators to support bills that fight hatred against all religions and ethnicities.
American Jewish Committee NJ regional director John Rosen called the resolutions “a statement of faith” representing “not just the strong resolve to fight anti-Semitism, but also to build communities that embrace diversity, understanding, and pluralism in the face of fanaticism.”
“We applaud the legislators for taking a strong stand against public hatred and violence based on a person’s religion,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “The growing anti-Semitism that took place this year was of the greatest concern to the Jewish community. Our Holocaust survivors specifically experienced some PTSD while they watched the incidents in Europe happening.”
“This is not a Jewish problem,” Richler said. “This is a global problem. If we cannot protect the Jews, we cannot protect our pluralistic democratic values.”