Words matter

Words matter

On Monday, the New Jersey Senate’s State Government Committee held a hearing to consider a bill that would accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The meeting was held online, in response to concerns about safety; after five hours of testimony, it was adjourned. The bill, proposed by a Republican
and a Democrat, uses a definition accepted by 36 states and many countries, and now is being considered by the United States Senate. It would define antisemitism as a way to combat it; it is controversial because  its detractors say that it goes too far in including anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

Councilwoman Hillary Goldberg spoke at the hearing. This is what she said.

I am Councilwoman Hillary Goldberg of Teaneck, and I am the author of Teaneck’s resolution condemning Hamas. I am here today to ask the State of New Jersey to recognize the life experience of Jews and vote yes to pass the IHRA definition of antisemitism. I ask both as an individual Jewish woman and as a representative of a large Jewish community that is scared and traumatized.

The IHRA definition defines antisemitism based on the history and life experience of Jews. It is no surprise that the definition originated in Europe.  Europe is very aware of the dangers of normalizing antisemitism. The 20th century saw antisemitic tropes from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which was used as a pogrom in Russia began, Jews were blamed for the economy, for Germany losing World War I, for taking over. Neighbors turned on neighbors, the Nuremberg laws were implemented, shuls were burned, Torahs were burned, swastikas were painted on the doors of homes and shops, and Jews were forced to wear the yellow star. All these things were allowed to happen because antisemitism was normalized.

Then came the gas chambers.

The Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. The Holocaust started with words. Words matter.

There is a worldwide pandemic of antisemitism now. Antisemitism has spread to such a degree that Jews, including myself, question our safety when we wear a Jewish star or other identifying item in public. At an interview with a client for my business last week I was told that I should be reassured in knowing that I am safe with this client, because of my last name. In the last eight months alone, I have been told by non-Jews that Jews are weaponizing antisemitism. I have been to watch known antisemite Shaun King. Individuals who claim to be progressive and inclusive are proudly declaring they will never again support a Jewish candidate, that Jews can’t be trusted.

I have been told that I do not represent Teaneck, but that I am really an agent of the Israeli government. And when it was asked why people who voted for me feel betrayed by me, the answer from a former deputy mayor was “she’s a Zionist.” Last week the Teaneck Town Council received an email from someone wishing the same fate upon me as that of the Nazis, because I am one.

Teaneck has experienced professionally funded violent protesters marching at our synagogues because they do not like a speaker, including a former IDF solder and ZAKA. At these protests I have witnessed Jews told to go back to Auschwitz, to go back home, that the hostages are dead, that the hostages are still being raped, from the river to the sea Palestine will be free, we don’t want no two state just one, Zionists go home, and Intifada Intifada! Car caravans with Hamas flags regularly drive through Jewish neighborhoods.

When they say Zionist, they mean Jew. When they say from the river to the sea, it has one meaning and one meaning only, and that is death to Jews. When they say intifada, it doesn’t mean peaceful revolution. It means violence against Jews.

This is antisemitism. This is hate, and it is dangerous. For those claiming that the definition silences the first amendment, hate speech is still protected. But the definition is important for leaders, which is why it passed globally.

I will continue to fight this pandemic of antisemitism, but I cannot do it alone. I have been called brave for condemning Hamas and standing up for what is right. If defining antisemitism and acknowledging our life experience is brave, then I need you to be brave and vote yes.

Hillary Goldberg, a lifelong resident of Teaneck and founder and editor-in-chief of the Teaneck Tomorrow email newsletter, was elected to her hometown’s Township Council in 2022. After October 7, she wrote a resolution condemning Hamas and supporting Israel that the council adopted unanimously.


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