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September 19, 2019 7:02 am

New Jersey Makes Strides to Help Pro-Israel Students on College Campuses

avatar by Sasha Chernyak / JNS.org

Opinion

The College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey. Photo: Tomwsulcer.

JNS.orgHow does one distinguish antisemitism from legitimate criticism of Israel? The answer is rather simple: One can criticize Israel and its government just as one would any other nation and its government. Far too often, however, Israel is relentlessly demonized on college campuses, which frequently devolves into harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students.

Anti-Israel advocates decry the putative evils of Israel, and endlessly pontificate as if Israel were the source of the entire world’s evil. Unsurprisingly, this creates a dangerous situation for the safety of the Jewish community.

Fortunately, two New Jersey lawmakers have decided to tackle this crisis head-on. State Senators Steve M. Sweeney (D) and Robert W. Singer (R) proposed an amendment to New Jersey’s Statute 18A that would establish protections for Jewish people against discrimination on the basis of their religion. It extends protections to specifically include the Jewish people as a religious/ethnic group, and it prohibits acts of antisemitism in public schools, colleges, and universities.

The amendment targets:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing of harming of Jewish people, often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion;
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jewish people or the power of Jewish people as a collective, especially, but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jewish people controlling the media, economy, government, or other societal institutions; and
  • Accusing Jewish people as a whole or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

Notably, the amendment also includes anti-Zionist manifestations of antisemitism:

  • Demonizing Israel by using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism to characterize Israel or Israeli people, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions;
  • Delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist;
  • Applying a double standard to Israel by requiring behavior of Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, or focusing peace or human-rights investigations only on Israel; and
  • Clarifying that criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism toward any other country may not be regarded as antisemitic.

Sadly, not everyone understands that demonization of the Jewish state is antisemitic, which is why organizers of the recent event titled “Will Palestine Solidarity and Peace Advocacy Be a Crime in New Jersey?” are attempting to convince the public that any criticism of Israel will be labeled antisemitic. Of course, this isn’t the case, for several reasons.

First, the proposed addendum explicitly states that these additions are not designed in any way to obstruct the First Amendment rights of the people of New Jersey. Furthermore, the act specifies that legitimate criticism of Israel, as one would criticize any other nation, is not antisemitic. However, things become more complex when Israel becomes the sole target for criticism.

Because the law specifically states that criticism of Israel, similar to criticism of any other nation, is not antisemitic, what are the event’s organizers afraid of? Do they believe that “criticism of Israel” necessitates comparisons between Israel and the Nazis? Do they believe that legitimate criticism involves advocating for the destruction of the Jewish people’s self-determination?

It would appear so. Masking antisemitic demonization of Israel as “criticism of Israel’s policies” is a tactic frequently used by anti-Zionists around the world. There is nothing legitimate about trying to eradicate a people’s national identity. The world’s community of nations is comprised of dozens of states organized around religious identities, so why is only Israel’s Jewish character problematic?

The answer is simple: bigotry. Those who hate Israel’s Jewish character are bigoted against the Jewish state, which is simply the newest form of antisemitism. If the intentions of the event organizers were merely to “criticize Israel,” then they would have nothing to worry about. Rational and reasonable criticism of any country should not employ superficial theatrics, demonization, and dehumanization of its citizens or the livelihood of that country.

Sasha Chernyak is a campus adviser for CAMERA.

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