Children’s Book Reading Prompts Legal Action Against Borough in Central New Jersey
JNS.org – A controversy that began last summer, pitting community library-event planners in a New Jersey suburb and various Palestinian sympathizers against a Jewish community, is now moving into the legal arena.
The almost 20-year-old Central Jersey Jewish Public Affairs Committee (CJJPAC)—a pro-Israel advocacy organization headed by Dr. Marc Hanfling and Marc Kalton, in concert with Zachor Legal Institute, an anti-BDS legal think tank—is launching action against both the borough of Highland Park, NJ, and its library. The suit will center on the library’s planned book reading of P Is for Palestine, an alphabet book written for young children by Golbarg Bashi, a professor of Middle East Studies.
In its current form, the book is thought to be an adaptation of a Palestinian teacher manual, designed to indoctrinate children to vilify Jews and Israel, as well as advocate for the destruction of the Jewish state. It is widely considered to be antisemitic in nature, and includes the phrase “I Is for Intifada” (for the letter “I”; each letter of the alphabet matches a phrase with the respective letter), which, according to the book, means “to stand up for what is right.”
However, the word “intifada” means something else to Jews and to Israeli law. In Jerusalem district court documents (Shurat Hadin), the word was defined in 2018 as a premeditated terror and murder campaign, the second of which justified claims for damages to the Palestinian Authority from terror victims and their families.
The book event was initially set to take place in June, but was delayed due to a significant backlash from the Jewish community. After canceling a planned public meeting on the topic because of concerns regarding potential violence and an insufficient location to hold the event, library personnel, with borough leadership, announced a closed-door compromise, paving the way for the event to go on.
The library is now set to host the reading on Oct. 20, a Jewish holiday (Sukkot/Hoshana Rabbah).
Community members spoke to the library board in advance of the date being set, noting that they wished to be informed of the reading so they could participate and prevent false and antisemitic narratives about the Middle East from being propagated. Letters were sent to the library board and mayor requesting consideration of the Jewish holidays; nevertheless, the event was scheduled on a date when it would be clearly excluding those of the Jewish faith, making it difficult or impossible for Jews observing Sukkot to attend.
The Highland Park Borough Council has also been involved in this issue as a sideline; the council is set to vote on an anti-BDS resolution at its Oct. 29 meeting.
At its last meeting in September, eight anti-BDS resolutions were submitted to the council for consideration, with two of them co-sponsored by Councilman Josh Fine, a member of the Highland Park Jewish community.
The “Resolution Condemning All Forms of Antisemitism” will include the following language: “movements that co-opt legitimate means to unfairly promote economic warfare against the State of Israel in an attempt to deny its legitimacy, existence and the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination are antisemitic and contrary to the essential values of government under which this council performs its obligations to the public.”
BDS, propaganda and charges of ‘aiding and abetting terrorism’
In a letter dated Oct. 4, attorney Marc Greendorfer, on behalf of the Zachor Legal Institute, wrote to Mayor Gayle Britte Mittler and president of the Highland Park Library Board Bruce Tucker, informing them that the town “appears to be in violation of federal law, including the anti-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) prohibition on providing material support to designated foreign terror organizations.”
“We understand a number of groups affiliated with the BDS movement have coerced the library into allowing the use of library facilities to spread hate-filled propaganda to children through a planned reading of an antisemitic manifesto titled P Is for Palestine. We agree with the Lawfare Project that, based on First Amendment law, the library can and should prohibit the reading of a book to children that legitimizes violence. More importantly, however, as a separate matter, the library must independently recognize applicable provisions of federal law,” wrote Greendorfer.
Greendorfer has practiced before the US Supreme Court, submitting two amicus curiae filings in the Burwell v. Hobby Obamacare case and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case. His works have been referred to or cited in opinions by the supreme courts of both the United States and Israel. In the Supreme Court of Israel’s 2015 ruling upholding Israel’s anti-boycott law, Greendorfer’s paper on the BDS movement was cited by both the majority and dissent. Zachor has been active in promoting state laws regarding BDS and has filed briefs opposing BDS policy or promoting anti-BDS legislation in state legislatures and university campuses in California, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona and Maryland.
The legal action will take the following two forms:
First, the action will support the removal of federal funding and seeks federal government censure for a town taking federal funds used to promote antisemitism. “The nature of the book reading and its propagating of antisemitism towards Jews in Israel are believed to meet the definition of antisemitism as used by the State Department and the Department of Education,” said Josh Pruzansky, a community organizer.
“Zachor will file a complaint with the Department of Education for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights of 1964,” he said.
Second, the suit will encourage further action by the DOE and Department of Justice for “aiding and abetting terrorism.”
“Based on the information we have received, two of the primary promoters of the reading, Samidoun and Jewish Voice for Peace, have ties to organizations that are discriminatory and provide support to terror organizations. Consequently, we believe the reading constitutes a violation of the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (‘Title VI’), as well as a potential violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339B (the ‘Material Support Statute’). … In as much as the Highland Park Library is federally funded, should the library proceed with this reading we will file a complaint with the Department of Education for violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI,” wrote Greendorfer.
He also advised the Highland Park mayor’s office and the library board that they risks a criminal federal racketeering investigation for “providing material support to terror organizations.”