OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

New Jersey strives to protect Jewish students on campus

Sadly, not everyone understands that demonization of the Jewish state is anti-Semitic.

The New Jersey State House. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The New Jersey State House. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Sasha Chernyak
Sasha Chernyak

How does one distinguish anti-Semitism 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 sets a dangerous precedent for the safety of the Jewish community.

Fortunately, two New Jersey lawmakers have decided to tackle this crisis head-on. State Sens. Steve M. Sweeney (D-N.J.) and Robert W. Singer (R-N.J.) 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. It prohibits acts of anti-Semitism in public schools, colleges and universities.

The amendment’s tenets include:

  • 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;
  • Asking 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;
  • 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 anti-Semitism:

  • Demonizing Israel by using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism 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.
  • Criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism toward any other country may not be regarded as anti-Semitic.

Sadly, not everyone understands that demonization of the Jewish state is anti-Semitic, 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 anti-Semitic.  Of course, this isn’t the case, for several reasons.

Firstly, 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 anti-Semitic. However, things become more complex when Israel becomes the sole target for criticism. No other nation’s actions and existence are questioned with the same vigor and chutzpah as Israel’s.

Because the law specifically states that criticism of Israel, similar to criticism of any other nation, is not anti-Semitic, 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 anti-Semitic 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 anti-Semitism. 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.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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