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New York state senators propose legislation to counter Jew-hatred

“If you’re going to remain silent, you’re going to be an accomplice to the things that are going on,” said state senator Jack Martins.

The New York State Senate chamber at the Capitol building in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikipedia.
The New York State Senate chamber at the Capitol building in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikipedia.

Shortly after issuing a working group report on confronting antisemitism, a group of Republican New York state senators unveiled a slew of legislative proposals this week aimed at curbing rising Jew-hatred.

The legislation includes defining antisemitism in the state’s human rights laws, prohibiting tuition assistance to students engaged in antisemitic behavior, expelling state university students who commit hate crimes and pulling state dollars from publicly-funded higher education institutions that permit terror organizations to act on their campuses.

The five state senators who formed the working group, which developed the proposals, started their mission in February 2023—well before Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre and subsequent surging Jew-hatred globally.

“I’m completely thrown off by the fact that there was such an increase,” Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick, a state senator from the 9th District, told JNS. “I thought that there would be more sympathy for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“This report, and the legislation that we think will help address some of the situations that we’re seeing, is our first step in saying, ‘Here’s a problem. This is the potential solution,’” she added.

‘Sympathy for Israel’

The working group made visits to Nassau and Rockland counties for roundtable discussions on Jew-hatred. 

Though the group is composed only of Republicans, Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick told JNS she believes there is support within the state’s Democratic-dominant legislature and in the governor’s office to move forward with at least some of the legislation.

That includes the standalone bills as well as dedicated funding in the state budget to improve security for synagogues and yeshivas and to provide education for awareness about and prevention of antisemitic behavior.

The bills include setting misdemeanor penalties for tearing down posted photos of hostages being held in Gaza—a practice that has become common after Oct. 7.

“From what I’ve seen, and the senators I’ve spoken to, and the actions I’ve seen in the chamber, there is a sympathy for Israel and what has gone on,” the senator said. “I hope that they will embrace some of the legislation that we propose.”

Andrea Stewart Cousins, a Democrat and the state senate majority leader, didn’t comment immediately on the Republican proposals, the New York Post reported.

Jack Martins, a state senator representing New York’s 7th District and chair of the working group, told JNS that if state Democrats do not cooperate on the legislation, that would mean they are complicit in the attacks on New York Jews. 

“If you’re going to remain silent, you’re going to be an accomplice to the things that are going on,” he said.

Martins called the proposed bills “easy asks,” pledging to “keep the pressure on“ and resort to “shaming“ holdouts, if need be, to get the legislation passed.

“They have to explain to all of us—as New Yorkers, as leaders in the civil rights movement, as people who, as a state, have been at the forefront of civil rights—how do we tolerate this happening to our neighbors and our friends?” Martins said. 

‘Other protected class’

Martins noted the liberal refrain that “Silence is violence” when it comes to hatred directed at minority groups.

“They use it for all kinds of protected classes. But yet, time and again, things that they would never allow with regard to any other protected class—whether it’s based on gender, race or otherwise—they seem to think it’s okay when it’s done towards a Jew,” he said. “That just can’t happen.”

Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick was particularly struck during roundtable discussions with the concern in the Jewish community about Jew-hatred on college campuses, including at the publicly-funded City University and State University of New York systems.

“It was really troubling to me to listen to the stories of what our professors at the CUNY campuses have gone through,” she said. “I think there has just been this underlying feeling that there are certain things that are said and done and they’re not called out as hate-filled, because they’re against the Jewish community.”

Martins noted the fear of more antisemitic attacks on public transit and in public spaces and said that it is important to use the legislature’s power of the purse to send a message.

“You have to hit especially these institutions where they live. So if you’re a college, whether it’s CUNY, SUNY or a private college, that gets funding from New York State, we should not be using taxpayer dollars to fund hate,” he said.

Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick knows of no specific Jewish groups that have already endorsed the package of legislative proposals springing from the working group, but she told JNS that she hopes they will do so as the process advances.

Critics of the package may cite potential First Amendment restrictions on free speech. But Martins said that much of the legislation enforces equality under the law.

“In one of those instances where people were cornered either on a college campus or in Grand Central Station where there were demonstrations and people were chased through the train station,” Martins said. “If they were doing that to a black person, or they were doing that to a person who identified differently, a gender identity or a person who was a homosexual, would we not know where that line is?”

“Time and again, we’re asked to be tolerant when it comes to certain things, but we blur the line specifically when it comes to Jews,” he said.

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