Right Silent as New Jersey Attempts to Criminalize Speech in Support of Palestinian People


Palestinians protest at the gaza border fence, part of the ongoing border protests.

Over the past decade, Palestine has come to the forefront of anti-imperialist and anti-racist action in the United States. Anti-imperialists recognize that the Palestinian people are suffering from an ongoing occupation which is supported by the United States. Anti-racists see the parallels between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the treatment of black and brown Americans by the police. Support for Israel’s apartheid policies is waning among the American electorate and is becoming an almost exclusively Republican position among young voters. It is under this backdrop of international solidarity that the New Jersey Senate has proposed a bill to ban certain speech critical of Israel in public schools and higher education.

Under the bill, NJ S4001, certain criticisms of Israel will be treated as hate speech and will be grounds for disciplinary action, termination or fines. Under sections 3 and 5, there are eight bullet points describing speech that will be deemed illegal in schools. Points 7 and 8 should be of great concern. Point seven reads as follows:

“ (7)  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;”

This is a case of compelled speech. By the logic of this bullet point, one is free to criticize Israel, but they must preface their critique by criticizing some other country. However, some students or faculty might simply be more informed about Israel than they are about other countries. Should they be compelled to speak on a subject they are ill informed on?

Furthermore, there are times when a behavior could reasonably be demanded of Israel that is not demanded of other countries. The right of return is one example. There are millions of Palestinian refugees living outside Israel’s borders whose families were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba of 1948. This legislation could make it illegal to advocate for their return to their homeland. If a teacher does advocate such a position, the argument against them could go as follows: the teacher wishes Israel to absorb an influx of millions of Palestinian refugees which will alter Israel’s demographic makeup. The teacher is not asking for France or the United States to make such a radical change to their demographics. Therefore, Israel is being singled out and this speech is anti-Semitic. The vagueness of the legislation allows for such unfair distortions of people’s words to be used against them.

Point eight is equally dangerous.

“(8)  delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist.”

Here, the New Jersey Senate is proposing to take an official state position on a religious matter, in violation of the separation of church and state, by declaring what Jewish self determination is. Not all Jews tie their sovereignty to that of Israel, so it is peculiar that these New Jersey politicians wish to define Jewish sovereignty in a way that excludes large swaths of the Jewish population. It is also ironic that a piece of legislation purported to combat anti-Semitism is implying that Jews as a whole tie their soveriengty to Israel. Also, Israel’s right to exist should be subject to scrutiny. There are those who believe no country has a right to exist. Furthermore, the question of the right of return threatens Israel’s existence because it would introduce a Palestinian majority. Such perspectives are an important part of the discourse surrounding Palestine and should not be censored by any means.

The passing of this bill into law would be somewhat unprecedented. New Jersey would not be the first state with such a bill, but it would be the first blue state. Florida and South Carolina have already passed bills that were nearly identical. Other forms of anti-Palestinian legislation and resolutions are on the books in the majority of US states, but they often lack the teeth that this bill has. Fighting against this bill is crucial. If it can be passed in New Jersey, one of the bluest of states, it can pass almost anywhere in the country. Anti-imperialists and anti-racists must mobilize against this anti-Palestinian bill which, like most anti-Palestinian legislation, makes no mention of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Categories: U.S. News

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