We, members of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (NJ-MJAC), a partnership co-convened by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), are joined in our concern over the fraying of the social fabric in New Jersey. In a state that proudly celebrates American pluralism, the last couple of weeks have reminded us that our diversity does not insulate us from the adversity that ignorance, bias and racism can cause. As community leaders, we look to our political leaders to model the highest values of our state. Sadly, several have fallen far short of that responsibility in recent days.
Paterson Councilman Michael Jackson referred to tactics employed by a developer when negotiating with the Council, as “Jewing them down”. Thankfully, his use of this classic antisemitic trope was met with immediate criticism from local elected officials which led to his eventual apology. Chief among those was Passaic County Freeholder Assad Akhter (a member of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council) who wrote, “I cannot speak for Councilman Jackson's intention or his heart, but his remarks are offensive… If Councilman Jackson is truly sincere in his apology, then he must - as must we all - be unequivocal in stating that antisemitism has no place in Paterson or anywhere else in this world.”
Raritan Township Deputy Mayor Lou Reiner posted on Facebook a meme featuring a nuclear mushroom cloud and the words, “Some cancers must be treated with radiation. Islam is one of them.” In response to the immediate outcry over his remarks Deputy Mayor Reiner actually doubled down on his attack, saying he was proud to be called an 'infidel.' This followed unconnected, but equally disturbing anti-Muslim social media posts this summer by Toms River Board of Education Member Daniel P. Leonard and South River Board of Education Member Kevin Nielsen. Their islamophobia has no place in our state or anywhere else.
Finally, in a recent closed meeting Trenton City Council President Kathy McBride, referring to a personal injury lawsuit negotiation, claimed a Jewish city attorney was "able to wait her out and Jew her down. McBride was defended by fellow council members George Muschal and Robin Vaughn. Muschal made the ignorant assertion that this was “just a statement of speech,” while Vaughn claimed that “to Jew someone down is a verb and is not anti-anything or indicative of hating Jewish people.” Spinning this as a semantic misunderstanding does not downplay what was said; rather, it reflects a deep lack of awareness, sensitivity, and responsibility. We take great exception to the idea that someone other than a Jew can determine what is antisemitic, any more than someone other than a Muslim can define what is Islamophobic.
We applaud our elected and community leaders who have spoken out in response to these statements and comments. We are especially grateful for the “Joint Statement from the Entire New Jersey House Delegation Regarding Anti-Semitic Comments.” We appreciate our representatives’ strong and unequivocal statement. New Jerseyans should be proud of our House Delegation, as ours is the first state with 100% membership on the U.S. House Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Anti-Semitism.
In the days since these incidents, all five of these officials have apologized for their hurtful words. However, apologies alone will not bring about change. Going forward, they must each join all of us in unequivocally stating that antisemitism and Islamophobia have no place in New Jersey. We call on them to put those words into action in their work on behalf of our citizens. As Muslims and Jews, we are united in working towards a community reflective of the highest values of our traditions and our state. We call on all our state’s leaders to join us in that sacred goal.
The New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council
Dr. M. Ali Chaudry (former Mayor, Bernards Township)
Freeholder Assad Akhter
Dr. Nadia Ansary
Ehsan F. Chowdhry
Dr. Shereef Elnahal
Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz
State Senator Linda Greenstein
Genesia Perlmutter Kamen
Dr. Alex Kharazi
Dr. Randall Krakauer
Rabbi David C. Levy
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky
Danielle Cohen Schrager
Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef
Dr. Lewis Wetstein