Defining Antisemitism in Clifton was Hot Topic on Wednesday
Editor's note for clarity: Councilwoman Sadrakula abstained on the initial vote to create an Open Space Tax following a discussion and her request for more information.
The City Council met on Wednesday, July 5th (moved from Tuesday because of the holiday) and moved their business along with little discussion, approving all action items on the AGENDA.
Councilman Joe Kolodziej brought up for discussion an Open Space Tax, which would provide a dedicated fund through which the city could update playgrounds to be ADA-compliant. The cost, he said, would be approximately $18 for the year for the average assessed home. He asked to have it put to the taxpayers as a question on the November ballot. Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula objected, citing the need for more information and a previous failure to pass this sort of referendum in Clifton. This will be covered in more detail after we gather further information and comments from both of these councilors.
The big topic for the night turned out to be the resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Resident Steve Goldberg, after several recent incidents of antisemitic graffiti were found in Clifton, had previously asked the Council to consider adopting this definition to provide a framework for understanding what constitutes hatred against Jews. This working definition was accepted in the United States by Executive Order in 2019 and is already being used by the US Department of State and the US Department of Education, as well as by many individual states as a guide to understanding what antisemitism is and how it may manifest. It was also introduced as a joint resolution in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate in January 2023 where it is pending review by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee and the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.
Sacha Roytman Dratwa, the CEO of CAM (Combat Antisemitism Movement) has said, “We need to clearly delineate the borders of hate and incitement against Jews, because for too long it is the antisemites themselves who have defined them, and no other community would accept such a disturbing situation…insist that Jews should be allowed to define hatred against us, as other communities do.”
Some other groups have objected to the IHRA definition, saying that “The IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress non-violent protest, activism, and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe.” United States groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Israeli rights group B’Tselem, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) were among these objectors.
During the work session, Councilwoman Rosemary Pino indicated that she had been made aware of some concerns from the Arabic community regarding adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and it was tabled. It will be discussed at the next meeting once more information about the objection has been gathered.
The tabling of this resolution upset many and most of the 12 members of the public who addressed the council voiced concerns about it. Resident Aliza Bloom called the Council “cowardly” for tabling it. She talked about covert and overt incidents of antisemitism, “Here's what that looks like in Clifton - the six graffitied swastikas and antisemitic websites at the Allwood Park and Ride and Dunney Park, posts on Facebook calling us pigs, lazy, filthy disgusting animals.” She thanked Councilman Kolodziej, Mayor Grabowski, and City Manager Villano for their outspoken condemnation of antisemitic acts.
A young speaker addressed the Council, none of whom are Jewish, saying, “You don’t know what it’s like; you don’t have to worry about it…I’m willing to stand up to antisemitism. Are you?”
Steve Goldberg said that he had come prepared to thank the Council for their leadership, anticipating adoption of the IHRA definition. Instead, he challenged their decision to table it based on someone’s objection. “Someone objected. So? Do YOU object?” He reminded the Council that they don’t get to define what Jew-hatred is; Jews do.
The one dissenting voice was a man who identified himself as a Palestinian-American. He began his comments by condemning antisemitism and agreeing that it must absolutely be halted. He objected to the IHRA definition on civil liberty grounds because of what he sees as its attempt to shut down the narrative on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He suggested adopting a resolution that condemns antisemitism but said that the IHRA definition is not the only one available. Any definition adopted by Council must not also vilify advocacy for Palestinian rights, he said.
During Commissioners’ comments, many clarified their positions on the tabled resolution. Councilwoman Sadrakula said that she regretted not voting on the definition and asked to do it as part of her comments to the public. She did not receive support however, as that falls outside of protocol and the rules of order. Other commissioners indicated that they expected to vote yes when the resolution comes up again but said that it was important for them to hear more about the objections that Councilwoman Pino mentioned. Councilman Kolodziej reminded everyone that they swore an oath to remain impartial when making decisions and, to that end, hearing from any objectors was a necessary step. Councilman Latona agreed.
Other concerns revolved around safety and quality of life issues, including the rise in car thefts, illegal fireworks activity in neighborhoods, and police response time. Councilman Bill Gibson reminded the community that sadly, these crimes are not specific to Clifton, and said that it is important to lock doors every time as a deterrent. He cautioned the community about attempting to confront thieves if they catch them in the act.
Kolodziej said that the police department is “woefully understaffed,” creating dangerous situations for our officers by spreading them too thin and leading to longer-than-ideal response times. “Four people hampered our ability to hire new officers by refusing to pass a budget,” he said, referencing the budgetary “no” votes from fellow Councilors Gibson, Latona, Pino, and Sadrakula.
Another budget meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, July 11th. Mayor Grabowski asked that the councilors who did not support the budget come prepared with ideas for addressing the city’s fiscal obligations.
If you would like to watch Wednesday’s City Council meeting, you can do so HERE.