Palestine Legal: Proposed New Jersey law aims to censor speech in support of Palestinian rights

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

A coalition of 13 civil rights and human rights groups just warned New Jersey legislators that a proposed bill to define criticism of Israel as antisemitic will lead to First Amendment violations.

Palestine Legal sent a letter to state lawmakers on Monday joined by 12 organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

“[I]n our experience defending civil rights on college campuses, we have seen first- hand how the redefinition that the Act would codify has been used as a tool to silence students, faculty, and staff who advocate for Palestinian rights,” the letter reads. “This experience makes clear that the primary aim of this bill is to censor First Amendment-protected criticism of Israeli government policies and speech calling for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians.”

The bill was introduced on June 24 and would direct public schools and universities to use a widely contested redefinition of antisemitism that includes “focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel” and “denying Israel the right to exist” in assessing alleged violations of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

“New Jersey’s bill would censor people who speak out against racism and war crimes,” said senior staff attorney Meera Shah. “Instead of focusing on combatting all forms of discrimination, this bill will silence and punish people speaking out in support of equality and justice for Palestinians.”

As Palestine Legal has documented, efforts to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of Israel are part of pro-Israel groups’ policy strategy to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights – particularly on college campuses where support has grown in recent years.

New Jersey’s proposed bill mirrors a Florida law signed by the governor in May 2019. Florida’s law similarly targets public schools and universities, human rights inquiries into Israel’s record, and other common criticisms of Israel.

On the federal level, the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2019 (ASAA) is pending in the Senate. The ASAA would similarly classify virtually all speech critical of Israel as antisemitic and would be used to justify investigations against Palestine activists on campus while adding no new legal protections for Jewish students.

Read our full Backgrounder on Efforts to Redefine Antisemitism as a Means of Censoring Criticism of Israel.

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