The Highland Park Equity Commission expresses deep concern for the Highland Park Borough Council’s proposed “Resolution Condemning All Forms of Anti-Semitism” resolution (No. 10-19-316), based not on the title or perceived spirit of the measure, but because of its persistent labeling of residents with particular geopolitical beliefs as anti-Semitic.
Members of the Equity Commission hold that local government’s job is to bring people of disparate beliefs, backgrounds, worldviews, and cultures together for a common community cause. Its role should be to establish a culture where residents are not marginalized, disengaged, or suppressed from participating in civic life.
While resolution 10-19-316 makes an attempt to condemn all forms of anti-Semitism, particularly in light of several recent, disturbing, and unacceptable anti-Semitic acts in Highland Park and around the country, it falls far short in its community building intent.
Instead, 10-19-316 redefines what type of dissent is and isn’t acceptable. It embraces “legitimate” protest that seeks “racial justice and social change and promoted coexistence, civil rights and political reconciliation.” To this end, the Equity Commission agrees.
But 10-19-316 then quickly and pointedly pivots, dismissing global economic sanctions as “economic warfare,” and in this case, warfare against the State of Israel. This is an intentionally and thinly-veiled nod toward the so-called Global BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) movement, which is described as a Palestinian-led campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until its government meets certain stated conditions.
The Equity Commission believes this intentional pivot is in response to the Highland Park Public Library’s invitation to a book author, Iranian studies Rutgers professor Golbarg Bashi, last spring to read her children’s book, P Is for Palestine. Published media reports have indicated that Dr. Bashi is a supporter of BDS.
The Equity Commission recognizes that Highland Park’s orthodox community and members of other communities are targeted with hate, bias, intolerance. It is not within the purview of the Equity Commission to gauge the legitimacy of those experiences, but rather to examine them and work toward a community-wide solution.
Resolution 10-19-316 does not do that, and we worry that it does the opposite. Many members of our community feel an existential threat by BDS, and Jews around the globe have every reason to watch for the red flags of history amid a rising tide of anti-Semitism. But for a local government to conflate an extreme reading of BDS where anti-Semitism does indeed exist with local residents’ humanitarian concerns around the globe is dangerous and irresponsible. There is a difference between criticizing a domestic or foreign government and calling for the elimination of a sovereign state. There is a difference between having concern for people or peoples in danger on a humanitarian level and having foreign borders dictate what’s right and what’s wrong.
From a practical standpoint, the resolution potentially stifles public comment. What if a resident with a certain geopolitical stance wants to engage in an intellectual discussion on Middle East peace? Will they have to watch their words for fear of being viewed as hostile by their local government? Does being philosophically complicit in “economic warfare” have legal ramifications?
The Equity Commission does not have a stance on BDS, nor will it render one because it is so far beyond its charter and, we believe, beyond the purview of municipal government. Just like our Borough should not take up positions on sanctions toward China, we should not, nor do we need to weigh in on geopolitical concerns of this complexity. And if it is going to be the policy of the Highland Park Borough Council to consider such positions, then it should first embark on a robust education campaign that allows the community to arrive at its own conclusions in a way that prioritizes local interests first. That effort should leverage the Borough’s vast volunteer network, particularly from boards and commissions such as the Equity Commission, the Human Relations Commission, and the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
Highland Park prides itself for its activism and intellectual thought on practical local and international matters. It is the position of the Highland Park Equity Commission that our local government should not be engaged in legislative retaliation against geopolitical movements and potentially any residents who support them.
The resolution confuses an already confusing, complex situation and it’s heartbreaking to see our Council consider something that furthers division when we should be educating each other. This issue is pitting residents against each other and worse, it is creating a rift in our Jewish community.
As appointed by this Mayor and Council, the Equity Commission strongly urges the Council to table or vote down this resolution and to start from a better place to truly address anti-Semitism in our community.
—The Highland Park Equity Commission