Over the course of my campaign for governor, I have been blessed to see the true wonder of New Jersey in all its 21 counties and 565 municipalities. However, I am not only focused on improving the things we celebrate, but also on encouraging new ideas to remedy that which needs to be fixed.
The increasing reports of anti-Semitism are front and center. No part of our state is immune. Just a few weeks ago, a diner in Sussex County was defaced with swastikas and Nazi propaganda. Earlier this year, a Jewish community center in Cherry Hill was the subject of a bomb threat. And in Mahwah, discussion of an eruv has led to overheated anti-Semitic outbursts.
The subject of eruvs has been settled by the courts as a matter of religious freedom. But it’s just as clear that our public discourse needs to change. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has attended Mahwah council meetings, repeatedly encouraging a more appropriate and conciliatory way forward, and we desperately need to find that way.
The heated rhetoric during recent public meetings points to a disturbing undercurrent of stereotyping and unsubtle innuendo. Sadly, not all of Mahwah’s residents embrace tolerance. When claims are made in public forums that a particular group “destroys” the local tax base upon entry, there is a problem. When a Holocaust survivor at a public meeting is heckled, and then denounced as a fraud, there is a problem. When well-intentioned residents are disparaged as “paid actors” for a “Jewish money conspiracy scheme,” there is a problem. When there is public discussion at a council meeting of the need to give out arm bands to those who will be permitted to use Mahwah’s parks, at the exclusion of those who are accused of “being dirty,” there is a problem.
We must stop denying that there is an overarching perception of anti-Semitism and discrimination currently hanging over the town. We all must come to terms with the fact that in this day and age, perceptions are powerful and often they are interpreted as reality.
Certainly, there are good people who live in Mahwah and reject this thinking. They need to speak out loudly. Mayor Bill Laforet has, and was praised by the Record for doing so.
Intolerance doesn’t care about the greater community, about who is disparaged, or about where it goes next, as long as it promotes a dangerous ideology.
But we care, and we need to commit to stopping the scourge before one more Jewish community in New Jersey has to wake up to this ugly reality.
This isn’t abstract to me. As the United States’ ambassador to Germany, I worked closely with Israel’s ambassador to ensure that future generations of German youth would reject the intolerance that once took over their nation. I have traveled to Israel five times over the past several years, seeking ways to further strengthen New Jersey’s ties with businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations.
If I have the privilege to serve as governor of New Jersey, it will be my first task to change the tone of our public discourse. For too long we have given a pass to those who speak the loudest, as opposed to those who speak most sensibly. It is time for a new administration that puts a premium on respectful conversation, open dialogue, and mutual cooperation and understanding.
Let us all stand up together against all forms of hate and build the bridges of tolerance we urgently need to be successful in realizing our communal, religious, and collective aspirations.
Phil Murphy is the Democratic candidate for governor.