NJ School Boards Repel Legal Attacks on Pro-Palestinian Speech
For at least the second time in the space of a year, a local school board in the state has heard criticism about an elected board member publicly expressing pro-Palestinian views that some critics have called anti-Semitic.
This month, Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Rutgers University and vice president of the Westfield Board of Education, came under fire from two residents for tweeting about Palestine.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has defended Aziz’s right to free speech and said such comments about his professional activity are an attempt to smear Aziz for his stance on the Palestinians.
During the township board of education meeting on February 8, between several speakers criticizing the nearly expired school mask term, resident Kyle George said he took issue with Aziz’s Twitter activity regarding middle school politics. East, claiming that the articles the council members shared amounted to anti-Semitism.
Aziz had retweeted a link shared by magazine editor Edo Konrad, which linked to an article about British students who use the phrase “from the river to the sea”.
“Scanning ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is not anti-Semitic. Rather, it is an invitation for Palestinians and Jews to imagine themselves free and equal in this land. Why is this so terrifying to many,” Konrad tweeted while sharing the article, as summarized by CAIR-NJ.
Other school board officials said the tweet, shared by Aziz, and others did not violate New Jersey’s school ethics law.
Aziz said the retweets were part of her job as a law professor and Middle East expert, separate from her job as a school board member.
“The board member is an expert on this region of the world,” George said in his public comments. “To be clear, she is of course entitled to her opinion as an American, but there are protocols and decorum for BOE members and the BOE must govern in the best interests of all students.”
The American Jewish Committee shared the parameters in which it viewed “River to Sea” as anti-Semitic.
“There is of course nothing anti-Semitic about advocating for the Palestinians to have their own state. However, calling for the elimination of the Jewish state, or suggesting that Jews alone do not have the right to self-determination, is anti-Semitic,” according to the AJC website.
“Use of this phrase, however intended, may have the effect of making members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community feel beleaguered and ostracized,” the Anti-Defamation League said.
A different view was given in 2018, when a CNN analyst was fired after using the same phrase while addressing the United Nations.
“To dismiss or ignore what this phrase means to Palestinians is yet another way to silence Palestinian perspectives,” wrote Maha Nassar, associate professor at the University of Arizona in the School of Middle Eastern Studies. East and North Africa.
“Quoting only Hamas leaders to use this phrase, while ignoring the liberation context in which other Palestinians understand it, shows at best a disturbing level of ignorance of Palestinian views, and at worst a deliberate attempt to smear their legitimate aspirations,” he added. continued.
Emily Barker, who lost as a candidate for the Westfield school board in November, was the other resident at the February 8 meeting to ask about the same January 30 retweet, referring to the article on the shares in the UK.
She first called for better Holocaust atrocities curriculum, saying the public school district’s approach to “teaching about African-American slavery is a thoughtful, multi-layered approach.” Barker has previously said that critical race theory is too “divisive,” in his view.
Barker then said that retweeting the article amounted to anti-Semitic hate speech and said the use of the phrase “essentially calls for genocide.”
CAIR-NJ executive director Selaedin Maksut said the criticisms were “baseless attacks”.
“Professor Aziz is a prominent scholar and lawyer who faces vicious vilification for exercising her right to freedom of expression and for defending the human rights of Palestinians,” Maksut said.
“We are satisfied that there has been no violation of any state law or board regulation,” Westfield Board of Education Chairman Brendan Galligan said of the activity. Twitter from his colleague, adding “The tweets were posted on Sahar’s personal account and they are not in violation.”
Union County Islamic Center Chairman Dr. Wail Rasheed also expressed his support for Aziz.
“Professor Aziz is a prominent scholar and lawyer who faces defamation for exercising her right to freedom of expression and for defending the human rights of Palestinians,” said CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin. Maksut, in a statement, calling the criticism “baseless attacks”.
Union County Islamic Center President Wail Rasheed also expressed his support for Aziz.
“We stand in solidarity with Professor Sahar Aziz. The teacher did nothing wrong. She has every right to speak out on her personal social media and comment on issues that relate to her area of expertise and we condemn all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. But equating the professor’s posts with anti-Semitism is inaccurate and unfair,” Rasheed said in a written statement.
Clifton complains after pro-Palestine comments
Comments made at a North Jersey school board meeting last spring also drew criticism, as a formal complaint was filed with state education officials, only to be dismissed last month. last.
“Last year, others also tried to silence two members of the Clifton Board of Education for expressing their solidarity with Palestine, but failed in their efforts after the school’s ethics committee rejected complaints,” Maksut also said.
The state School Ethics Commission, part of the Department of Education, last month dismissed the complaint against Clifton BOE members Fahim Abedrabbo and Feras Awwad, accusing them of anti-Semitism for public statements last year in favor of Palestine.
The suit was filed by former Englewood school board member Elisabeth Schwartz, who said such statements at a board meeting had “adversely impacted the welfare of Jewish students.”
It was formally fired on January 25, based on “failure to plead sufficient credible facts to support the allegations”.
“These desperate attempts to take away our right to free speech are deeply troubling and should never be entertained or taken seriously by our elected officials or the public,” Maksut said.
“Elected officials and all Americans have the right to criticize foreign governments and political ideologies, especially those that promote racial and religious apartheid and the denial of basic human rights.”
Maksut said criticism of Israel or Zionism is not equivalent to anti-Semitism and is therefore protected by the constitutional right to free speech.
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