At a recent school board meeting in Westfield, NJ, several speakers charged board Vice President Sahar Aziz with antisemitism for a ‘reTweet’ recommending an article that argued that the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” was not antisemitic.
Aziz is the Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. She is also a parent in the Westfield school district.
North Jersey JVP member Steve Shalom wrote the following letter to the Westfield Board of Education:
Dear Members of the Westfield Board of Education,
I am writing to you both as a member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey and as a political scientist who taught for 44 years at William Paterson University. I am responding to the allegations I have heard charging Board vice president Sahar Aziz with antisemitism because of a tweet. I am hoping that this is a non-issue and that the Board agrees that no action is called for or appropriate. But just in case the matter should be brought up again, I would like to share my views.
Antisemitism is a vile doctrine and, unfortunately, still a serious problem in the United States today. I appreciate the way that the town of Westfield has been taking steps to address recent incidents of antisemitic graffiti. But to lump Dr. Aziz’s re-tweet in the same category as carving swastikas into playground equipment is outrageous and totally misplaced, on so many levels.
First, Dr. Aziz reTweeted an article from an Israeli dissident website that made a careful and methodical case that the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” was not antisemitic. The author argued:
“Calling for an end to this oppressive system is not antisemitic, and it is not a call for the murder of Jews. Rather, it is an invitation for Palestinians and Jews alike to imagine themselves as free and equal in this land, liberated from the oppressive power relations that prevail today.”
The author was taking exception to the claim of those, like the American Jewish Committee (AJC), who assert that the use of the slogan is inherently antisemitic. Dr. Aziz’s critics think that by citing the AJC they have proven Dr. Aziz’s antisemitism. But surely, one can thoughtfully disagree with the AJC without being antisemitic. Regrettably, too many use charges of antisemitism to try to stifle criticism of Israeli policy.
Second, Dr. Aziz is a law professor and public intellectual who often comments on Middle East policy. That is her right, both as an academic and a citizen. But she understands that this aspect of her life is separate from her role on the Westfield Board of Education. She has never tried to impose her personal political views regarding Middle East policy on the Board of Education or the Westfield schools. And it would be wholly inappropriate for the Board of Education to try to police the views she expresses in non-Board of Education venues.
Third, Dr. Aziz is a distinguished scholar who has written countless academic articles championing diversity, inclusion, equal treatment, and non-discrimination. She has taught numerous law school courses emphasizing these values. And when she first arrived in New Jersey she made contact with social justice advocates, including from Jewish Voice for Peace, to discuss public programming that furthered these values. Nothing could be more alien to her than antisemitism or any other form of bigotry.
As I noted at the outset, I hope this letter is unnecessary. It certainly ought to be.
Stephen R. Shalom
William Paterson University