COMMENTARY: New Jersey bill would silence dissent, prevent criticism of Israeli policies

A Rutgers University student club — the All Marxist-Leninist Union (AMLU) — was recently joined by members of other concerned student organizations at a meeting where we heard several speakers denounce a proposed law that would severely restrict the rights of students in public schools and on college campuses to dissent from U.S. foreign policy and the rights of students to work in solidarity with Palestinian people. 

There is video of the event. Two dozen students attending signed up to form the New Jersey Committee to Protect Dissent to work to kill the chances of this bill passing the state legislature.

The NJ S4001 Bill, if passed, would persecute any group or individual in educational institutions like high schools and universities who would be “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist.” 

That section of the bill, in the end, would prohibit Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP) and Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) clubs and speakers on campus and thus restrict their right to speak and protest against Israel’s war crimes. 

In my opinion, critique of Israel is not antisemitism, as the Palestinian people have a right to stand up against Israel's undeniable war crimes and continuous killings of innocent people by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who, coincidentally, are also responsible for training the U.S. law enforcement, a fact that was acknowledged even in the United Nations (UN). 

Since Israel continues to be the most beneficial strategic zone of the imperialist domination of the U.S. in the Middle East, it is in the interest of the American capitalist state to pass resolutions that would benefit their interests. Such is the NJ S4001 which, by purposefully using ambiguous language, would silence Palestinian resistance voices at Rutgers University.

We, the AMLU, stand against NJ S4001 bill. The bill would not be needed even if it truly fought against antisemitism. Such bills and legislations, thankfully, already exist. 

The anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle would most certainly be crippled, as U.S.-Israeli imperialism is undeniably a global force at the center of many destructive wars and conflicts across the world. 

The ability of groups to form coalitions among the anti-imperialist Left would be strictly limited under the bill in such a way that our liberties of free assembly would be curtailed.  

But we are not alone in our opposition to this bill.  A statement from the Rutgers campus group Anakbayan Rutgers stated, “We must unwaveringly say that fighting for the basic rights to life, land, water, and democracy for Palestinians through boycott or any other means is not a crime, and it is not anti-semitic. The passage of this unjust bill would fly in the face of both academic freedom and freedom of dissent, and more primarily the Palestinian people and their just struggle for liberation.” 

Meanwhile, high school students concerned about their rights to advocate in the public schools have started a petition which stated in part: “We are opposing NJ bills S4001 and A5755 introduced by Sen. (Stephen) Sweeney (D-N.J.) and Assemblywoman (Annette) Quijano. This proposed law dangerously conflates criticism of Israel with Antisemitism. It would punish legitimate dissent of U.S. foreign policy and its support for Israel. We support student rights to free speech in and out of school, (and to) criticize American foreign policy.” 

For students and faculty that stand firmly against Zionism and apartheid in Palestine, we must form a combined effort to educate ourselves and the public regarding Zionism and the NJ S4001 bill. Unions and Palestinian solidarity groups may also want to release statements that condemn the bill. 

Time is running out. This bill must not be allowed to reach the floor. Efforts to organize a common struggle for the liberation of the working class and for the oppressed people's world could be crushed through NJ S4001. 

We invite you to join the New Jersey Committee to Protect Dissent to protect the rights of students and faculty to discuss and criticize U.S. foreign policy and to support the struggles of the Palestinian people. 

All Marxist-Leninist Union is a recognized student organization at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.

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