RU AAUP-AFT: The IHRA Bills Are a Threat to Academic Freedom and Free Speech

The following statement was endorsed by the Rutgers AAUP-AFT Executive Council and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union Executive Board.

The Rutgers faculty unions strongly oppose New Jersey Senate Bills 1292 and 2937. These bills would embed in state law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “Working Definition of Antisemitism” document, which falsely conflates criticism of or opposition to Israel and Zionism with anti-Jewish racism. If adopted, the distorted IHRA definition, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “would likely silence a range of protected speech including criticism of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians” and would also disallow the “sharing (of) differing beliefs about the right to a Jewish state.” This would violate both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 6, of the New Jersey State Constitution.

Antisemitism—overwhelmingly driven by white supremacists—is, of course, a legitimate concern, and reports of harassment, intimidation, and similar actions must be strongly addressed. However, by stipulating the IHRA definition as the basis for determining antisemitism, the bills make clear that the priority is silencing Israel’s critics—including Jews—and not protecting the safety of Jewish New Jerseyans. This is further supported by the fact that, as the ACLU points out, actions of hate or bias against Jews are already covered by existing anti-discrimination laws. 

As faculty unions, we are greatly concerned with the profound impact S1292 and S2937 could have on academic freedom and the exercise of our First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and the press on the state’s college and university campuses. By enshrining the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its included examples, educators and students could be vulnerable to the threat of administrative and legal discipline in the normal course of assigning readings, discussing current events, and publishing scholarship. 

Indeed, the suppression of Palestine advocacy is already happening. Rutgers and other schools across the country have canceled speakerssuspended instructors and staff, sanctioned students for participating in pro-Palestine actions, restricted student speech, and banned student organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Barnard has gone so far as to prohibit students from posting fliers to their own dorm doors. The effect has been to further perpetuate anti-Palestinian racism and erasure of Palestinian identity. 

Our effort here aligns with our national unions’ important stand in 2018, when the Trump administration, referencing the IHRA definition, peddled fraudulent charges of antisemitism against organizers of a Palestine solidarity event at Rutgers featuring a Jewish anti-Zionist Holocaust survivor. In response, the American Federation of Teachers, American Association of University Professors, and Rutgers AAUP-AFT leadership issued a joint statement condemning this attempt “to equate advocacy for Palestinians with anti-Semitism” and defending “the free expression of ideas.”

Our unions and all concerned New Jerseyans must respond similarly to the 2024 IHRA threat.

Last March NJ mobilized against a plan to implement IHRA false definition of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. This will set up an even more brutal threat to NJ’s anti-genocide efforts. This is literally politicians making it illegal to talk about their decisions allocating funds to arm and fund the US-Israel genocidal war machine. Back in March the unified efforts were able to thwart this plan to set up a false pretext to justify brutal repression of our efforts to end genocide. It seems that NJ’s Democrats are taking a second crack at it this Monday June 17 8am at the Statehouse in Trenton. We are looking for more information about plans to protest.

Below is a link to an explanation of the situation and a fervent call for action. Will update this posting once more information is available about protest plans. Also following below is the information to register your comments by 3pm June 14.

Previously Published June 14: Round Two: NJ State Democrat Legislators Preparing Legislation to Justify War Against NJ’s Pro-Palestine Movement – Immediate Action Friday June 14 to Register Your Participation / Objections

Jersey City Activist Mo Hamz Breaks it Down

TODAY! Click link in bio to oppose bills that would silence 🔇 pro-Palestinian 🇵🇸 free speech and advocacy in NJ.

We defeated these bills before and we will do it again. 💪

🙅‍♂️ 1. Register your opposition: Submit an online form that tells NJ State Senate you oppose these bills (S1292 and S2937). We need 1,000 people to register their opposition!

🗣 2. (Optional) Testify at the virtual hearing on Monday, June 17 at 9am. Talking points and advocacy training will be provided. Testifying is crucial because many legislators are not informed on the issue and presume it is simply an antisemitism bill.


👉 To get started and for more info, complete the AMP NJ “Oppose IHRA Bills” Google form. This form will track registrations and AMP NJ will follow up with talking points and advocacy training info.

Previously Published March 19. 2024:

News Release: Jewish, Muslim Organizations Celebrate Failure of Legislation Threatening Free Expression to Move in Senate Committee


Jewish, Muslim Organizations Celebrate Failure of Legislation
Threatening Free Expression to Move in Senate Committee
Photos and videos from the hearing and rally and additional information at 

Trenton, NJ – Jewish, Muslim, and other social justice organizations are celebrating the failure of S1292 and S2937 to be voted  out of the NJ Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee yesterday. Both bills incorporate the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism, which treats criticism of the state as Israel as antisemitic, potentially threatening the ability of human rights groups to advocate for Palestinians.  Members of 20 organizations filled the hearing room,  phone banked to drive calls to committee members from constituents, and rallied outside the State House. With the Senate entering its budget process the failure of the bills to move today will significantly delay their forward motion if not kill them altogether for this year. Advocates intend to use the additional time to educate lawmakers on the threats these bills pose to First Amendment protected activities and to mobilize constituents to contact their legislators.

At the rally, activists held large banners  that read “Save Gaza” “Ceasefire Now, and “Stop Genocide” in order to indicate that they refused to allow the proposed legislation to have a chilling effect on their advocacy for Palestinians. They were joined by a box truck with large screens on the sides with messages including “Israel has killed 14,861 children in Gaza” and “tell NJ Senators to vote no on S2937.” Speakers included organizer Ateka Gunja, Selaedin Maksut of the Council on American Islamic Relations NJ,  David Letwin of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Larry Hamm of People’s Organization for Progress; Imam Saffet Catovic of Muslims for American Progress, Dr. Patricia Campos-Medina of The Worker Institute and Latina Civic, holocaust and genocide studies expert Professor Raz Segal of Stockton University, and John Hsu of  Our Revolution Middlesex.

According to Asma Elhuni of American Muslims for Palestine NJ Chapter “At a time when Congress is debating providing additional military funding to Israel as it commits genocide in Gaza, the need for human rights advocates to be free to criticize Israel without having their expression classified as hate speech could not be clearer.”

“The absurd consequence of adopting the deeply flawed International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism is that the speech of  Jewish  Holocaust survivors and refugees and their descendants and the descendants of Holocaust victims could be classified as antisemitic if they forcefully advocate for Palestinian human rights,” added Adam Weissman of Jewish Voice for Peace Northern NJ, the great-grandson of a Holocaust victim. Survivors of the Holocaust like Warsaw Ghetto uprising leader Marek Edelman (1919-2009), who proclaimed that “to be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, never with the oppressors,” have long been among the most vociferous critics of the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people.

Sponsoring organizations of the rally included American Muslims for Democracy, American Muslims for Palestine NJ Chapter, Black Lives Matter NJ, Council on American Islamic Relations NJ, Ceasefire Now NJ, Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, Cosecha, ICNA Council for Social Justice, IfNotNow NJ,  Jewish Voice for Peace Northern and Central NJ chapters, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Muslim Community of New Jersey, Muslim Professional Group, NJ Muslim Voice for Progress, NJ 11th for Palestine, Palestinian American Community Center, Path to Victory, NJ Students for Justice in Palestine, and Voice of Humanity.