The board that forms Ocean County’s government voted unanimously to formally condemn Rise Up Ocean County, a group that has been widely labeled as anti-Semitic.
The vote comes less than a week after Jackson’s town council declined the take up the same resolution.
The move is part of a broad effort led by local activists and the Simon Wiesenthal Center encouraging governments around Lakewood — the target of most of RUOC’s rhetoric — to adopt a resolution calling out the group for what many see as an effort to incite animus against Orthodox Jews.
“There is no room anywhere in Ocean County for any type of intolerance.” Virginia E. Haines, who serves as the director of the board told Hamodia. “This Board denounces the actions of any organization, group or individual that acts with bias against any part of our population. We do not tolerate any hateful speech or actions of any kind. We need to reject discrimination. We need to reject anti-Semitism.”
The resolution was adopted late Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of the county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders, the unique name of the five-member board that governs counties in New Jersey.
The meeting was addressed by Michael Cohen, East Coast Director of SWC; as well as by Mike McNeil of the NAACP; Ada Gonzales, a Lakewood school board member; Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey division; Colin Lewis, a community activist; Mrs. Chanie Jacobowitz, director of government affairs for Beis Medrash Govoha; and a selection of Toms River and Lakewood residents.
RUOC, which functions largely online and through social media, drew broad attention late last month with the release of a series of video clips that paint the growth of the Orthodox community in and around Lakewood in a negative light.
The clips mainly focus on data regarding overdevelopment, rising costs of busing for private school students, and high levels of dependence on social-welfare programs. The voice-overs, accompanied by ominous music, show footage of Orthodox Jews, and the narration tells about what the RUOC paint as a bleak future for Ocean County as its Jewish community grows.
What many found particularly offensive was the adaptation of a well-known Holocaust poem. The RUOC adaptation placed the Orthodox community in the role of the Nazis and painted the local non-Jewish Ocean County residents as the victims.
What has been called out as a red flag by many local leaders, including the Freeholders, was the anonymity of RUOC’s leadership.
Several Freeholders emphasized that, while challenges related to the exponential growth in and around Lakewood can and should be addressed, RUOC’s tactics are an unacceptable means of doing so. The resolution they approved clearly labels the group as “anti-Semitic,” and says it is engaged in “hate speech.”
Last week, SWC organized a press conference prior to a meeting of Jackson’s town council calling on them to adopt the resolution. Despite several vague statements condemning bigotry and anti-Semitism, the resolution itself was not voted on. There have also been several public calls for Toms River’s council, which is scheduled to meet next Tuesday, to vote on the resolution. Lakewood’s council adopted the resolution two weeks ago.
Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg said that he was hopeful that the Freeholder’s vote would sway other townships to follow their lead.
“We thank our friends and colleagues, representing the diversity and unity of Ocean County, for proudly standing with us today in this historic rejection of hate,” he said. “We now respectfully call on the leadership of our surrounding communities to join in the clear call of the Ocean County Freeholders, the Lakewood Township Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to unequivocally denounce Rise Up Ocean County and the hate it represents.”