Toms River Won’t Call ‘Rise Up’ Anti-Jewish, Denounce It as ‘Hate’
TOMS RIVER — The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, is calling upon the Toms River Township council to follow the lead of two other Ocean County government agencies and denounce the group Rise Up Ocean County at the council's next meeting on Tuesday.
Rise Up made its presence known in December with a Facebook page and trailers promoting a film called OC230, which it describes as about overdevelopment in Lakewood. The group predicts that the township's population will double by 2030 to 230,000.
The trailers refer to "colonization" and refer to the Orthodox Jewish community claiming that "32,000 houses and 200,000 more people are coming our way" — unless the community "rises up" to "stop it now." Critics say it plays into antisemitic tropes and uses anti-Jewish imagery — a complaint now echoed by multiple governing boards. The group, which has a Facebook following of more than 6,000, disputes those characterizations.
"The trailers that they've sent out to advertise so far have had some very disturbing anti-Semitic content in them," Michael Cohen of the Wiesenthal Center said. "These are not open for interpretation. It's very clear what they're saying."
The Ocean County Freeholders denounced the group by name at their meeting on Wednesday, night and the Wiesenthal Center is calling upon the Toms River Township Council to do the same at its meeting on Tuesday.
The Wiesenthal Center said it will hold a "multi-faith press conference" before the Toms River Township Council requesting it adopt a resolution similar to Lakewood's denouncing Rise Up.
Prior to the Wiesenthal Center's announcement, township spokeswoman Stacy Proebstle told New Jersey 101.5 the council will adopt a resolution at Tuesday's meeting that will condemn all types of hateful comments, but not mention a specific group. Proenstle said the resolution would officially be added to the agenda on Monday.
Upon being told of the Toms River Council's plan, Rabbi Meyer H. May of the Wiesenthal Center said that there should be "zero tolerance for overt antisemitism and failure to forthrightly call out clear and specific expressions of it in our community is a failure in leadership."
May said the group is not concerned about giving Rise Up attention they may not have otherwise received.
"We can never be silent in the face of such a cruel attempt to foment hate against our community. We are not concerned that we are giving them more exposure. We are only trying to give the folks who are running their campaign an opportunity to rescind and reject the hate they aired. But, until they fully reject the antisemitism that they promoted, we will tirelessly press our elected officials to directly call them out," May wrote in an email.
A resolution by the Freeholders last Wednesday posted by the Lakewood Scoop said the group’s behavior is “contrary to the goals of American free society and liberty” and went on record to “condemn their hate speech." The resolution also called upon the group to identify its administrators and leaders.
Lakewood's Township Council adopted a resolution opposing the "activity and anti-social behavior" of Rise Up Ocean County. The resolution states the group has "incited ill will and bad feeling among Ocean County municipalities in their effort to discredit the Jewish population."
Jackson town council president Rob Nixon read a statement at the last meeting critical of religious hate and an "us vs. them" mentality but did not name a specific group.
In reaction to the Freeholders vote, Rise Up on its Facebook page posted an image that reads "the silent majority must be heard lest we become the minority" and accused the freeholders of selling out for a few “sheqels and the Lakewood Vaad” to help two members of the board up for re-election in a post accompanied by a graphic “Traitors, traders.”
A shequel, more commonly spelled shekel, is the basic monetary unit of Israel. The Vaad is a religious council in Lakewood with significant influence over the township's Orthodox community.
It also said the vote represented a betrayal as egregious as Benedict Arnold's defection to the British.