ZOA appeals NJ agency’s decision to dismiss ethics complaint against school board members against Israel

Zionist Organization of America National President Morton A. Klein released the following statement:

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is representing Elisabeth Schwartz in her lawsuit against two school board members in Clifton, New Jersey, alleging they violated the New Jersey School Ethics Act. In May 2021 – when Israel was waging a defensive war against the terror group Hamas in Gaza and there was a consequent increase in anti-Semitism in the United States, particularly in New Jersey – the two school board members deliberately and willfully used their official podiums to make false and inflammatory anti-Semitic statements attacking Israel during the “commissioner’s comments” portion of the virtual school board meeting, thereby undermining public trust in the board, in violation of the law .

Council members falsely accused Israel of “oppressing the Palestinian people” and “ethnic cleansing”, and of being an “apartheid” and “colonialist” state. One of the board members falsely claimed that US police forces were traveling to Israel to learn of ‘abusive tactics’ they were reporting to US communities, and he effectively blamed Israel for the death of George Floyd .

In September 2021, Elisabeth Schwartz filed a complaint against the two board members with the New Jersey School Ethics Commission (“Commission”), alleging that they violated the School Ethics Act. From personal experience, Ms. Schwartz understood how hatred of Israel can fuel hatred of Jews. She is the aunt of Ezra Schwartz, the 18-year-old American Jewish student who was murdered in a Palestinian Arab terrorist attack in 2015.

In January 2022, the Commission granted the Commissioners’ motion to dismiss and summarily dismissed Ms. Schwartz’s complaint without holding a hearing. Ms. Schwartz had the right to appeal the dismissal decision to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, and sought assistance from the ZOA.

The ZOA appealed the Commission’s rejection decision, filing its brief initial with the Appeals Division on May 23, 2022. On August 8, 2022, the ZOA filed a short answer responding to the arguments put forward by the two members of the school board in their brief. The ZOA’s two briefs explain why the Board’s decision was wrong and should be reversed. Under the School Ethics Act, school board members are prohibited from acting beyond the scope of their duties and responsibilities that could compromise the board. Yet that is precisely what the two school board members did. Each of them made inflammatory anti-Semitic speeches attacking Israel that had nothing to do with their Council responsibilities. Compounding their violation of the law, the council members did not make it clear before launching their anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attacks that they were only expressing their personal opinions and not speaking on behalf of the council. As a result, they potentially undermined public trust in the board, particularly among Jewish members of the Clifton community.

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “At a time of frightening and growing hatred of Jews, it is both dangerous and unconscionable that two members of the school board are recklessly and irresponsibly fomenting hatred of Jews. Jews using their official podiums at a school board meeting to demonize and brutally attack the Jewish State of Israel with monstrous and blatant lies, falsely blaming Israel for problems in the United States, including the murder of blacks, and denying the Jewish state the very right to exist. Jewish students and their families cannot trust this board and expect to be treated fairly on matters before the board.

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, said, “We thank Elisabeth Schwartz for taking the initiative to file an ethics complaint against two school board members who used a council meeting for their own purposes, having nothing to do with the welfare of the children in the neighborhood. We are proud to represent her in this appeal and hope that the Appeals Division will reverse the Board’s decision and allow Ms. Schwartz to demonstrate that these two council members violated their ethical obligations to their constituents.

“We are also proud to partner in this case with Jeffrey Schreiber, Esq., a highly experienced and accomplished litigator and the managing partner of Meister Seelig & Fein’s New Jersey office. Together, we send the much-needed message to the Clifton Board of Education and others in positions of public trust that they will be held accountable if they abuse that trust by demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state and by encouraging anti-Semitism.

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