Anti-Zionists and Pro-Israel Jews face off at town meeting near Lakewood

‘Stand With Palestine’ billboard on Route 9 prompts heated discussion of antisemitism resolution.

Howell Township meeting

May 8, 2024 5:45 PM


A town meeting near Lakewood, New Jersey became the latest venue for pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters to face-off with one another on Tuesday. Pro-Israel Haredi Jews, members of the anti-Zionist Haredi group Neturei Karta, non-Haredi Jews and Muslims in Howell discussed a wide range of issues, including Israel, Palestine, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. 

At one point, members of the town council in Howell, a town that shares a border with Lakewood and is home to a small Haredi community, chastised members of the audience for cursing, yelling, and “spewing hate” as they considered a resolution to condemn bigotry. Despite the commotion, people were able to express their views for about two hours.

The council ultimately voted to condemn “hate in all its forms” after revising the initial resolution that would have condemned antisemitism in particular, after activists argued that the first version was too one-sided.

The Haredi news outlet Lakewood Scoop appeared to report the story incorrectly, wrongly stating that the council specifically voted to condemn antisemitism, whereas the resolution was actually edited so as not to mention any particular ethnic or religious group.

The resolution was meant to address a pro-Palestine billboard on Route 9 that some people considered antisemitic and has since been taken down.

"Stand with humanity. Stand with Palestine,” said the billboard, which showed a picture of the Palestinian flag and was paid for by an organization called Voice for Humanity.

Howell resident Boruch Perlowitz, who briefly lived in Israel after getting married, said just the visual of the Palestinian flag was painful. “I had to numerous times take [my daughter] into bomb shelters from sirens in Jerusalem,” he said. “When she saw a billboard with that flag, it did something to her. It brought back trauma.”

David Singer, who said he was born in Lakewood but now lives in Howell, took to the microphone to say that his “heart skipped a beat” when he saw the sign. “That billboard was in other words saying ‘Jews, get out.’”

Monsey resident Ephraim Beck, who appeared to be connected with the Neturei Karta, disagreed. “I don’t see anything in ‘free Palestine’ to be antisemitic,” Beck said. 

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, the Neturei Karta’s former official spokesperson, expressed similar sentiments and lamented the continued war in Gaza, where more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to officials there.

Local representatives state senator Robert Singer and assemblymember Sean King both condemned the billboard in April, according to Patch.

Assemblymember Avi Schnall -- director of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office prior to being elected -- sent his chief of staff to represent him. David Dolan appeared at the meeting to say that Schnall supported the resolution. It was unclear whether Dolan knew that, by the time he spoke, the resolution had been revised and no longer mentioned antisemitism nor the billboard.

Howell resident Moishe Klein said it shouldn’t be so hard to pass a resolution condemning antisemitism. “If a resolution cannot pass condemning antisemitism unconditionally without any woke additives,” Klein said, “then maybe this is not the town I thought it was.”

Zaid Abdel-Rahman, who said he is on the board of the organization that bought the billboard, appeared to be one of the people who convinced the council members to revise the resolution. “I think this resolution should be reformed and restated to show solidarity against all forms of hate,” he said.