Jackson: Justice Department, NJ probe anti-Semitic discrimination claims

JACKSON – The U.S. Justice Department and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office are investigating whether the township has discriminated against Orthodox Jews in land-use issues, according to Township Attorney Joan Cipriani. …

Cipriani made the announcement at Wednesday’s township council meeting as she fielded questions about a resolution aimed at curtailing one legal battle. Township  officials signed off on an interim settlement allowing members of the Orthodox Jewish community to seek permission from utility companies to build eruvin – key religious symbols allowed in public rights of way with little fanfare in many other communities. Jackson had previously banned such construction. The video above explains what an eruv is and why they significantly affect life in the Orthodox Jewish community. 

“The township has been involved in a fair amount of litigation,” said Cipriani, who did not elaborate on the inquiries. “There’s investigations by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office all pertaining to these land issues in town.”

Avi Schnall, state director for Augadath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish advocacy nonprofit, said he welcomed the news about the federal and state investigations. He declined to answer whether he had been contacted by investigators. 

“Jackson Township has definitely introduced some ordinances over the past few years that are quite questionable and we are sort of comforted in knowing that the Attorney General is looking into it,” Schnall said.

The township’s turnabout was not unexpected. In October, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino filed suit against Mahwah, contending that a pair of township ordinances discriminated against Orthodox Jews. One of the measures banned the posting of “lechis,” little plastic strips denoting the boundary of an eruv. In announcing the suit, Porrino made plain that other local governments could be targeted.

“In addition to being on the wrong side of history, the conduct of Mahwah’s Township Council is legally wrong, and we intend to hold them accountable for it,” Porrino said in a statement. “To think that there are local governments here in New Jersey, in 2017, making laws on the basis of some archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset is deeply disappointing and shocking to many, but it is exactly what we are alleging in this case. Of course, in this case we allege the target of the small-minded bias is not African-Americans, but Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, the hateful message is the same.”