Anti-Semitic comments, such as arguments for eradicating Jews “like Hitler did,” have flooded a New Jersey Facebook page. And the state’s attorney general wants Facebook to step up and start monitoring them.
A letter sent by the office’s Division on Civil Rights highlighted anti-Semitic comments left on a Lakewood, New Jersey, group’s page that officials say illustrates the “rising tide of hate” around the state and country. The anonymous group, called Rise Up Ocean County, allegedly promotes negative stereotypes of Orthodox Jews to discourage new residents and development. The group’s profile photo — which includes a cross, a Star of David, and the Islamic star and crescent — brands the page as "united against anti-gentilism,” or what its members consider prejudice against non-Jews.
The letter includes examples of posts by Rise Up Ocean County that criticize the “colonization” of Lakewood and draw particular attention to growth of the Orthodox community there. The page also hosted comments like, “We need to get rid of them like Hitler did,” and “the gang war has begun.” Local officials previously condemned the group after it published a video that parodied a poem about German complacency in the lead-up to the Holocaust.
“Far too often, we have seen how hateful comments can escalate to hateful conduct,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the country’s first Sikh to hold the office. “Our Division on Civil Rights is committed to fighting this rising tide of hate, and we’ll continue taking proactive steps to make New Jersey a more welcoming community for people of all backgrounds and faiths.”
Rise Up Ocean County denied contributing to any incitement toward Jewish residents in a post published shortly after the letter.
“Growing RUOC to 10,000+ members did not happen because we are a hate filled, anti-Semitic group,” read the post. “To the contrary, it happened because we are not, because we invest so much time, energy, and effort in keeping the page consistent with Facebook Community Standards.”
Responses on the post cast the attorney general’s statement as a crackdown on free speech, a familiar defense on pages that consistently toe the line on hateful content. Just last week, Facebook and Instagram officials likewise grappled with hateful comments left on an anti-Semitic image published by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The Infowars frontman similarly claimed that moderating such posts would trample his freedom of expression.
"Facebook does not tolerate hate speech or direct attacks on people on the basis of characteristics like race, ethnicity, and national origin," a spokesperson told VICE News. "We appreciate the New Jersey Attorney General’s attention to this matter and are working with the Division of Civil Rights to identify specific content on this Facebook Page that may violate our terms so we can remove it immediately."
Representatives for Rise Up Ocean County did not immediately respond to re request for comment.
Cover image: New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal speaks during a news conference announcing pollution lawsuits filed by the state, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)