A war of words broke out Wednesday night after the Ocean County freeholder board passed a resolution condemning the Facebook page “Rise Up Ocean County,” which is critical of policies and overdevelopment in Lakewood and has been accused by some of promoting stereotypes and anti-Semitic views.
Rise Up Ocean County has come under heavy criticism by elected officials and Jewish advocacy groups in recent weeks, but has steadily gained followers in anticipation of a planned documentary-style film that purportedly covers issues involving overdevelopment and political corruption in Lakewood and surrounding communities, focusing on the Orthodox Jewish population. Orthodox leaders and elected officials have pointed to anti-Semitic comments posted on the page and criticized what they say are mistruths promoted on it. The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the page, with a representative attending Wednesday’s meeting of the county freeholders. Lakewood has passed a similar resolution against the page and sources have said requests have been sent to other Ocean County communities asking that they do the same. Jackson officials condemned the page verbally but stopped short of passing a formal resolution.
Moshe Weisberg, of Lakewood, called the resolution Wednesday a “heroic standing against violent hate speech.”
“Certainly there are issues to be discussed, but the way to discuss it is through civil discourse and conversation,” he said after the vote.
“It’s important that we all stand together to make sure we take a stand against this,” said Michael Cohen, Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But in a statement to Shorebeat, the page’s administrator – who did not provide a name – brushed off the condemnation by the freeholders, charging that the county Republican organization favored passage of the resolution in order to garner support from the growing Orthodox Jewish voting bloc and the Lakewood Vaad, a group of influential Orthodox leaders that throws its support behind political candidates.
“This resolution had the fingerprints of George Gilmore all over it,” the administrator said, referring to the county’s GOP chairman. “The man responsible for appointing Rabbi Israel Schenkolewski, a Lakewood Vaad member, to the Ocean County Board of Elections and who now stands indicted on a multitude of federal tax fraud complaints, no doubt made this deal in exchange for considerations. We intend to find out what.”
The administrator compared the freeholders to Revolutionary War turncoat Benedict Arnold, saying board members “sold out Ocean County for a few shekels and a Lakewood Vaad endorsement for two candidates that will likely struggle in November.”
The resolution, passed unanimously, states that content on the page is “clearly recognizable and identifiable as anti-Semitic activity” and “attempted to make a direct anti-Semitic and discriminatory connection between society-based issues targeted against the Jewish population.” A full copy of the resolution appears at the end of this article.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, a Lakewood resident who serves as New Jersey Director for Agudath Israel of America, praised the freeholders, invoking his own historical reference.
“On Feb. 20 in 1939, 22,000 people enter Madison Square Garden, and they sold out every seat in that stadium,” he told the board. “They saw these massive banners and on the banners were printed in dark, bold letters: ‘Wake Up America, Smash Jewish Communism.’ That event exactly 80 years ago today was a gathering of the German-American Bund. Jews that were outside of the stadium protesting were badly and brutally beaten. Today, 80 years later … will be in our memories a day of pride that the board of the Ocean County freeholders stood up to that hate.”
Rise Up Ocean County is seen by some as a hate group and others as an investigative outlet that largely focuses on land use issues, politics and population growth. Most recently, the page published a video leaked by an Orthodox Jewish person that shows a town hall-style discussion in which attendees are instructed on how to purchase homes and expand them in Jackson. The group first sparked controversy when it published a modified version of the famed “First they came for…” poem by Martin Niemöller, which tells the story of the Nazi party’s terror campaign against numerous groups prior to the Holocaust and warns readers to speak up when they see injustice. The page’s version substituted groups such as “trade unionists” with “Board of Education,” and “my house,” referring to controversies over school funding in Lakewood and aggressive real estate buyers in Toms River.
The page is also gearing up to release a documentary titled “OC2030,” though it has been delayed due to legal concerns brought up after a recent screening that included multiple attorneys, a post on the page said.
The freeholders themselves offered few comments on the resolution, however Freeholder Director Virginia Haines referenced President Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union address and called for unity.
“In the words of our president, we must be unified as a whole,” she said.
Read the Resolution: