Wiesenthal Center Calls on Leaders to Condemn “Rise Up Ocean County”
Rise Up Ocean County, which largely functions on-line and through social media, drew broad attention late last month with the release of a series of video clips painting the growth of the Orthodox community in and around Lakewood in a particularly negative light.
Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) have drafted the text of an ordinance calling out the group which it hopes will be ratified by the town councils of Toms River, Jackson, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders which comprise the county government.
“The promotional videos have clearly and indisputably attempted to make a direct anti-Semitic and discriminatory connection between society-based issues targeted against the Jewish population,” reads a section of the resolution they hope will be ratified by local officials. “The conduct, activity, and anti-social behavior of Rise Up Ocean County and similar groups must be condemned as inimical to America’s core values.”
The clips mainly focus on data regarding overdevelopment, rising costs of busing private school students, and high levels of dependency on social welfare programs. Yet the voice-overs are accompanied by footage of Orthodox Jews accompanied by ominous music and narration about what the RUOC paint as a bleak future for the county as the Jewish community grows, and finally they make a vague call for county residents to take action. What many found particularly offensive was the adaptation of a well-known Holocaust poem, placing the Orthodox community in the role of the Nazis and painting the local non-Jewish Ocean County residents as victims.
SWC’s Executive Director Rabbi Mayer May told Hamodia that his group’s involvement is not aimed at debating any of the issues RUOC has chosen to highlight, but to call out the group’s potential dangers.
“We are not here to say how the communal challenges should be handled,” he said. “The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s role here is exclusively to address anti-Semitism and to say that these trailers have very specific anti-Semitic content which is clearly meant to incite. Regardless of what issues these towns are addressing, provoking anti-Semitism is not an acceptable strategy to deal with them.”
The five-member Jackson Town Council’s next scheduled meeting is called for Wednesday. Ahead of its commencement, SWC has called a press conference in front of the town hall with what it says will be a broad base of “multi-faith” communal leaders calling for the resolution to be adopted.
While laws protecting free speech make it unlikely that law enforcement can act to stop RUOC’s activities, Rabbi May said he hoped a robust condemnation would curb its influence.
“We hope that mainstream leaders will clearly say that instigating anti-Semitism is unacceptable and will go a long way in discrediting the RUOC’s cynical misuse of Holocaust imagery in the court of public opinion,” he said.
RUOC first launched its website and social media presence this past October. Its development was tracked by some community activists but was largely ignored until the release of the film clips. The trailers have been billed as previews for a full-length documentary, set to be released shortly.
While other internet forums have attempted to shine a negative light on Ocean County’s rapidly growing Orthodox presence, RUOC’s level of “professionalism” has elicited a higher level of concern. A dossier compiled by an anonymous social media “watchdog” presents pages of evidence that the central figure is a Toms River resident in his mid-50s, Richard Ciullo. Ciullo runs an advertising business known as Ninja EA and has spent several years in prison for a series of financial crimes.
The resolution of condemnation was passed last Thursday by Lakewood’s town council. Representatives of SWC and local community activists have been engaged in discussions with other local governments. Sources said that several council members have been receptive, but there was no confirmation as to whether any of the bodies would vote to adopt the resolution.
Calls for comment by Hamodia to members of the Jackson and Toms River Town Councils and to Ocean County government were not returned.
Sam Ellenbogen, a member of the Toms River Jewish Community Council (TRJCC), told Hamodia they were hopeful their local elected officials would embrace the resolution.
“We hope that, in light of the strong connections and relationships that we have worked on building, the members of the council will come out and condemn those spreading on-line hate,” he said.
Despite wide accusations to the contrary, RUOC emphatically denies being anti-Semitic, saying it is focusing on “behavior, not religion.” Many feel this, coupled with its heavy reference to data, poses an additional threat of making its messages more palatable to mainstream residents.
Mr. Ellenbogen said he hopes local government’s taking action will blunt the effectiveness of hate groups.
“The benefit [of resolutions of condemnation] is to educate the population that these groups are taking facts and slanting them to convince ordinary people that the hate and fear they are peddling is based on logic. Seeing elected officials call that out will make people who themselves are not anti-Semitic … give the matter a second thought before giving these videos legitimacy,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard over the last few years to promote an atmosphere of constructive dialogue and mutual respect between the diverse religious and ethnic groups which make up the population of Toms River. It’s important that we continue to focus on those positive endeavors and not allow the negativity group to interfere with the collaborative and friendly atmosphere which has been fostered in the broader community.”