The Respect Our Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, Richly Deserves

We must speak out.

When radio hosts Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco have the audacity to refer to New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal as “Turban Man,” we must speak out.

The unconscionable excuse the hosts of WKXW’s program made for referring to the attorney general in such a manner was that they simply could not remember his name.

I’m sorry, but although it’s true that everyone makes mistakes, using a negative stereotype that insults an entire minority only compounds the original insult exponentially.

As the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s eastern director, I know full well that our core responsibility is to protect our own people. However, as we teach the world to combat hate through the vast array of tools that we have compiled institutionally, including our educational arm, the Museum of Tolerance, and our Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, we make sure at the same time to teach that as Americans we have the unmistakable obligation to be equally dedicated to fighting intolerance when it targets others as well. We make sure to teach that being bystanders when the target is some other minority or group is simply not an option.

In this case, however, the target, the nation’s first and only Sikh-American state attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, has earned our respect and support not only for having a career-long track record of fighting against those who hate, but also by recently taking significant and substantive action to defend the Jewish community’s concerns.

As an Englewood City Council member, I can fully appreciate the difficulties encountered by government officials working in these challenging times. I have witnessed Mr. Grewal’s positive attributes firsthand during his recent tenure as the Bergen County prosecutor, and I can attest to the fact that there are few individuals in whom we can better put our faith in when intolerance in our midst requires someone in authority to stare it down.

Let us remember that when the Mahwah Township council began passing ordinances a year ago aimed at precluding Jewish children from using its public parks and playgrounds by stipulating that only New Jersey residents would be permitted on their slides and swings sets, it was Mr. Grewal who made sure that its police chief understood that his office would not accept discriminatory enforcement, which in this particular case logically would be the only enforcement possible. It was Mr. Grewal who made sure to ask the right questions, to ask how someone could differentiate a New York resident from a New Jersey resident in a public park, other than by the fact that the New Yorkers possibly would be identifiable through their religious dress. It was Mr. Grewal who made sure that the local police understood that such discriminatory and religious-based restrictions had better not be enforced.

Let us also remember that at some point, when we begin to forget the Mahwah eruv controversy, that now, as attorney general, Mr. Grewal not only continues to pressure the township with the state’s discrimination suit, which already had been filed against it, but also is advocating for measures to ensure that any future discriminatory moves will be met with severe consequences.

Bottom line — all minorities and peoples have an ally and advocate in New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

I have had the fortune of knowing countless elected and appointed officials, but is it the rare person in a powerful position who makes sure to take the time to truly understand the communities he represents and is tasked to defend. Mr. Grewal does that. When Governor Murphy held his Passover seder at Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence, this spring, I literally broke matzah there with the attorney general. His presence was an act of solidarity and an act of friendship. Simply put, he cares.

Finally, in speaking of Gurbir Grewal, I must speak out to say thank you to a leader who truly stands for tolerance and justice and very much deserves our sincere appreciation.

Memo to Mr. Malloy and Ms. Franco: Remember the name and remember the man — Gurbir Grewal. Everyone in New Jersey is better off having an advocate like him serving the people of our great state and the cause of justice.

About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.