By: Morton A. Klein
April 7, 2011
ZOA to Rutgers: Stop Campus Anti-Semitism, Israel-Bashing
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Title VI Obligations
ZOA to Rutgers: Stop Campus Anti-Semitism, Israel-Bashing
and Violent Threats
In a letter delivered yesterday to Dr. Richard L. McCormick, President of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) described in substantial detail reports from Jewish students that the campus environment is increasingly hostile, anti-Semitic and even includes violent threats against a Jewish student. The ZOA provided President McCormick with an October 2010 policy letter from the U.S. Department of Education, making it clear that federally-funded schools like Rutgers have a legal obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to eliminate anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation, and prevent it from recurring. Title VI requires that recipients of federal funding ensure that their programs and activities are free from racial and ethnic discrimination, or risk losing their federal funding. The ZOA called on President McCormick to ensure that Rutgers complies with its legal obligations under Title VI, and proposed several specific and reasonable steps for the university to take.
The ZOA’s 15-page letter, based on input from Rutgers students, describes a hostile anti-Semitic campus environment that has included violent threats. The problems that Jewish students are facing include the following:
· Events and programs demonizing Jews and Israel have become a regular occurrence at Rutgers, sponsored by a student group called BAKA [an acronym for Belief, Awareness, Knowledge and Action] – Students United for Middle Eastern Justice. These programs and events have demonized Jews and Israel, denied the Jewish people their right to self-determination, applied double standards when it comes to Israel, and compared Israeli policy to that of the Nazis – all of which are contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism according to the U.S. government’s own guidelines.
· One event last January – entitled “Never Again for Anyone” – falsely and offensively analogized the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews to Israel’s polices and practices toward the Palestinian Arabs. The event was organized by BAKA in collaboration with three outside organizations. BAKA had advertised the event as “free and open to the public.” But when a large number of Jews and Israel supporters showed up at the event, the admissions policy was abruptly changed and a mandatory admission fee of $5.00 was imposed. According to students present at the event, the mandatory admission fee was selectively enforced. BAKA members and others who, by their attire and signs, were deemed friendly to BAKA’s cause, were observed getting in for free. In contrast, those who were perceived as Jewish and pro-Israel had to pay to be admitted. With insufficient time to investigate what occurred, Rutgers issued a statement about the event the next day. The statement did not address the fact that the admissions policy was selectively enforced against Jews and Israel supporters and thus was discriminatory and anti-Semitic. The statement did not condemn the inflammatory and anti-Semitic falsehoods promoted at the event. Rutgers issued no further statements, and has given no indication that it is investigating what occurred at the event. In yesterday’s letter to President McCormick, the ZOA stated: “To all appearances, Rutgers has simply pushed the matter under the rug, at the expense of Jewish students who view the campus as increasingly hostile to them and to Israel. The university’s seeming indifference to Jewish students’ concerns has intensified the climate of hostility.”
· Jewish students reported to the ZOA that they feel harassed and intimidated, afraid to show or express their support for Israel. One student described being afraid to wear anything with the Israel Defense Forces logo on it, and is even reluctant to discuss on campus his experience of studying abroad in Israel. Other students described fearing for their physical safety. The harassment and intimidation is occurring in the classroom too, where Jewish students say that Middle East studies courses are so unfairly biased against Israel that they are too uncomfortable or intimidated to enroll in these courses. When they do enroll, they are reluctant and even intimidated to speak up and say that they support Israel.
· One Jewish student, who writes about Israel among other topics for the Targum, Rutgers’ student paper, has been targeted and physically threatened for exercising his right to free speech. Another student posted the following message about this Jewish student on Facebook: “As I was reading the . . . [Jewish student’s] column [in the Targum] this morning, I realized how Im [sic] a pretty angry person. Id [sic] be happy to see him beat [sic] with a crow bar. Violence doesnt [sic] solve problems but it shuts up people who shouldnt [sic] speak.” At least seven of the writer’s Facebook friends clicked “like” on this message, indicating their approval of the threat of violence against the Jewish student. One responded with a threat of his own. The Jewish student sought police protection and removed his contact information from the Rutgers directory, which is normally accessible to the public. He also filed a bias incident report with the Dean of Students, in accordance with Rutgers’ policies and procedures. Although Rutgers represents that victims of bias will be contacted within 24 hours of filing a bias report, no one from the university contacted this student until more than a month after he filed his bias report. When the Dean of Students finally contacted him by e-mail, the Dean of Students stated that there were insufficient grounds to formally charge the student who had issued the threat. The offender was simply given a warning – even though Rutgers’ Student Code of Conduct specifically states that threatening to use force against another person is prohibited and could lead even to suspension or expulsion from the university. There is no indication that the other student who also physically threatened the Jewish student suffered any consequence at all.
· This same Jewish student was harassed, threatened and intimidated by a university official – Shehnaz Sheik Abdeljaber, the Outreach Coordinator for Rutgers’ Center for Middle East Studies. On a Facebook page criticizing an article that the Jewish student had written in the Targum, Ms. Abdeljaber referred to the Jewish student as “that racist Zionist pig!!!!!!!!” In her posting, Ms. Abdeljaber also encouraged others to “put his [the Jewish student’s] name in fb [Facebook] search . . . he has a fb [Facebook] hate page” – as if celebrating that there is a page on Facebook where people post hateful comments about the Jewish student, and encouraging others to find it so that they can read the comments and post their own hateful messages. After a student body meeting last November, Ms. Abdeljaber also physically threatened and tried to intimidate the Jewish student. She rushed toward the Jewish student, yelling at him – with words such as, “I’m Palestinian. Do you want to take me on? Do you want to fight? I have thick blood. Try me.” — and trying to provoke a fight. Reportedly, police were called to diffuse the situation. If a university investigation shows that Ms. Abdeljaber bullied, threatened and intimidated this student, she should be fired.
Rutgers has failed to address and eliminate the problems that Jewish students are facing, the ZOA wrote in its letter to President McCormick yesterday. At a meeting that a small group of Jewish students had with two university officials last February, scheduled purportedly to address Jewish students’ concerns, the university officials put the Jewish students on the defensive and deflected their concerns. One of the university officials immediately stated at the start of the meeting that they would not be addressing what had happened at the “Never Again for Anyone” event in January, a topic that the students had come to discuss. This same official brought up issues unrelated to the problems at Rutgers, and made the students feel as if they were the aggressors against BAKA students and that they had engaged in hostility toward Muslims, when nothing could be further from the truth. Although the university officials stated that there would be a post-meeting follow-up, there has been none. In addition, several Jewish students have filed bias complaints, but the university has not acted on them.
In urging President McCormick to finally address and eliminate the problems that Jewish students are facing, the ZOA provided him with the October 2010 policy letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education, regarding bullying and harassment in federally-funded schools. In the letter, the Department made it clear that schools have a legal obligation to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The obligation includes not only ending harassment and eliminating the hostile environment and its effects, but also preventing the harassment from recurring.
The ZOA proposed several steps that Rutgers should strongly consider taking to comply with its obligations under Title VI, including:
· Publicly labeling and condemning anti-Semitism when it occurs on campus, including when it is expressed as anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiment that has the effect of promoting prejudice against or hatred of Jews.
· Meeting with Jewish students to listen to their concerns and working together on solutions.
· Investigating what occurred at the “Never Again for Anyone event in January 2011, determining whether university policies were violated, and imposing consequences where warranted by the evidence – on BAKA and on the three outside organizations who co-sponsored the event.
· Investigating thoroughly, and resolving fairly, each bias report filed by Jewish students.
· Investigating the conduct of Shehnaz Sheik Abdeljaber, Rutgers’ Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Middle East Studies. If the evidence shows that she bullied, threatened and intimidated a student, she should be fired.
· Providing training for faculty and administrators to recognize and address anti-Semitic incidents.
· Creating programs for students that will educate them about the history and dangers of anti-Semitism in all of its manifestations.
· Undertaking a comprehensive review of university course descriptions and course materials to ensure that principles of academic freedom aren’t being subverted by sacrificing facts and historical truths to promote a particular political agenda, and that students aren’t being discouraged or intimidated into not expressing their views supporting Israel or criticizing the actions of is enemies.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, praised the Jewish students who have come forward to the ZOA seeking help in resolving the serious problems they are facing at Rutgers; they urged Rutgers President McCormick to respond to students’ concerns immediately and take the necessary steps to eliminate anti-Semitic campus hostilities: “We want to personally commend the students who’ve come forward to object to the hostile campus environment they’re facing at Rutgers. We have worked closely with these students and they are smart, articulate, strong and courageous. They’re looking for one simple thing that every student is entitled to: A place to study and grow that’s conducive to learning and that’s physically and emotionally safe.
“Rutgers is an excellent school with a fine reputation. We don’t want to see that reputation tarnished and ruined, and Rutgers become known as a campus that’s unwelcoming or downright hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel students.
“The ZOA has proposed several steps that Rutgers should strongly consider taking to eliminate the hostile environment and make sure that it doesn’t recur. All of the steps are reasonable; many of them have been suggested by the U.S. Department of Education itself in its recent policy letter addressing harassment in federally funded schools. We urge President McCormick to finally respond to the campus hostilities that are affecting and harming Jewish students. If black, Hispanic, Muslim or gay students were facing bigotry and being harassed, threatened and intimidated, there’s no question that Rutgers would immediately respond to their problems and make every effort to fix them, as well it should. Why isn’t that happening when it comes to the problems of Jewish students? Jewish students deserve no less. The ZOA is ready and willing to work with President McCormick and his administration to make sure that Jewish students get the kind of welcoming and safe campus environment free from bigotry that every student needs and deserves.”