Rutgers University has one of the largest Jewish undergraduate populations in the United States. It has a beautiful new Hillel building and one of the finest Hillel directors in the country.
But Rutgers has had a serious anti-Semitism problem for years, and the administration is ignoring it.
In 2011, a Jewish student who spoke up in support of Israel was physically threatened by other students on Facebook. The outreach coordinator for the university’s Middle East Studies Center also threatened this Jewish student and referred to him on Facebook as “that racist Zionist pig.” A campus program compared Israelis to Nazis; when many outraged Jews and Israel supporters tried to attend, the sponsors tried to keep them out by charging them a fee, while letting everyone else in for free.
The university’s abysmal reaction to these and other problems led the Zionist Organization of America to file a student-backed legal action against Rutgers in 2011, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that Jewish students were being subjected to a hostile anti-Semitic environment that the administration was failing to address. The case is still pending before the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
In the meantime, the ugliness has continued. Brandeis University released a report last year, identifying Rutgers as one of the campuses in the United States where anti-Semitism is particularly severe.
With this troubling backdrop, Rutgers’ response to recent revelations about three professors — who are themselves promoting hatred of Jews and Israel — is truly shocking, irresponsible, and unacceptable. Instead of terminating the professors, or at least publicly condemning them, Rutgers’ President Robert Barchi defended them in a town hall meeting last week.
One of the professors is Michael Chikindas, who has published and shared dozens of disgusting anti-Semitic posts on social media. He called Judaism “the most racist religion in the world.” He referred to “international fat Jewish pockets” and described “orthodox Judaism” and Zionism as “the best of two forms of racism.” He shared an anti-Semitic caricature of a hook-nosed man wearing a kippah, suggesting that Jews control the Federal Reserve and Wall Street, Hollywood, the “cancer industry,” “pornography,” and “sex trafficking,” among other things. Some of Chikindas’ posts demeaned gays and women.
At the town hall meeting, President Barchi actually justified Chikindas’ hateful posts, reportedly saying, “You may not like what the guy says, but you have to like the fact that he can say it.” No, we don’t. Chikindas’ statements are indefensible, and it’s disgraceful that Barchi did not simply condemn them.
Rutgers supposedly is investigating whether Chikindas’ actions violate Rutgers’ policy against harassment, but the investigation has been ongoing for weeks. Why is it taking so long? It’s clear that Chikindas has created a hostile environment for Jewish students. Who among them possibly could feel safe and accepted in a class with a professor who’s expressed such hatred for Jews?
At the town hall meeting, Barchi also defended and praised Professor Jasbir Puar. The Algemeiner newspaper reported that in her new book, “The Right to Maim,” Puar outrageously contends that the Israeli military shoots Palestinian Arabs to harm rather than kill them, in order to keep them “perpetually debilitated” and “to control them.” When she spoke at Vassar last year, Puar promoted the vicious lie that Israel had “mined for organs for scientific research” from dead Palestinian Arabs. Disgracefully, Barchi called Puar “a well-respected scholar,” even though there’s nothing scholarly about the demonizing lies she is promoting about Israel.
Barchi also defended Mazen Adi, who teaches international criminal law at Rutgers. This is indeed ironic. Before joining the faculty, Adi was Syria’s delegate and legal adviser at the United Nations, where he spoke for a murderous regime that has inflicted chemical attacks and other atrocities on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Like Puar, Adi promoted the vicious lie that Israelis were trafficking children’s organs. Yet Barchi brushed off these concerns, and failed to express the shame and embarrassment he should feel about Rutgers’ irresponsible decision to hire Adi in the first place.
Interestingly, Barchi saved his criticism for the Algemeiner, which has done a superb job in exposing the hateful records of these three professors. Plainly trying to diminish the Algemeiner, Barchi falsely described it as “a blog out of New York” based on an extinct Yiddish newspaper.
Here’s what Barchi should have done instead. He should have exercised his own First Amendment rights by forcefully and unequivocally condemning the three professors for their Jew-hatred and vicious Israel-bashing, and making it crystal clear that anti-Semitism from faculty or anyone else at Rutgers will not be tolerated. He should have affirmed that Jewish students have a legal right to a learning environment that is physically and psychologically safe and that he will vigilantly protect that legal right, which means that the professors will be terminated. Finally, Barchi should have committed to investigating how these three were deemed qualified and worthy to teach at Rutgers, and promised that careful and thorough vetting procedures would be implemented in the future.
Rutgers is supported by our taxpayer dollars. One of us pays tuition as the parent of a Rutgers student. It’s outrageous and unacceptable that one penny of our money should be going to pay the salaries of any professor who promotes hatred of Jews and Israel with lies. Jewish history shows how verbal violence can escalate to physical violence; we should not wait to see any Jewish student at Rutgers be physically assaulted, as they have been on other campuses. Contact President Barchi and let him know that you expect these professors to be fired. Let him know that we will continue to complain about our state university hiring and tolerating anti-Semites.
Susan B. Tuchman of Tenafly is the director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and Alan D. Jay of Paramus is the executive director of the ZOA’s Northern New Jersey chapter.
This article was published by the Jewish Standard and may be found here.