State Jewish leaders have asked Rutgers University to consider suspending publication of a campus satirical newspaper that mocked a Jewish student by invoking Hitler, pending the outcome of an investigation.
In a letter to university president Richard McCormick, the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations called the satirical op-ed, appearing in The Medium, “a personal affront and painful” to the student, Aaron Marcus.
The letter claimed The Medium and its staff had “crossed a red line” and engaged in bullying and harassment of Marcus. By invoking the Holocaust and Hitler, the authors “engaged in an overt act of anti-Semitism,” the letter claims.
While the association praised McCormick for condemning the fake op-ed as “extremely offensive and repugnant” and launching an investigation of the matter as a bias incident, the four-page letter asked that the results of the investigation be released swiftly and that the university “secure” an apology from the student editors.
“While we all respect the First Amendment as the bulwark of a free society, we do not believe the Medium should be allowed to hide behind a First Amendment claim,” the letter reads. “The Medium, of course, has a right to be offensive, which it exercises frequently. But we do not agree that the Medium has the right to appropriate Aaron’s name and image the way it did, and attribute this despicable and offensive article to Aaron, in a style and manner which reasonably convinced many people Aaron was indeed the author.”
The article, appearing in the April Fool’s edition of The Medium, used Marcus’s real name and photograph and attributed to him an article praising Hitler for the “good things he did.”
The letter was signed by State Association president Ruth Cole; president-elect Mark Levenson; Rutgers Hillel president, Roy Tanzman, and executive director, Andrew Getraer; Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ; Jason Shames, executive vice president/CEO, Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey; and Gerrie Bamira, executive director, Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, who was on vacation when the letter was being circulated for signatures, told NJJN he is “fully supportive of the letter.”
In a response sent the same day to an April 30 inquiry from NJJN, McCormick said that Rutgers “is working hard with all the various members of the university community to safeguard the right of all students, including Jewish students, to enjoy an educational environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.”
Marcus, who wrote a column for The Daily Targum, is well known on campus for his strongly pro-Israel views and conservative politics. He is also at the center of a claim by the Zionist Organization of America that the university hasn’t done enough to protect him and other Jewish students from harassment for their pro-Israel views. The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is pursuing ZOA’s complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
State Association executive director Jacob Toporek said the association waited to issue its letter until after the first meeting on April 25 of the university’s Advisory Council on Jewish Life. The council was formed by the university several months ago to “have a point of liaison” between the Rutgers administration and Jewish academics and organizations following a series of campus events involving pro-Palestinian students and activists.
Toporek said 25 individuals representing Rutgers Chabad, Rutgers Hillel, the State Association, and Rutgers’ Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life attended the first meeting. The university was represented by its vice president for student affairs, Gregory Blimling; university associate counsel Monica Barrett; and vice president for university relations, Kim Manning.
“They were very frank with us that’s there’s not much they can do,” said Toporek. “They’re running up against the First Amendment. They did agree with us that perhaps the university could have done better with making this a teaching moment.”
A group that defends First Amendment rights on campus also asserted that the satire was protected speech.
In an April 20 letter to university officials, Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned McCormick that the First Amendment’s protections of student publications extend to public universities like Rutgers. “Rutgers may not punish the newspaper, its editors, or any of its writers simply due to the offense it has caused Marcus and others,” Bonilla wrote.
The State Association also requested that The Medium remove the article from its website and shred all copies of the offending issue.
Criticism was also leveled at Ronald Miskoff, the journalism lecturer who serves as The Medium’s adviser, citing his “lack of oversight on content.”
“Not only did Miskoff admit that he did not read the article until after it was printed, but his later remarks were insensitive to Marcus and others who have lost loved ones in the Holocaust,” said Toporek in a news release, referring to an interview Miskoff gave to The Jewish Week.
In a May 1 e-mail to NJJN, Miskoff said his remarks were not meant to be insensitive. “A large part of my own family was killed in the Holocaust,” he wrote, adding, “That doesn’t place me above criticism.”
He explained that at college newspapers across the country, “advisers, except in rare cases, do not review written copy before publication.” He cited an article on the Student Press Law Center website stating that “Courts have consistently found it unconstitutional for state colleges to require material for campus newspapers to be submitted to faculty for review prior to publication….”
“College editors are expected to take responsibility for their actions,” said Miskoff. “If the adviser approved all copy, that would make the adviser the de facto editor.”
The State Association letter asks Rutgers to “address the lack of supervision and education that the Medium staff receives” from Miskoff and said it would also like to see him formally reprimanded, be required to issue an apology, and banned from faculty adviser appointments “for his outrageously insensitive remarks.”
Miskoff said he had not seen the letter nor been told that the State Association had asked that he be reprimanded. He said he would not be able to respond to the letter before this article went to press.
In a May 1 interview, Marcus said he believed the Medium article was “just another way anti-Semitism is tolerated here at Rutgers.”
He said the international attention generated by the satirical column helped dispel the belief among some students that he authored it.
“I really do believe the goal of the authors was to harm my reputation,” said Marcus. “Why else would they do something so hurtful?”