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Former Rutgers newspaper editor charges pro-Israel bias
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Former Rutgers newspaper editor charges pro-Israel bias

Claims Targum board tried to strong-arm student journalists

Just weeks after the trustees of the Rutgers Daily Targum said it would address a pattern of anti-Israel bias at the campus newspaper, its outgoing opinions editor has complained that the board has bowed to pressure from the campus Hillel in an “unchecked exercise of censorship.”

Writing in the Huffington Post, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh charged that her job was threatened during her tenure, “as a result of publishing content that was not strictly in favor of Israel.” She claims the board tried to strong-arm student editors into publishing pro-Israel letters.

“I gave pro-Israel letters the very same treatment I gave any other letters that came to my desk, yet that was not good enough for my critics or superiors,” she wrote.

Al-Khatahtbeh, a member of an editorial team whose term ended Feb. 14, was responsible for the Jan. 23 publication of an essay by a student that even Al-Khatahtbeh acknowledges had “anti-Semitic overtones.” That essay, questioning the need for a new privately funded Hillel building, led to an angry response from Hillel and an apology by Targum’s board of trustees.

In its apology, the Targum board said it is “taking the unusual step” of requiring all letters to the editor and commentary regarding Israel, Palestinians, and Hillel to be submitted to the board for vetting.

At the time, Andrew Getraer, Hillel’s executive director, said he found the measures significant because it was the first time the Targum had acknowledged longstanding complaints by the Jewish community of bias in its coverage of Israel and the Jewish community.

“This has been an ongoing source of pain and frustration for students and other members of the Jewish community,” Getraer told NJJN.

However, Al-Khatahtbeh said the board’s vetting impinged on students’ freedom of speech.

“The Board of Trustees is not only catering to the sole requests of Hillel, but is also exercising an overarching and seemingly limitless power over editorial content — positioning itself for an unchecked exercise of censorship,” Al-Khatahtbeh wrote in the Huffington Post. “Not only has the board been a complete enigma to the editorial staff and public and criticized for its lack of transparency, but information about its membership, capabilities, and the limits of its editorial discretion are convoluted and not outlined anywhere on the Targum website.”

Targum officials told NJJN the board consists of Targum’s editor-in-chief, managing editor, business and marketing managers, four alumni, the board comptroller, a faculty and staff member, and student representatives.

Al-Khatahtbeh said accusations that she was biased were unfounded.

A Muslim-American, said she was awarded a Daniel Pearl scholarship from Temple B'nai Shalom in her hometown of East Brunswick for her work on increasing tolerance, and that she has promoted interfaith dialogue on campus.

“To the contrary, I have gone out of my way to publish opinions I disagree with,” she wrote. One of those pieces was the essay questioning the Hillel building. She said she chose to publish it “because I refuse to censor any opinions, even ones that I may personally disagree with,” and because she hoped it would result in a “positive dialogue about tolerance of all religious and cultural groups on campus.”

Al-Khatahtbeh charged that Hillel demanded “what amounts to its control over the Targum and its staff members” and alleged the board accommodated Hillel and Getraer’s “public display of bullying.”

Getraer, in response to her allegations, told NJJN that of the four things Hillel had requested in response to last month’s essay, only one — the apology — was granted.

“Hillel's statements on the issue and the Targum's statement are all public and can be found on our website, rutgershillel.org/media/press-releases,” said Getraer in an e-mail. “The facts are easily available and have already been well vetted. Nothing is to be gained by commenting on false, manufactured allegations.”

Skylar Frederick, whose term as Targum’s managing editor also ended Feb. 14, denied that seeking the board’s approval for articles and letters amounts to censorship. She said the board is set up by design to assure the newspaper’s independence from the university.

“Everything that happens in editorial [and staff hiring and firing], the Board does get the final say,” Frederick told the website College Media Matters. Al-Khatahtbeh “doesn’t understand that and has never understood that. That is the biggest thing. The Board has the power, the right. It’s not censorship. It’s the Board’s purpose.”

Added Frederick: “We are students, and we need someone to look to, and it just so happens that because we’re independent we don’t have someone directly in the university who we’re forced to talk to.”

drubin@njjewishnews.com

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