Hillel executive refutes charges of ‘Islamophobia’
An op-ed in Rutgers’ student newspaper demanding an apology from Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer for “Islamophobic remarks” leaked from a Twitter exchange last year has been labeled as “false charges” by Hillel’s board and Getraer.
The op-ed, which appeared in the March 8 Daily Targum, was authored by four students affiliated with Rutgers J Street U, the campus branch of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-Palestinian” group.
It claimed the tweeted remarks by Getraer “will neither move forward the relationship between Jewish and Muslim students at Rutgers nor help in our common effort to secure the future of the state of Israel.”
The remarks referenced were part of a January 2015 Twitter exchange between Getraer and “Ido Shapiro,” who, Hillel board members claimed in a statement sent to NJJN, was actually Zaid Jilani, “a virulent anti-Israel activist.”
In the statement, the Hillel board affirmed its support of Getraer, whose work it said, “reflects precious Jewish and Hillel values, [including] social justice and the nurturing of interfaith relations.” It asserted he is an asset to both the Jewish and Rutgers communities.
The board statement, signed by president Roy Tanzman, vice president Dr. Richard Bullock, Hillel president Alex Hamilton, and vice president Samantha Brandspiegel, noted that during Getraer’s 15 years as executive director, “[n]ever once have any of us heard him utter an anti-Muslim or anti-any religious or ethnic group comment.”
In a phone interview, Getraer said he has always encouraged Muslim-Jewish interfaith programs and has often taken stands to support the Muslim community.
“I would argue actions speak louder than libelous words, and the slander made up by an anti-Israel activist now being perpetuated by other folks who don’t know enough and whose views are accepted uncritically by students who don’t know the fuller picture,” said Getraer.
The op-ed, by Samantha Glass, Thomas Krapin, Aaron Kessler, and Gilad Abarbanel, stated the alleged Islamophobia had “hurt our campus community and impeded our pro-Israel work.”
“These Islamophobic comments are not in line with our Jewish values, but because of the positions Andrew Getraer and Rutgers Hillel hold, these words have unfortunately come to represent all of the Jewish community here at our school in the minds of many people on and off-campus,” they wrote.
Glass and Krapin met with NJJN on Rutgers’ Livingston Campus in Piscataway. They said J Street U has been shunned by Muslim groups who don’t want to engage with them because of Getraer’s refusal to apologize.
However, said Glass, a junior from Hoboken, “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from Jewish students who have said, ‘Thank you. We were afraid to say what you did.’”
The two also claimed J Street U has been shunted aside by Hillel and that Getraer has blocked efforts to integrate the group into Hillel for fear of upsetting donors.
“I have never had a donor ever say to me I shouldn’t work with J Street,” Getraer told NJJN. “I have told this to J Street, our staff, and our students.”
The students also said a phony Rutgers J Street U website, with an anti-Israel message they don’t support, was put up by someone they believe to be a Hillel alumnus; it has since been taken down.
Krapin, a junior from El Paso, Tex., said, “If [Getraer] doesn’t apologize, this will have ruined my college experience. We no longer feel comfortable at Hillel. For him to say these things and not apologize affects our goal to create that safe space” for discussions about Israel and Palestine.
Glass said Rutgers J Street U has about 20 regular members. She was secretary of Hillel last year and said she “definitely loves Hillel.” Both said they often attend its Shabbat dinners and insisted they want to continue being active.
Getraer told NJJN that student members of J Street U spoke about the organization at Hillel two weeks earlier. “They felt comfortable enough to come to our meeting,” he said. “We certainly welcome [J Street Members] to come and have invited them to come to our more left-wing Israel events, and we hope they come to our Shabbat programs.”
In its statement, the Hillel board said the claims against Getraer “are based on false charges made more than a year ago.”
The “so-called ‘Islamophobic’ characterization” resulted from the private Twitter exchange between Getraer and “Ido Shapiro,” who had contacted Getraer “to ostensibly learn more about Israeli-Palestinian relations,” said the statement.
Some of the Twitter exchange is reproduced as part of an article that Jilani posted to the website alternet.org. Parts of the exchange go back to December 2014 and continue through January.
The Hillel statement claimed Shapiro turned out be a cover for Jilani himself, “a virulent anti-Israel activist best known for having been fired from his position at the Center for American Progress [a public policy research and advocacy organization] for his anti-Semitic blog posts.”
Jilani’s article says that the user of “Shapiro”’s account — which, the board noted, was “quickly closed” following the article’s appearance — agreed to share the “shocking” tweets, which Jilani claimed were “a violation of Hillel’s historic legacy by engaging in Islamophobia, suggesting that true Islam means murdering non-believers, and that 375 million Muslims, including numerous Muslim students at Rutgers, believe in this ideology.”
Getraer, while not commenting directly on the reproduced tweets, denied the incident had hampered interfaith relations on campus.
“Despite the tensions on campus, which are real, between Muslim and Jewish students, we continue to have events for Muslim and Jewish students,” he said. “This year we had Muslim, Jewish, and Christian dialogues. We had a group of Muslim students as our guests for a Muslim-Jewish dinner on Sukkot. Our Hillel student leaders have met with and talked with Muslim student leaders, which is something I encourage them to do all the time.”
Glass said if the tweets were misinterpreted, Getraer should own up to it.
“If it’s not what he meant, he should explain that ‘It’s just this one time; it’s my bad,’ and we can move on,” she said. “To just have these comments out there is irresponsible. When we talk to our Muslim friends, they can’t believe we are associated with Hillel, but truthfully we’ve never before had a negative experience with Hillel.”