Hollow assurances

Hollow assurances

After meeting with Rutgers University officials last December, New Jersey Jewish leaders may say they feel better about the campus being safe and welcoming for Jewish students (“Rutgers brass offer assurances to Jewish leaders,” Jan. 26). But the facts compel a different view. Rutgers has never addressed several serious incidents that have harmed Jewish students.

These incidents were detailed in a student-supported complaint that the Zionist Organization of America filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Rutgers knew about anti-Semitic hostility on the campus but failed to address it, in violation of federal law.

The ZOA was not invited to the meeting between Rutgers and state Jewish leaders — nor, to our knowledge, were students — so Rutgers did not have to answer tough questions about the conduct alleged in the ZOA’s complaint. Fortunately, the university will have to answer to government authorities, who have decided that the ZOA’s claims warrant investigation.

The federal probe will be looking into how Rutgers responded when violent threats were made against a Jewish student who wrote pro-Israel articles for the Rutgers student paper. After one such article, another student posted a Facebook message about the student, writing that he’d “be happy to see” him “beat with a crowbar. Violence doesnt [sic] solve problems but it shuts up people who shouldnt [sic] speak.” Fearing for his physical safety, the student sought police protection. He also filed a bias report, which the university is supposed to respond to within 24 hours. Not a single university official reached out to the student. for more than a month. Eventually, he received a cursory e-mail from the Dean of Students, informing him that there were insufficient grounds to formally charge the student who had threatened him. It is difficult to conceive of what else Rutgers would have needed to charge the student beyond the Facebook message itself. Rutgers did not discipline the wrongdoer, even though the university’s own rules state that a threat of force is so serious that it can result in suspension or expulsion.

The Jewish student was also physically threatened and subjected to anti-Semitic name-calling by Shehnaz Abdeljaber, the Outreach Coordinator of Rutgers’ Middle East Studies Center. Ms. Abdeljaber confronted him after a student body meeting, and tried to provoke a physical fight, yelling at him such words as “I’m Palestinian. Do you want to take me on? Do you want to fight? I have thick blood. Try me.” Ms. Abdeljaber also posted a Facebook message about the student, calling him “that racist Zionist pig!!!!!!!!” She encouraged other Facebook users to “put his name in fb [Facebook] search…he has a fb [Facebook] hate page” — as if celebrating that people were posting hateful messages about the student and urging others to find that Facebook page so that they could read the comments and post their own.

Rutgers knows about Ms. Abdeljaber’s conduct, but as of this date, she is still identified and works in her role at MESC. In fact, when the ZOA wrote to Rutgers President Richard McCormick about her conduct before filing the complaint, President McCormick dismissed our concerns, writing that “inappropriate language does not automatically constitute a breach of law or of university policy, nor does an individual’s private conduct necessarily constitute a breach of professional responsibility.” It is difficult to conceive of how Rutgers could suggest that a university employee’s physical threats and anti-Semitic name-calling against a Jewish student would not be a breach of professional responsibility. What kind of constructive outreach could Ms. Abdeljaber possibly be doing with Jewish students who love and support Israel?

Rutgers has also never satisfactorily addressed what happened at a campus event called “Never Again for Anyone.” Its offensive content aside (the program analogized the Nazis’ treatment of Jews to Israel’s policies and practices toward the Palestinian Arabs), the admissions policy for the event discriminated against Jews and supporters of Israel. The event was advertised as free and open to the public, but when the sponsors and promoters saw how many “Zionists” (meaning Jews and Israel supporters) showed up, the admissions policy was suddenly changed and an admission fee was imposed. According to student witnesses, the policy was selectively enforced: If you were perceived to be Jewish or pro-Israel, you had to pay; otherwise, you got in for free. Afterwards, the university issued a bland statement about the event, but it never condemned the discrimination or even acknowledged that it occurred.

NJ Jewish leaders shouldn’t feel so reassured. Rutgers’ words are hollow without appropriate action that ensures a safe and welcoming environment for Jewish students.

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
Director, Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America

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