Pro-Palestinian events at Rutgers draw scrutiny
Jewish leaders worry campus will become hotbed of activism
A series of pro-Palestinian events at Rutgers University is drawing concern from Jewish community leaders.
The third annual conference of American Muslims for Palestine is scheduled for Nov. 26-28 at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, blocks away from the main Rutgers campus.
The conference comes on the heels of a number of events sponsored by BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice. On Nov. 4 BAKA held an event to raise funds for activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
And on Nov. 16 it hosted an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a harsh critic of Israeli policy and an author of books claiming Jews manipulate the Holocaust to promote Israel.
On Nov. 10, BAKA, the Rutgers Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Department of Journalism and Media hosted Arabs and the Holocaust: A History of Competing Narratives, a program featuring Gilbert Achar, coauthor with Noam Chomsky — another harsh critic of Israel — of The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy.
In addition, when Rutgers Hillel hosted a talk earlier this month by Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Bedouin who served in Israel’s Defense Ministry, Hillel officials said a large and well-organized delegation of anti-Israel activists, who came early enough to occupy the first row or two, attempted to monopolize the question-and-answer period.
Community members believe the preponderance of such events is no coincidence.
“We find it alarming that for the last month there have been these large, high-profile anti-Israel events every week that are attracting a couple hundred people, both students and community members,” said Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer. “They are obviously a well organized and well funded effort.”
He added this was the first time since 2003, when the organization launched its Israel Inspires event in response to anti-Israel protests, that it felt the Rutgers campus might become a hotbed for the kind of anti-Israel activism seen at University of California-Irvine and Montreal’s Concordia University.
Getraer said he believes Rutgers may be targeted next semester for an “Israel Apartheid Week,” similar to events that have taken place on some other campuses.
With students returning from Thanksgiving to final exams and then semester break, Getraer said, Israel supporters will not be able to mount counter-efforts until next semester.
‘Extreme anti-Israel views’
Etzion Neuer, NJ director of the Anti-Defamation League, said students should look for positive ways to share their message and be “proactive rather than reactive.”
“Much of the anti-Israel activity is centered on demonizing Israel and using deliberately false analogies meant to cast Israel as an ‘apartheid state.’ Groups may encourage organizing boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel,” he said. “Students should make a positive case for Israel instead of focusing solely on refuting and counteracting anti-Israel agitation. Instead of always playing catch-up and acting within the parameters of an agenda that is set by others, positive programming sets the tone and the agenda of the campus climate.”
Philip Cantor, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, said the federation was monitoring the situation.
“What a remarkable coincidence that just when all of this is going on at Rutgers there is a Palestinian conference in a city with few Muslims and few Jews, but where there are over 5,000 Jewish students at Rutgers,” he said facetiously.
However, American Muslims for Palestine spokesperson Kristin Szremski denied there was any connection. She said the group was unaware of any of BAKA’s activities and, as a national organization, the Chicago area-based group holds its conventions at various locales.
There was no ulterior motive behind the selection of New Brunswick, she said.
“That was completely not on our radar,” she told NJJN. “We are an American organization working in America for Americans.”
Neuer also said he didn’t necessarily see the Rutgers activity and the convention as being related, but said AMP has “extreme anti-Israel views” and “has been a forum for anti-Semitism and support for terrorism, all under the guise of educating Americans about the cause of Palestinians.”
He noted material has been dispensed by anti-Semites on AMP listservs.
Among the speakers at the conference in New Brunswick will be George Galloway, a former British Parliament member and anti-Israel activist who has held fund-raisers for Hamas.
Szremski, however, denied the accusations. “We are not anti-Semitic,” she said, “and, in fact, we work with Jewish groups and there will be Jewish people at the conference,” she said.
Szremski said among those her group works with are a Chicago-area synagogue and Jewish Voice for Peace (which was named by ADL several months ago to its top 10 anti-Israel organizations).
Further denying charges of anti-Semitism, Szremski said, “We talk about Israel’s policy as a human rights issue. We talk about the Gaza occupation as being against international law. We in no way support terrorism. Because we are an Islamic organization people want to stick that label on us. People who say we support terrorism are making a baseless and also libelous accusation.”