Trustees of Rutgers University’s student newspaper have issued an apology for publishing a student commentary they acknowledged was “anti-Semitic and inaccurate.”
“It never should have run,” the trustees of The Daily Targum wrote in a Jan. 30 letter addressed to Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer and student president Ariel Lubow.
The letter apologized to Hillel and “the entire Jewish community” for publishing the Jan. 23 commentary by student Colleen Jolly. The board said it was taking “unprecedented” steps to ensure such an incident never reoccurs.
Questioning plans for a new Rutgers Hillel building, Jolly’s commentary alluded to what multiple critics called anti-Jewish canards regarding money. She also asserted that the “Jewish nature” of Hillel made non-Jews feel unwelcome, and asked why the campus needed a “second Jewish building on a historically reformed Dutch college [sic].”
The publication of Jolly’s commentary led to almost two weeks of unrelenting criticism by Jewish and non-Jewish students and campus organizations. Student editors were ordered to take down the commentary from the paper’s website by the Targum board of trustees as soon as it learned of its publication.
Getraer told NJJN he found the apology “mature and thoughtful,” demonstrating that Targum understood the seriousness of the issue “and is determined to change the culture and operation of the paper for the better.”
In its apology, the Targum board acknowledged past complaints about the accuracy of opinion pieces about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the amount of space given to anti-Israel opinions.
The board said it is “taking the unusual step” of requiring all letters to the editor and commentary regarding those matters to be submitted to the board for vetting.
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.
“We understand there is a history of problems here and we want you to know that we are taking steps to address them,” read the apology letter.
Noting the paper’s editorial board was changing over in two weeks, the board said future editors would be required to undergo professional training with media experts.
The letter stated, however, “They are students and they make mistakes. They have apologized for those mistakes and are working with the board to make sure this does not happen again.”
Getraer said he found the measures significant because it was the first time the Targum had acknowledged 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,” said Getraer.
In her commentary, Jolly, a senior majoring in planning and public policy, suggested the money being raised and spent for a new Hillel building could be put to better use for street lighting in New Brunswick or creating housing for college alumni.
Confusingly, Jolly also acknowledged that the Hillel building is “seemingly self-funded.” “If you know anything about Israel, you can conclude that pro-Israel parties are good at getting money into funds, i.e. the purchases of Jewish National Fund and modern-day Palestine [sic],” she wrote.
Jolly’s commentary also questioned the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County’s use of the Douglass College Center for its Dec. 2 Super Sunday. “I am not 100 percent sure where this money is going, but seeing that they used a university building my only guess would be to the university, or specifically to the proposed Hillel building,” she wrote.
Jolly did not reply to a reporter’s message left on her Facebook page.
More than one reader responded that the federation only rented the Douglass space for its own annual fund-raiser, that the Hillel building is being funded entirely with private donations, and that Rutgers, like all state universities, accommodates and welcomes a wide variety of religious and ethnic clubs and societies.
Hillel also is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Editor-in-chief Enrico Cabredo, in response to the storm of criticism, explained the paper’s decision to publish the piece, but acknowledged the criticism.
“The Daily Targum does not practice censorship and hopes to create conversation about issues on campus,” he wrote in the Jan. 27 edition. “Looking back, elements in [Jolly’s] piece relay discriminatory undertones that do not reflect the values and goals of our organization. These elements, which I personally find distasteful and irrelevant, greatly overshadow any sort of argument the author was trying to make.”
However, the explanation prompted a scathing response from Getraer and Lubow, published Jan. 29.
“The Targum defamed Rutgers Hillel, one of Rutgers’ oldest campus organizations, and vilified the entire Jewish community, one of the largest minority communities on campus, with anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudice,” they wrote. “That is what requires an apology.”
Jolly’s commentary also drew the ire of the Alliance to Advance Interfaith Collaboration at Rutgers University, comprised of Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and several Protestant campus chaplains.
In a Jan. 27 letter to the editor, they charged that Jolly’s commentary “perpetuated Jewish stereotypes about money in a revolting way.”
“To answer the author of the commentary, ‘As a non-Jewish person, does the Jewish nature make you feel welcome?’” the Alliance wrote. “The answer is yes: We all have been welcomed into Hillel, and we and our students will be welcomed there once the new building is completed.”
Rutgers Chabad also lent support to its “sister organization” in a Feb. 3 letter written by director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach.
Carlebach said Jolly and those who chose to print her commentary didn’t reflect the campus as a whole, and that Chabad has always felt welcomed. However, he added, he has recently noticed “an increase in the level of anti-Semitism often masked as anti-Israel activities here on campus.”
“Chabad House, with its campus rabbis, Baruch Goodman and Shaya Shagalow, stand together with Hillel, and we fully support its efforts in the endeavor of their new building and in standing up against this attack.”