The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Saga Continues: Rutgers President Denies Rutgers' Leadership Ever Apologized for Condemning Antisemitism

And the Rutgers Hillel publishes a welcome sharp response.


Readers will recall that on Friday, I noted that Rutgers University's New Brunswick chancellor condemned the recent uptick in antisemitic violence and other incidents. He then related this to other social justice issues, and included an aside about the Gaza conflict in which he expressed sympathy for victims on both sides, giving more attention to the greater number of Palestinian victims.

That missive nevertheless offended the campus Students for Justice in Palestine, which criticized the chancellor for talking about antisemitism in the US when he should have, in their opinion, been talking about Palestinian suffering and Israel occupation of "historic Palestine" (i.e., Israel itself and the Territories). Remarkably, that led the chancellor to apologize for being not sufficiently sensitive to the SJP students, who then proceeded to reject the apology because they still thought the chancellor should not talk about antisemitism when he could be talking about their grievances with Israel.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, there was an international uproar over the fact that the Rutgers chancellor had thought it necessary to apologize for condemning the rise in antisemitic acts. In response, the university president removed both of the chancellor's messages from the university website, replacing them with this message:

On Hatred and Bigotry

May 29, 2021

Rutgers deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism.

Neither hatred nor bigotry has a place at Rutgers, nor should they have a place anywhere in the world. At Rutgers we believe that anti-Semitism, anti-Hinduism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism, intolerance and xenophobia are unacceptable wherever and whenever they occur.

Jonathan Holloway
President and University Professor

It's a bit strange that Holloway asserted that the university had not apologized for condemning antisemitism when it obviously had done so. The statement apologizing for it literally had the heading, "An Apology." It included, "We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused."

Also a bit strange that, as several correspondents pointed out to me, Holloway included "anti-Hinduism" in his message, but did not mention hostility to traditionalist forms Christianity, which seems more familiar to most of us than "anti-Hinduism."

In any event, Rutgers Hillel, the Jewish student organization, just sent out a message in response to the controversy. In my experience writing about incidents of antisemitism on college campuses, many Hillels' leadership turns out to be worse than useless. Students on Hillel student boards have told me that they were "ordered" by the Hillel director not to say anything that would offend either university leadership or the campus groups with which the Hillel director was seeking to form intersectional alliances, or words to that effect. Almost as discouraging as the antisemitism itself was the failure of people hired to be Jewish leaders to lead.

But not all Hillel directors are so cravenly. The Rutgers Hillel statement hits the right notes, in the right way, even if I would have given Holoway someone less credit than they do (emphasis mine):

Statement Regarding the University and Antisemitism

The last few weeks have been exhausting and terrifying for Jews everywhere. We have seen an eruption of violent antisemitism unparalleled in the last 75 years.

Jews have been assaulted on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, synagogues and even Jewish preschools have been vandalized. This week the Governor of New York felt compelled to order state troopers to protect Jewish spaces. According to FBI statistics, 60% of all religion-based hate crimes are against Jews, despite the fact that we are only 2% of the population, a statistic that has remained steady for over 20 years.

Here in New Brunswick in recent weeks, identifiably Jewish students have been verbally assaulted, some report having their car tires slashed. This follows, of course, on the heels of vandalism at the AEPi House, a Jewish fraternity, on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Contributing to feelings of fear and intimidation, the torrent of hatred spewing from social media is unprecedented. It has been called a "social media pogrom." The lack of support from the media, political leaders, celebrity influencers, and our university, has compounded our sense of isolation.

On Wednesday of last week Chancellor Christopher Molloy issued a statement acknowledging "the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and antisemitic violence in the United States" as well as "recent incidents of hate directed toward Jewish members of our community." He went on to connect these to other injustices in America, referencing Asian American Pacific Islanders, Hindus, Muslims, indigenous peoples, and the murder of George Floyd.

But Thursday, Chancellor Molloy issued a new statement: what amounted to an apology for having condemned antisemitism, spurred by a campaign by Students For Justice In Palestine. In a six page instagram message, SJP expressed outrage that any acknowledgement of antisemitism could occur without also condemning Israeli policy regarding Palestinians.

Even though his original statement already condemned all forms of bigotry, because it specifically called out antisemitism, the Chancellor chose to apologize for having "failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members." As if condemnation of antisemitism is some form of anti-Palestinian sentiment.

What SJP and the Chancellor have said, in effect, is that NO condemnation of hatred against Jews, of attacks on Jews, of threats against Jews, is legitimate in and of itself. Such bizarre moral logic is twisted, wrong, and must be condemned.

One only has to compare the University's statement in March, condemning anti-Asian prejudice without qualification or reference to any other minority group, to realize just how grossly prejudiced the University's attitude toward its Jewish community has been.

Taking a positive step, on Saturday President Holloway issued a "Statement on Hatred and Bigotry," affirming that Rutgers "deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism."

We welcome this statement as an important first step in rebuilding the trust which is essential and desired by all. But the still relatively new Rutgers Administration needs to face the fact that the University has an established pattern of minimizing antisemitism.

You can read the rest of it here.