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Hate has a home here

Anti-Semitism from faculty members leaves Rutgers students uneasy

Dr. Michael Chikinda, Mazen Adi, and Dr. Jasbir Puar
Dr. Michael Chikinda, Mazen Adi, and Dr. Jasbir Puar

Talia Schabes of Englewood is a junior at Rutgers University, where she is studying nutrition and Jewish studies. She hopes to go to medical school.

She worries about a friend of hers who is majoring in food science there.

What if the friend wants to register for a course in food microbiology next semester?

That friend would have to spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the classroom of Dr. Michael Chikindas, one of the experts in microbiology in the food science department at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Science and founder of the journal Probiotics and Antimicrobial Proteins.

Professor Chikindas also has a Jewish problem.

In October, the Israellycool blog discovered that Dr. Chikindas repeatedly posted anti-Semitic content to Facebook. There was a cartoon with a hook-nosed Jew proclaiming “I am Gods chosen people you filthy goyim.” There was a cartoon in which hook-nosed Jews are blamed for the Federal Reserve, Internet spying, cancer, and sex trafficking, among other things. There were anti-gay posts, and a post questioning whether six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Dr. Chikindas even managed to blame Jews for the Armenian genocide.

After his posts first were reported, Dr. Chikindas denied that he was anti-Semitic. He told Algemeiner that he once was married to a Jewish woman and that one quarter of his ancestry was Jewish. He then told reporters that his Facebook page had been hacked. He then deleted the page.

He insisted to a radio station, NJ 101.5, that he is anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

“Should I knew [sic] that sharing these freely available pictures questioning Zionism on possible racist actions can be seen as anti-Semitic, I would never do it,” Dr. Chikindas said. “I strictly separate anti-Semitism from intolerance to Zionism.”

Rutgers University responded with a statement condemning “all acts and statements of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, which have no place in our society or on campus.

“All of the members of our community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens,” the statement continued. “Yet at Rutgers University we must also foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination.”

The university announced an investigation into whether Dr. Chikindas had crossed the line. So far, there has been no word on the investigation. A student petition asking that he be fired garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, Ms. Schabes worries what would happen if her friend were to take Dr. Chikindas’ course.

“I’m nervous for her,” Ms. Schabes said. “It’s nerve racking for Jewish students to enter a classroom and worry about being discriminated against.”

But Dr. Chikindas is not the only one of Rutgers’ 8,000 faculty members who is making Jewish students there uncomfortable. The school has nearly 70,000 students, and Jewish groups estimate that about 7,000 are Jewish. Most of them are at the school’s main campus in New Brunswick.

Dr. Jasbir Puar is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers’ School of Arts and Science. She already had come into the Jewish public eye for her anti-Israel positions, delivered in academic venues. They include a talk in Vassar College in 2016, where she put forward the idea that “young Palestinian men … were mined for organs for scientific research.”

She has now come under renewed focus; last month her third book, “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability,” was published by the respected Duke University Press. The book brings together theories of disability studies with a pro-Palestinian perspective on the 2014 war in Gaza. The book describes her project as “an anti-Zionist hermeneutic that seeks neither to exceptionalize Palestine nor to render it visible through containment in a comparative frame, but to understand intensifications of biopolitical modes of control that are continuous and resonant with historical modes and, indeed, across contemporary geopolitical spaces. Palestine in this sense provides an epistemological blueprint, one that opens up the connective tissue between regions, regimes of power, sites of knowledge production, historical excavations, and solidarity struggles for liberation.”

And along the way she charges Israel with a deliberate policy of debilitating and crippling Palestinians.

Yet it is a third faculty member who has Ms. Schabes putting up flyers on campus on behalf of the American Union of Jewish Students. (She also is an active participant in Rutgers Hillel and an intern for the David Project, forging connections between the campus Jewish and vegetarian communities with programs such as Tu B’shvat seders.)

That third faculty member is an adjunct, Mazen Adi, who served as a spokesman and legal advisor to the Syrian delegation at the United Nations from 2007 to 2014. He teaches in Rutgers’ masters program in United Nations and Global Policy Studies, offering such courses as International Criminal Law and Anti-Corruption; Extremism, Violence and Political Change; and Theories of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. Rutgers’ faculty website does not mention that his diplomatic experience was with the Syrian government.

The organization UN Watch called for his firing.

“Mr. Adi systematically acted as an apologist for the mass murder committed by the Assad regime against his own people, helping Syria to win impunity at the UN to conduct continued war crimes,” UN Watch said.

Rutgers defended the hiring.

“Rutgers will not defend the content of every opinion expressed by every member of our academic community, but the University will defend their rights to academic freedom and to speak freely,” the school said in a statement to Algemeiner.

Among the opinions Dr. Adi delivered while speaking for Syria at the United Nations was that “international gangs led by some Israeli officials are now trafficking children’s organs,” as he told the Security Council.

“I don’t get where people get these ideas,” Ms. Schabes said. “We’re working on a campaign to put up flyers to stand in solidarity with the Syrian community, to make sure they know that this professor’s actions are reprehensible and are not being tolerated,” she said.

She hopes to meet with University President Robert Barchi next semester.

She is not impressed with Dr. Barchi’s responses to the situation so far. “He just published another condemnation, but he didn’t address Professor Adi at all,” she said. The latest remarks “addressed only Michael Chikindas and quite quickly diverted and started speaking about President Trump and Islamophobia.”

If Ms. Schabes isn’t satisfied with the university’s response, well, neither is the Anti-Defamation League.

“In the university’s fervent defense of academic freedom, they also have an opportunity to communicate their personal distaste for anti-Semitism and other hateful ideologies,” Joshua Cohen, ADL’s New Jersey regional director, said. He doesn’t believe the university has taken adequate advantage of that opportunity.

“We have reached out to Rutgers to take concrete steps to effectively address anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli bias on campus and ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel students do not feel isolated and marginalized,” he said. “The ADL stands ready to work with Rutgers University to combat anti-Semitism, hate, and bigotry.”

At the Jewish Federation of Northern Federation, CEO Jason Shames said he too is unsatisfied with the university response.

As to what to do — that’s now under discussion with other New Jersey federations. “This is a bigger issue than just any one community,” he said.

He has reached out to the Israel Action Network of the Jewish Federations of North America for their expertise. He said that Dr. Chikindas, “whether he is tenured or not, is unequivocally unacceptable.

“We have to figure out new tactics and that’s what we’re talking about now,” he said.

Dr. Leonard Cole of Ridgewood is an adjunct professor at Rutgers and a member of the Rutgers Hillel board. He too is unhappy with Rutgers’ stance.

He wants “a much stronger response than we have gotten so far from the university administration — not only from the president, but from the entire leadership structure, including the appropriate boards,” he said.

“The leadership of the university ought to be using words like ‘repugnant’ or ‘disgusting’ or ‘hateful” instead of the pabulum they’ve been using,” he added. “It also needs to come out specifically addressing these specific situations — anti-Israel, anti-Semitic — and name them as such. Words count. We didn’t hear the right words from the administration yet,” he said.

Dr. Cole said that there will be “a stain on the university as long as these professors continue to hold their positions.

“I understand free speech and the importance of tenure. At the same time, free speech doesn’t mean whatever, whenever you want to say is okay. Free speech is fine but intimidation is not.

“Michael Chikindas may have never said a word about Israel in any of his lectures, but at the same time, how many Jewish kids would feel comfortable about taking a course with this guy, knowing what he had portrayed on Facebook that are among the most outrageous absurd descriptions of Jewish behavior that come right out of the Hitler playbook? Who wouldn’t be worried or nervous about somebody who has got these ideas?”

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