A satirical op-ed ridiculing a campus pro-Israel activist is the latest chapter in a debate over allegations of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism at Rutgers University.
On April 6, university president Richard McCormick criticized the publication that printed the item and said the university is launching a bias investigation.
The op-ed, appearing in the “April Fools” edition of the satirical publication The Daily Medium, praises Adolf Hitler and purports to have been written by Aaron Marcus, a senior political science major from West Orange. A photograph of Marcus accompanies the piece.
The fake op-ed, headlined “What About All the Good Things Hitler Did?” explains that for all the evil they did, the Nazis gave the world the Volkswagen and rocket technology, and inspired Jews to “move to Palestine and establish the homeland of the Jewish people.”
“I couldn’t help but think that history has given the Third Reich and its leader a bad rap,” the item reads.
Marcus, who writes frequently in support of Israel for the campus newspaper, The Daily Targum, is the main complainant in an ongoing probe alleging the administration has mishandled previous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents.
The Medium piece angered Marcus and hit a sour note among some Jewish organizations, including the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Both issued strong statements of condemnation calling it anti-Semitic and demanding a university investigation.
Courts protect student media
In response, McCormick issued a statement noting that federal courts extend broad protection to student media, but added that The Medium’s use of Marcus’s byline and photo was “extremely offensive and repugnant.”
“No individual student should be subject to such a vicious, provocative, and hurtful piece, regardless of whether First Amendment protections apply to such expression,” McCormick said. “The Medium’s article was particularly despicable in light of Mr. Marcus’s Jewish faith.”
Marcus said in an interview that he is waiting to see what action Rutgers will take before deciding what his next move will be.
“I am still in shock, and it happened almost a week ago,” he said. “Having lost family in the Holocaust, it was very hurtful for my family and me to read this. To me it is just another in a string of anti-Semitic incidents that the university has done nothing about.”
Medium editor-in-chief Amy DiMaria said via e-mail that she was declining all media interviews at this time.
However, in a letter-to-the-editor published April 9 in Targum, she compared Marcus to a public figure whose expectation of privacy is less than that of a private citizen. She denied anti-Semitism played any role in the publication of the item.
“I want to state publicly, in the strongest possible terms, that the only subject we meant to parody was Marcus, whose work the Medium staff has found as something more than suitable for parody,” she wrote. “This piece was not an attack on any religious or ethnic group. It was not an attack on defenseless private citizens. The article we wrote was about Marcus, a sometimes controversial public persona.”
Marcus said he found DiMaria’s response “equally reprehensible.”
‘No prior censorship’
Ronald Miskoff, one of The Medium’s two faculty advisers, said its editorial content is fully controlled by students, although articles and issues are sometimes discussed after publication. He said many court rulings, including those of the Supreme Court, have backed the First Amendment rights of college publications.
In reference to the possibility of approving material before publication, Miskoff said, “The general feeling among college advisers around the country is that this would be a form of censorship. We don’t practice that, but if they are doing something wrong we want them to take responsibility, as they are doing now.
“In general, the students are aware they got a very big negative reaction and they feel bad; a lot of people didn’t see the humor, and [the staff] would like to move on,” said Miskoff. “I believe they will be saying something about this in the next issue of the paper.”
However, he also said he did not believe the article was meant to be anti-Semitic or that it was directed at Marcus’s views.
“Aaron Marcus is very dominant on campus, a political powerhouse, and maybe he deserves criticism like anybody else,” said Miskoff. “I appreciate that he lost family in the Holocaust. I too lost family in the Holocaust. But the question needs to be asked: Are Jews taking things too seriously? It wasn’t a swipe at the Jewish people or at Israel. It was a swipe at one person who has been speaking out.”
Last year, claiming Marcus had been subject to harassment for his pro-Israel views, the ZOA urged the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to launch an investigation into whether the university was doing enough to protect the rights of Jewish students.
In December, university officials met with state Jewish leaders and assured them the university remains a “welcoming place for Jewish students.”
In a letter to McCormick last week, ZOA officials wrote that they believed the university’s failure to respond appropriately to the other incidents “led to the attack against [Marcus] today.”
“The university’s inaction when Mr. Marcus – and other Jewish students – have been targeted and discriminated against has sent a dangerous and unacceptable message to the Rutgers community: that Jewish students like Aaron Marcus are fair game at Rutgers. They can be targeted, threatened, maligned, and discriminated against, and Rutgers will not only tolerate the behavior but justify it as protected speech,” read the letter, signed by ZOA president Morton Klein and the director of its Center for Law and Justice, Susan Tuchman.
Etzion Neuer, acting New Jersey ADL director, said on April 9 that “it was encouraging to see the school make such a sharp statement distancing itself from [The Medium]. It is important the school see who is behind this and sends a message there are consequences behind this.”
Neuer said the ADL would leave it to the school to decide what those consequences would be. He said the ADL was concerned that Marcus would become the target of harassment and bullying and the article could contribute to an atmosphere in which “anti-Semitism could easily become an accepted part of campus life.”
He also questioned whether Marcus was singled out because of his staunch support of Israel.
“The thought that students who stand up for Israel could be made targets of mockery can have a chilling effect and may cause other students to think twice before taking such a stand,” he said. “Rutgers made this big show several months ago about working with the Jewish community. Now I want the administration to show it is serious and take action on this.”
The federal probe and The Medium incident come even as the New Brunswick campus’s two main Jewish institutions, Hillel and Chabad, have either completed or are in the midst of major expansions. Rutgers Hillel hopes to break ground in the coming year on a new $15 million facility, while Rutgers Chabad recently opened a 55,000-square-foot expansion on College Avenue. The university’s Jewish student population stands at 7,400, third-highest among with the nation’s universities.