Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, I was advised by Rutgers Hillel of an op-ed in the Daily Targum, Rutgers’ student newspaper, penned by a regular columnist, calling for a Palestine “from river to sea.”
This in effect called for the elimination of the State of Israel, to be replaced by Palestine. As Israelis wouldn’t want to be pushed to the sea voluntarily, this was in effect a clarion call for the genocidal elimination of Israel. When this was brought to the attention of Rutgers’ then-president, Frances Lawrence, his weak-kneed response was that even if he may have disagreed with the statement, the student had the right to say it.
Infuriated by this moral cowardice of not condemning the statement, and as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, I asked Alvin Rockoff, a member of Rutgers’ board of governors, to join me for a meeting with President Lawrence. After the usual pleasantries, I brought to Lawrence’s attention an article appearing that day in the Wall Street Journal in which a professor at the University of Texas blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks. The president of the university responded that in the name of academic freedom, the professor had every right to state his views. But using the same freedom, the president had the right to call him an idiot. Suddenly, Lawrence’s spine stiffened, and he condemned the Targum’s op ed.
Years later, there was a scheduled conference using Rutgers’ facilities that was aimed at condemning Israelis as war criminals and other unfounded and hurtful accusations. In response, Hillel and the Jewish federations planned a counter-demonstration. When the conference was cancelled, some Jewish leaders felt the demonstrations also should be cancelled. But encouraged by Rutgers’ then-president Richard McCormick, we decided to move ahead as thousands of people demonstrated their support of Israel in the heart of the Rutgers campus, followed by a yearlong series of educational programs on Israel.
Rutgers has many assets that are attractive to Jewish students: the Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life; Israel Study Abroad, which I have led; an active Hillel and Chabad, and a cohort of 6,000 Jewish students.
But there were signs of dissonance. When we tried to organize a petition among Jewish faculty supporting Israel at war, I was greeted by hesitancy; participants were intimidated by the reaction they’d be likely to face from colleagues and students. And when Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, the preeminent voice for human rights, spoke at Rutgers, he was greeted with a pie in his face.
And now we have the situation in which Rutgers’ chancellor and its provost, the university’s so-called academic leaders, apologized for their statement attacking anti-Semitism in the aftermath of violent attacks against Jews. But the original statement universalized this condemnation to include: “attacks on our Asian American Pacific islander citizens, the spaces of indigenous peoples defiled, and targeted oppression and other assaults against Hindus and Muslims.”
But that wasn’t good enough. In response to the BDS-backing Students for Justice in Palestine, Chancellor Christopher Molloy and Provost Francine Conway offered an apology the next day. In hindsight, they wrote, “it is clear …that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.”
Never mind that the original statement included Muslims. Never mind that the victims of physical attacks in New York and Los Angeles were Jews. Never mind that the attackers were Palestinian or Palestinian/Hamas supporters. Never mind that the number of anti-Semitic attacks grew from 59 from April 26 to May 2 and to 124 from May 17 to May 23, according to the ADL. Never mind that according to the FBI, 60 percent of all hate crimes directed against a religious group is against Jews, 2 percent of the population. Never mind that there were 17,000 positive responses on social media that Hitler didn’t go far enough. Never mind that there was vandalism at a Rutgers Jewish fraternity on Yom HaShoah. Never mind that the same academic leaders recently condemned hatred against Asians without any modifiers.
This discounting of Jews is nothing new in recent history. When Ilhan Omar spewed anti-Semitic tropes, the resulting House “condemnation” did not focus solely on anti-Semitism but included all the isms of hatred anyone can muster. Even when members of the Squad tried to differentiate their anti-Zionism from hatred against Jews they also included Islamophobia.
Why is there such reluctance in far-left elements to condemn ant-Semitism exclusively and unequivocally?
One reason is that in their race-conscious paradigm there is a hierarchy of victimhood, with people of color at the top of the hierarchy. Jews, as beneficiaries of white privilege, are on the lower rungs of sympathy. Unlike the Marxists who viewed class struggle as their clarion call, race is the predominant determinant in addressing societal ills. This overly simplistic view helps explain why the mayor of Chicago will meet only with Black and brown reporters for one-on-one interviews, excluding whites and Asians as being too privileged.
Fortunately, President Biden forcefully condemned anti-Semitism without any modifiers or qualifiers. And Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway walked back his “apology, affirming that Rutgers “deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism.” Hopefully, he’ll begin to heal the open wound in the Jewish student population left by his subordinates’ display of moral cowardice.
I hope that future actions by our state university will be guided by the safe advise of the former Yale University president Kingman Brewster:
“Universities should be safe havens where ruthless examination of realities will not be distorted by the aim to please or inhibited by the risk of displeasure.”
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.