I am a proud graduate of both Rutgers College and Rutgers Law School. Currently I serve as chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Our catchment area, Bergen, Hudson, and parts of Passaic and Morris counties, is home to more than 10 percent of all Jewish students at the Rutgers New Brunswick campuses.
We provide funding to Rutgers Hillel and its related programs, such as Birthright and Masa. As such, we are not outsiders; we are stakeholders in the success of Rutgers and its Jewish students.
I attended Rutgers College at the height of the Vietnam War campus protests and the burgeoning of the civil rights movement. In that passionate and tempestuous era, the late 1960s, free speech meant the exchange of provocative, anti-capitalist, and sometimes anti-governmental positions. But never was the discourse filled with hate speech directed at a particular ethnic group or religion.
Recent events at Rutgers both sadden and alarm me. Faced with virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments, including perpetuating a form of the patently ludicrous and false medieval blood libel dressed up as harvesting the organs of Palestinian children, the president of the university, Dr. Robert Barchi, has responded by cloaking our state university in an absolute protective shield of the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
By doing so, he has given license to three Rutgers professors to continue their attacks against Jewish students and the state of Israel.
Since Rutgers is a public university and a state actor, it is convenient for Dr. Barchi to fall back on the First Amendment’s right to free speech to “protect” the university and these professors. Dr. Barchi and the attorneys for Rutgers would like us to focus on these free speech aspects of the First Amendment. However, the right of free speech is not infinite or unfettered, and the Supreme Court has limited free speech where it leads to direct and imminent incitement to violence, fighting words, threats of violence, and false statements such as libel and slander.
Worse, Dr. Barchi overlooks the more appropriate protections in our First Amendment of freedom of religion and the right of assembly. Rutgers is home to the largest university population of Jewish students in the United States. Religious services and social activities regularly take place at Chabad and at the newly completed Rutgers Hillel. Both Chabad and Hillel are in close proximity to the main campus of the university on College Avenue.
One of the offending professors refers to Judaism as the most racist religion in the world, prefaces comments about Jews with a vile and unprintable epithet, and calls Israel a terrorist state. Isn’t this a dog whistle to anti-Semites of all stripes to harass Jewish students, or worse, to create a hostile environment or indeed incite violence against Jews as they attend religious services or Jewish social or communal activities?
Why am I alarmed?
Intellectuals and people of good faith in western civilization and elsewhere believed that after the Holocaust the scourge of anti-Semitism had been eliminated or confined to a small, discredited fringe element of society. But events at Rutgers, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere remind us that anti-Semitism is back in a new and ugly guise. Anti-Zionist sentiment is the new code name for anti-Semitism. As French President Macron has warned us, France “will be uncompromising with anti-Zionism, because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.” Having experienced Nazi occupation, the deportation of its Jewish citizens, and the collaboration of the Vichy government with Germany, President Macron has firsthand knowledge of the evils of anti-Semitism dressed up as anti-Zionism. Dr. Barchi, are you paying attention here? Do you want to be an aider and abettor of this new, thinly veiled, and dangerous anti-Semitism?
Further, and importantly, as a response to these events, Rutgers is not helpless in the face of this skewed and inappropriate misuse of the First Amendment. Professors Puar, Chikindas, and Adi are university employees. If a professor believed and promoted eugenics, or phrenology, or forced sterilization, or believed and promoted the idea that the world is flat, would he or she be a respected colleague, or indeed be eligible for continued employment at Rutgers?
Spewing falsehoods about Israel, Jews, gays, and females should raise serious questions as to whether or not these professors should continue to be employed in a community of serious scholars.
Rutgers provides Jewish students and all its students with a first-class education. Equally important, we want to ensure that Rutgers is a welcoming rather than hostile environment to Jewish students and students of all faiths. We also want to ensure that Rutgers is a community free of violence and harassment. Appropriate and respectful expression of opinion always has been a hallmark of Rutgers’ academic richness, and it is shameful to see Professors Puar, Chikindas, and Adi disregard all academic and ethical boundaries in the false name of freedom of expression.
On December 8, Dr. Barchi announced investigation and disciplinary action regarding only one professor, Michael Chikindas, but Dr. Chikindas was not dismissed. The other two offending professors were not even mentioned.
More is needed.
Dr. Barchi, as the president of Rutgers and the public face of this proud institution, needs to strongly and publicly condemn rather than condone the recent shameful expressions of anti-Semitic hatred on campus. Further, as an immediate priority, he should strongly censure, discipline, and dismiss all three of these professors. Anything less makes Dr. Barchi complicit in this outrage.
Mr. Brafman, a retired attorney, is chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and president of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood.