Rutgers Goes All In On Anti-racism Initiatives But Tolerates Flagrant Antisemitism

November 7, 2022
Rutgers University, Johnson Hall

In October, Rabbi Esther Reed, the executive director of Rutgers Hillel, testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security regarding rising levels of antisemitism on campus. Disturbing antisemitic events and demonstrations have been escalating steadily. She argues that more government funding for security is the answer.

I don’t disagree that more resources must be committed to the protection of Jewish students, but there must be a more fundamental shift in University priorities. As campuses like Rutgers focus on rooting out bias on the basis of gender and race, they often ignore the issue of antisemitism. Rutgers is but one example.

In her congressional testimony, Rabbi Reed highlighted an alarming trend, explaining that “Hillel tracked 561 incidents of hate against Jewish students last year, a 15% increase from the previous year, and more than triple the number of incidents four years ago.”

She then went on to zero in on her own campus, just down the road from my own. Her words spurred me to look into the incidents she referenced, and to say that what I found was alarming would be a massive understatement.

Last month, Rutgers’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted an event with Thuraya Zeidan, operator of the social media account “Decolonize the Classroom,” which has regularly engaged in anti-Israel rhetoric; she uses her account to label Zionists “oppressors” and accuse Israel of committing “ethnic cleansing” and practicing “apartheid.” She goes further to characterize Israel as a “racist regime.”

On October 19, yet another blatant antisemite was brought to Rutgers’ campus: Mohamad Habehh. Habehh has openly expressed his hatred for the Jewish people, not even attempting to go the route of Zeidan and obscure his antisemitism behind anti-Zionism. Here are three, among many, of his problematic past statements. They speak for themselves.

In a now-deleted September 19, 2014 tweet, he wrote: “If you work with the Jews you deserve any punishment possible in this dunya [world].”

In yet another deleted Tweet dated June 12, 2014, Habehh declared: “Yahood = khara [Jews = s**t] Don’t @ me.”

In a third, now-deleted September 29, 2013 tweet, Habehh exclaimed: “I’m not racist I love everyone. Except the yahood [jews].”

In addition to openly expressing his dehumanizing contempt for the Jews, Habehh has also voiced  support for Hamas, a group designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. On March 13, 2015, he tweeted: “Let’s #AskHamas why they’re considered terrorists for fighting for their rights as humans?”

As if antisemitic speakers were not enough, in September 2022 on the first day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, eggs were thrown at the house of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), a Jewish fraternity at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus.

This is far from the first antisemitic incident targeting AEPi. For the past two years, AEPi’s property was egged as the names of Holocaust victims were recited on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

After the Yom Hashoah incident, University Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway condemned the incident, writing that “Harassment based on religious belief, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or for any reason, is antithetical to our values at Rutgers University.”

But at a certain point, words without action remain empty words. Conway wrote this in April, yet we again find ourselves witnessing antisemitism on Rutgers’ campus.

As Reed emphasized to Congress, “No student should be afraid to express their Jewish identity in New Jersey in 2022.” She pushed for greater funding for religious institutions in order to ramp up security. I agree with Reed’s assessment that security is of primary concern to ensure the safety of Jewish students at Rutgers and beyond. But more than that, there must be a shift in the ideas that are considered within the pale in today’s public square.

But more than that, there must be a shift in the ideas that are considered within the pale in today’s public square.

No longer should the Mohamad Habehh’s of the world be brought in to “educate” today’s youth in an institute of higher learning. Rutgers has unequivocally condemned and acted against discrimination of other varieties, yet for reasons known only to themselves permits the verbal and physical violence against Jews and pro-Israel advocates to continue unimpeded.

Look no further than their Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Center and “Becoming Anti-Racist” webpage with videos such as “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation’s Divide” and “An ‘unapologetic’ black feminist on accelerating the pace of change.”

Discussion of antisemitism? Nowhere to be found. Let’s change that—at Rutgers and beyond. Words of condemnation are easy; changing a culture that permits institutionalized hatred is not. As it stands, faculty and like-minded students dictate the discourse while administrators hesitate to act decisively against antisemitism in blatant form or veiled behind anti-Israel rhetoric. Such individuals might consider the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, a principled opponent of Adolf Hitler who spent years in Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps:

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,

I did not speak out;

I was not a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Alexandra Orbuch is a sophomore at Princeton University from Los Angeles, California hoping to study Politics. On campus, she writes for The Princeton Tory, the university’s journal for conservative thought, and the Princeton Legal Journal, the university’s undergraduate law review.

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