Rutgers Mutual Aid, SJP Accuse Hillel of “Conflating Palestine Advocacy With Antisemitism”

The Rutgers Mutual Aid statement accused Gottheimer of spreading “misinformation,” arguing that the union statement was simply expressing “solidarity with oppressed people.”
July 29, 2021
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks at the podium standing with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus to praise the passage of the bipartisan emergency COVID-19 relief bill on December 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Cheriss May/Getty Images)

Rutgers Mutual Aid, an organization that connects people in the Rutgers community and is not affiliated with Rutgers University, issued a statement on July 26 targeting Hillel.

The statement, which was signed by Rutgers’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, among several other organizations, denounced Representative Josh Gottheimer’s (D-NJ) June 29 letter to University President Jonathan Holloway urging the university denounce the “hate-filled misinformation campaign” against Israel. Gottheimer was responding to a statement from the Rutgers lecturers’ union calling for the American Federation for Teachers to “divest itself from all Israeli bonds” and for the Biden administration to cease aid to Israel

“Considering recent events, it is important to send a clear message that all Rutgers students and community members, including those who identify as being Jewish or pro-Israel, will not be singled out, penalized, or made to feel unwelcome at our state’s flagship university,” Gottheimer wrote to Holloway.

The Rutgers Mutual Aid statement accused Gottheimer of spreading “misinformation,” arguing that the union statement was simply expressing “solidarity with oppressed people.”

“Considering Rutgers’ own endowment investments in apartheid Israel, and prominent campus Zionist organizations such as Hillel, with its history of falsely conflating Palestine advocacy with antisemitism, it is pro-Palestine union members, instructors, students and organizers who are most at risk of harassment and least likely to receive support against it.”

The statement then alleged that white supremacy and Zionism are the two biggest threats against the Jewish community, arguing that Zionism “purposely ties all Jews to the Israeli regime and, by extension, its crimes.” They concluded their statement by calling on the university to issue a statement denouncing “all attempts to falsely conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism” and to combat “the targeted doxing of pro-Palestinian students and faculty members.” Additionally, the statement called on the University Board of Governors and Trustees and Joint Committee to explain why they refuse “to divest from oppression and injustice.”

Jewish on Campus, a social media group started by University of Chicago student Julia Jassey, alleged in a Twitter thread that the Rutgers Mutual Aid statement was “filled with antisemitic blood libels” and amounted to a “call for defunding Hillel.” “By specifically targeting Hillel, an organization established to house and feed Jewish students who were otherwise lacking access to kosher food and dorms, Rutgers Mutual Aid and SJP have targeted individual Jews on campus and held them accountable for the actions of the Israeli government. This statement thus goes directly against a prior statement in the post alleging that Zionism forces ‘the tying of Jews to the Israeli regime, and by extension, its crimes.’”

They added: “The idea that Jews hold dual loyalty to Israel is an age old antisemitic trope popularized by … The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The dual loyalty trope is the most commonly used antisemitic trope as reported by the Anti-Defamation League in their 2020 data set.” The thread concluded with a call on the university “to stand up for their Jewish students and act against antisemitism on their campus.”

Jewish groups criticized the Rutgers Mutual Aid statement.

“ADL is shocked by this statement suggesting that Rutgers blacklist and halt funding for the Hillel, which represents Jewish life at Rutgers,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) New York/New Jersey Regional Director Scott Richman said in a statement to the Journal. “Nevermind that Rutgers Hillel, like most Hillels, is not supported by the university. Whether they are or not, this is tantamount to calling for Jews and Jewish life to be ostracized on the Rutgers campus. This is simply wrong and is yet another attempt to conflate the conflict in Israel with Jews in this country, which has deep antisemitic undertones. ADL stands by our partners at Hillel who provide an essential space for Jews and Jewish ideas, and we call on all people of good will to do so as well. We are also deeply grateful for the support that Rutgers University President Holloway has shown to Jewish students and to Rutgers Hillel.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in statement to the Journal, “Unfortunately it’s not surprising that anti-Israel activists are attacking a center for Jewish life on campus. They should be ashamed and the university should unequivocally condemn their hateful statement.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “Sadly this comes as no surprise. Rutgers has played host to numerous incidents of unaddressed antisemitism. In fact, recently the Rutgers Chancellor and Provost apologized for a statement from them condemning antisemitism, specifically apologizing for the “hurt” their message against antisemitism caused. Their about-face sent a green light to the entire Rutgers community that antisemitism is condoned.

“In the absence of clear leadership against antisemitism, the targeted harassment of Jewish students and Hillel on campus will not only continue, it will get worse. University leaders must make unequivocally clear to the entire Rutgers community that all students will be equally protected against attacks on their freedom of belief and expression. And if they cannot or won’t promise a campus free of harassment, where all students can fully participate in campus life, then parents and students should think twice before attending Rutgers.”

Jewish and pro-Israel Twitter users also criticized the Rutgers Mutual Aid statement.

“Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world,” Tali Goldsheft, who works in communications, tweeted. “It’s where I spent Shabbat and High Holidays while in college; a home away from home for so many Jewish students. How are you going to tell me this is ok because oh it’s ‘just criticism of the Israeli government’?”

“A campaign against Hillel is a campaign against Jews,” writer Peter Fox tweeted. “If Jewish life on campus bothers you, you’ve been brainwashed, I’m sorry.”


Jewish Insider Managing Editor Melissa Weiss also tweeted, “The thing about Hillel is that it doesn’t just provide a vehicle for Israel programming. It’s kosher meals (which aren’t offered by many schools.) It’s Shabbat and holiday services. It’s community. And it’s there for Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish students alike.”

Rutgers Hillel posted a statement to their Facebook page that reads: “Rutgers Hillel appreciates the support Member of Congress Josh Gottheimer and Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway have shown to Jewish students. Campuses have become increasingly hostile to Jewish life amid the national surge in antisemitic hatred, and it is more critical than ever to ensure universities foster an inclusive environment where Jewish and pro-Israel students can live and learn without fear of harassment or abuse. This is especially pertinent to us now as we have recently seen an uptick in antisemitic incidents around the world and at Rutgers.

“Hillel takes seriously our responsibility to help university leadership identify and condemn antisemitism and anti-Israel bias no matter where it comes from. We will continue to partner with the Rutgers administration to ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel student voices are welcome, protected and empowered on campus and that Rutgers remains a great place to be Jewish.”

The university, Rutgers Mutual Aid and Rutgers’ SJP chapters all did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment by publication time.

UPDATE: Both Rutgers Mutual Aid and SJP told Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) in an August 4 story that they didn’t actually call for defunding Rutgers Hillel, and ADL New York / New Jersey Regional Director Scott Richman admitted to JTA that the SJP statement doesn’t actually call for defunding Hillel, though he expressed concern that the statement was “ostracizing a Jewish institution and Jewish students on campus.”

Jewish on Campus CEO Julia Jassey told JTA that she had interpreted the statement as a call to defund Hillel because the statement urged “the university to divest from ‘oppression and injustice’ and ‘apartheid Israel,’ and they label Rutgers Hillel as a ‘prominent campus Zionist organization’ complicit in oppression and injustice in the very same sentence,” although JTA noted that the call to divest and the Hillel accusation were in different paragraphs. Pro-Israel activist Hen Mazzig told JTA that he still believes the statement called for defunding Hillel because they listed “Hillel as one Zionist organization the university is investing in, and knowing that one of the actions [endorsed] in the full statement was divestment.”
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