May 20, 2024
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Allegations of Antisemitism at Princeton University ‘Vehemently’ Denied

Allegations that Princeton University allowed antisemitism to proliferate on campus were denied by both the university and the director of its Hillel.

The responses came after the university was cited by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which gave it an “F” in its university grading report, and after the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened a Title VI investigation into the university.

However, in a communication shared with students, faculty, alumni and supporters of the Center for Jewish Life-Princeton Hillel its executive director Rabbi Gil Steinlauf sharply disagreed with the ADL’s finding.

“This report gives Princeton University an F score, with which I vehemently disagree,” he said. “By assigning a failing grade to Princeton, the ADL report card is misleading with respect to the state of antisemitism on our campus. In truth, over the past two years of my deep engagement in Jewish life and leadership on Princeton’s campus, I can say very clearly that Princeton is a great place to be Jewish.”

The federal investigation was triggered by activist Zachary Marschall, editor of the conservative website Campus Reform, over reports of pro-Palestinian protesters chanting “Intifada” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, apartheid has got to fall.”

Rabbi Steinlauf said that while he applauds the ADL’s work in fighting antisemitism he said its report card is based on criteria that reflect realities and solutions developed at other universities with “generally unsafe and hostile conditions for Jewish students,” and used those criteria at Princeton, where he said Jewish student experiences have been very different.

“I am concerned that many people will not even read the fine print of the ADL report, and will just see the “F” and conclude that Princeton is an unsafe and antisemitic place,” said Steinlauf. “This is simply not true.”

Despite some “painful rhetoric” heard on campus and acknowledgement some students have had bad experiences, he said overall “what I’m seeing is that the toxic environment we see on other campuses has never gotten a foothold at Princeton.”

Steinlauf said the university administration has been supportive in the center’s efforts to bring antisemitism workshops to faculty, staff and students that have diffused tensions on campus and feared the ADL report will do more harm than good.

“These workshops have been extremely effective in creating an environment at Princeton where the level of antisemitic threats we see elsewhere have been kept at bay even during these difficult times,” he noted.

University spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said in response to the federal complaint the university was assessing the notification, adding, “We are confident we are in full compliance with the requirements of Title VI.”

“Based on the complainant’s published description of the complaint, we know that he is not a member of the University community and that his complaint appears to be premised on chants at protests,” she wrote in her response to The Jewish Link. “As stated in the University’s rules, Princeton ‘attaches great value to freedom of expression and vigorous debate, but it also attaches great importance to mutual respect, and it deplores expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group.’”

Morrill also said that while disciplinary approaches aren’t always applicable given the university’s “robust commitment to freedom of expression,” Princeton has responded to every bias complaint against the Jewish community brought to its attention and is continuing to offer support.

She provided links to reference materials and insights the university has made available to the university community on handling difficult times and the Israel-Hamas war. Among the articles and references, many by Princeton faculty and alumni, are those intended to de escalate conflict. Included is University President Christopher Eisgruber’s statements on the Oct. 7 attack, which he called among “the most atrocious of terrorist acts.

“This cruel and inhumane attack has provoked a bloody war that has already claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis and will tragically take many more as it continues,” he wrote in a message to the university community.

Eisgruber also pointed out “Princeton is a community that embraces many Israelis and Palestinians among its cherished members, as students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

He added that, “Of course, our work as researchers and teachers must also make space for the recognition of suffering, and for time to grieve and heal. I hope that Princetonians from all backgrounds will treat each other with grace and compassion during this difficult time.”

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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