Two top administrators on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus set out last week to make a statement about the recent, alarming rise of antisemitism. They managed, instead, to garner Rutgers some extremely bad press and pleased few people in the process.
Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy and Provost Francine Convey issued their first statement on Wednesday May 26th, entitled “Speaking Out Against Acts of Anti-Semitism:”
“We are saddened by and greatly concerned about the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and anti-Semitic violence in the United States. Recent incidents of hate directed toward Jewish members of our community again remind us of what history has to teach us. Tragically, in the last century alone, acts of prejudice and hatred left unaddressed have served as the foundation for many atrocities against targeted groups around the world.”
The long statement went on to reference a host of other troubles in this country and abroad, including the death of George Floyd, attacks on Asian Americans, assaults against Hindus and Muslims, and “the ravages of the pandemic and the proliferation of global conflict.” It pointed out as well:
“We have also been witnesses to the increasing violence between Israeli forces and Hamas in the Middle East leading to the deaths of children and adults and the mass displacement of citizens in the Gaza region and the loss of lives in Israel.”
The statement proceeded to “call all out all forms of bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, xenophobia, and oppression, in whatever ways they may be expressed,” and to “condemn any vile acts of hate against members of our community designed to generate fear, devalue, demonize, or dehumanize.” It wound down by stating that the Student Affairs Office was working with leaders of the Rutgers Jewish community and students, “to assess and respond to their needs” and to ask people to report any bias crimes using an online form, ending with a call to work towards realizing Rutgers President Holloway’s vision for Rutgers as a “beloved community,” where they “welcome and affirm humanity and find strength in diversity.”
Apparently, this statement did not have the desired effect. The next day, the two administrators issued a statement entitled “An Apology” which stated: “We are writing today as a follow up to the message sent on Wednesday May 26th to the university community. We understand that intent and impact are two different things … the impact of the message fell short … In hindsight, it is clear to us that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.” The statement went on to say: “our diversity must be supported by equity, inclusion, antiracism, and the condemnation of all forms of bigotry and hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
The second statement attracted the attention of the New York Post, which ran as its top headline in their daily email on Saturday morning May 29th: “Rutgers leaders forced to apologize for statement condemning anti-semitism.” The news story included comments from three media personalities and US Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark) criticizing the university’s weak effort to condemn antisemitism. A story on the situation was published on the nj.com website as well that afternoon.
Responding to the growing controversy, Rutgers Hillel issued a statement on Sunday May 30th that stated, in part:
“One only has to compare the University’s statement in March, condemning anti-Asian prejudice without qualification or reference to any other minority group, to realize just how grossly prejudiced the University’s attitude toward its Jewish community has been.
“Taking a positive step, on Saturday President Holloway issued a ‘Statement on Hatred and Bigotry,’ affirming that Rutgers ‘deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism.’
“We welcome this statement as an important first step in rebuilding the trust which is essential and desired by all. But the still relatively new Rutgers Administration needs to face the fact that the University has an established pattern of minimizing antisemitism.”
Rutgers Jewish Faculty and Staff (J-FAS) co-chairs Dr. Jenny Mandelbaum and Dr. Rebecca Cypess issued this statement: “We are committed to working with the university administration to foster a supportive environment for Jewish members of the Rutgers community. We believe that Rutgers can and should be a beacon of hope and understanding.”
Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, the executive director and founding rabbi of Rutgers Chabad House, stated: “I’ve been honored to work at Rutgers for 43 years now and have met with top administrators throughout the decades. Rutgers is not a center of anti-semitism; It has been very good to Jewish students and the Jewish community here. They have been extremely helpful and receptive to us. When Jewish institutions were vandalized and students on campus were attacked this semester, the Rutgers police were very helpful and the administration made an attempt to condemn these acts.
“The problem is when administrators also try to comment on actions on the world stage, and want to please everyone. They can’t win in this effort and it doesn’t go well. The world stage is not kind to Israel now and to me, it’s not an appropriate thing for the administration to mix this in to their comments on antisemitism.”
Jeff Korbman of Highland Park, a Rutgers graduate (’88), stated simply : “I can’t see the pragmatic value of all these statements by Rutgers administrators.”
The negative attention the two statements garnered had one immediate impact—as of Sunday May 30th, both statements were withdrawn from the Chancellor’s website. In their place, the following statement (dated May 29th) now appears:
“Rutgers deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism. Neither hatred nor bigotry has a place at Rutgers, nor should they have a place anywhere in the world. At Rutgers we believe that anti-Semitism, anti-Hinduism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism, intolerance and xenophobia are unacceptable wherever and whenever they occur. -- Jonathan Holloway, President and University Professor”