July 18, 2024
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Congressman Gottheimer Addresses Rutgers Hillel Students 

Conventional wisdom may tell you that most college students are blas? about national politics. But don’t tell that to the room full of Jewish students at Rutgers-New Brunswick, who gathered in the Hillel building on the Monday night before finals (December 13) to hear from Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ, 5th district).

Rutgers Hillel student president Samuel Iofel welcomed the attendees to “this really, really cool event” and noted that Rutgers Hillel, located at the University with the second largest Jewish population in the country and the biggest Hillel in the country, is a prime spot for the congressman to address concerns of antisemitism. Rutgers President Dr. Jonathan Holloway offered an introduction and formal welcome to the Congressman, and shared news of his recent visit to Israel and the memorandum of understanding he signed with the president of Tel Aviv University. He also spoke of his work to foster a “beloved community” on campus, which will “protect and respect the Jewish community and others,” while building an overall climate of respect.

Gottheimer started by praising Holloway for not heeding calls to divest from Israel, and instead signing the memorandum with Tel Aviv University. He shared his appreciation for Holloway’s efforts to encourage groups on campus to disagree civilly; he quoted Holloway, who said, “This is what excellence looks like.”

Gottheimer noted many troubling issues in the world right now, including the need to stand up to a rise in antisemitism on both the left and right of the political sphere and a growth in extremism. He identified the role of social media, creating “cloistered communities” that don’t speak with each other, leading to stark divisions on college campuses.

Gottheimer pointed out that, in its annual report on antisemitism, the ADL has identified 2020 as having the third highest rate of antisemitic acts, in both New Jersey and the United States. He has experienced this personally, with his campaign signs being defaced by antisemitic graffiti and an antisemitic group disrupting one of his events.

Gottheimer spoke about visiting Jersey City right after the attack on the kosher grocery store on December 10, 2019, and said that “we must work together with other groups to conquer bigotry.” He quoted Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, who said, “The veneer of civilization is paper thin,” and said it is up to all of us to work to maintain that veneer.

Gottheimer stated that “no Jewish student should sit in their classroom and have to wonder if their professor hates her just because she’s Jewish.” He criticized Rutgers for not opposing events and activities in the past that demonstrated bigotry or intolerance on campus, such as an event marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that featured a few speakers with links to groups designed as terror organizations by the U.S. State Department. Gottheimer said that he has heard from many students who have reported experiencing antisemitism and extreme anti-Israel activity on campus. He also criticized the P/T Faculty Union at Rutgers for its recent, severely one-sided condemnation of Israel.

Gottheimer decried Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop sales over the green line in Israel and called for the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to look into the filings of parent company Unilever to see if they have reported on the impact of Ben & Jerry’s decision on their stock prices. He also strongly criticized the BDS movement, which he termed “antisemitism dressed up as political purity,” and the United Nations, which “focuses like a laser beam on Israel” while ignoring the human rights violations of other countries.

He concluded his talk by pointing out federal legislation he has sponsored to fight antisemitism, such as the Never Again Education Act, the No Hate Act and the Nonprofit Security Program, and said that “all Americans should be able to practice their faith free from fear.”

Gottheimer’s talk was met with much applause and many animated responses.

Rachel Shapiro from Old Bridge, a second-year student in the School of Arts and Sciences, praised the congressman for his remarks. “He really spoke from the heart. Congressman Gottheimer embodies diversity and equality. I really think we need his voice in the U.S. Senate.”

Ben Herman of Mahwah, a third-year student in the Rutgers Business School, shared before the talk that he is a staunch supporter of Gottheimer. “He is doing a great job of making our state more competitive and fixing problems, such as the need for attention to our infrastructure. He’s keeping the promises he made to us when he was elected.”

Reacting to Gottheimer’s remarks about antisemitism, Ari Kolb of Highland Park, a second-year student in the School of Engineering, said: “A lot of what he said is good and nice. but I’m interested in what actions he suggests. These are not simple issues, and there are no simple solutions. I’m encouraged that he acknowledged these things, but I believe they are harder to tackle.”

Holloway stated: “The representative speaks with great passion, as a staunch supporter of the State of Israel. It is clear that he supports the larger and more difficult conversation about academic freedom and the challenges of disagreeing, with civility. I appreciate him talking about that in his remarks today.”

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