Despite stepped-up police patrols at the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity house, a student leader said he and other Jewish students do not feel safe on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus.
The increased patrols are a reaction to an April 22 incident in which two cars of students, believed to be from the university chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), drove past the fraternity, located on Sicard Street off College Avenue, waving Palestinian flags and shouting antisemitic obscenities. That was followed by the house being egged on Yom HaShoah for the second year in a row. As of May 3, Rutgers Police said there have been no arrests, but the investigation is ongoing.
Francine Conway, the New Brunswick campus chancellor-provost, called the initial drive-by incident’s targeting of Jewish students “disturbing,” in a statement from her office.
“We understand and are sensitive to the concerns of those who were targeted, and stand by our Jewish students, faculty and staff,” she said. “Harassment based on religious belief, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or for any reason, is antithetical to our values at Rutgers University.”
However, Ezra Perlmutter, AEPi’s Jewish and Israel life chair and its risk manager, said the Office of Student Affairs and police have not done enough to protect Jewish students. “No Jewish person feels safe here,” said the sophomore from Teaneck who will be the fraternity’s vice president next year.
Rutgers did not return a request for comment on Perlmutter’s allegation.
Perlmutter recalled that the initial incident occurred on the seventh day of Passover as he and a group of other frat members were out in back of the house playing basketball as SJP was holding a rally at nearby Brower Commons.
The rally, “Defend Al-Aqsa, Defend Palestine,” referred to the Muslim worship site in Jerusalem that has seen violence recently between Jews and Muslims. SJP claimed in a post on its Facebook page that it was students from AEPi who came to their rally and began to harass them with Islamophobic slurs and tried to provoke a physical confrontation. It called the charges “false” and “baseless.”
“We join the myriad voices in unequivocal opposition to antisemitism and all forms of racism and violence,” read the post. “For this reason we have conducted our own inquiries into the actions that took place and can confirm that none of the individuals involved are students at Rutgers-New Brunswick.“
The post also contended that “efforts to conflate actions of lone individuals with an entire community and organization are only meant to further antagonize anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia and restrict free speech in a university setting.” However, Perlmutter disputed SJP’s contentions.
“They knew because it was the second-to-last day of Passover we would not be able to organize a counter-protest,” he said, adding that members heard a commotion and went out front to see two cars, a BMW and a Porsche, with people waving the flags, blasting music and shouting “baby killers” and unprintable antiemetic slurs. A seven-second video of the cars was recorded and posted to multiple websites.
“We screamed back telling them to get off our property,” said Perlmutter. “We said that we didn’t come to your rally. There were about four drive-bys.”
He said he called Rutgers Police, but ultimately had to flag down a passing patrol car to get assistance. The officer inside was unaware of the call for assistance.
The following day at about 2 a.m., a group stood in front of the house screaming “Free Palestine” and more antisemitic slurs.
Several days later came the egging incident as AEPi brothers were reading the names of Holocaust victims.
“We love Rutgers, but this is not the first time we’ve been exposed to this kind of stuff,” said Perlmutter. “We are exposed to it everywhere. Rutgers is not doing anything for the Jewish community. I know of no Jewish person who would feel safe wearing a Jewish star. No one here would ever wear an AEPi T-shirt on campus. We have people screaming ‘stupid Jews’ or ‘kikes,’ and we don’t even tell the school anymore because they don’t support us. We just go on with our lives, which is kind of upsetting.”
He noted SJP is recognized and supported by the university as an official organization even though it confuses Zionists and Jews, “and they don’t like Jews.”
“But Jewish people are not scared and we will not back down. We at AEPi are not scared and we will not back down. None of us are scared of Rutgers. We want to be treated like humans.”
Perlmutter said he has documented all incidents with pictures and videos and sent them via blast email to every Jewish organization he thought would be interested. AEPi also held a fundraiser on crowdchange that raised more than $6,500 in 24 hours for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ukrainian refugees through the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.
“They (Rutgers) have not done anything to help us,” said Perlmutter. “It’s time for them to own up.”
By Debra Rubin