May 9, 2024
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May 9, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Federations Demand Rutgers Rescind ‘Shameful’ Encampment Agreement

New Jersey’s five largest Jewish federations are mounting a multi-pronged offensive in response to the “shameful” agreement negotiated by Rutgers University to get a pro-Palestinian encampment dismantled and are demanding it be rescinded or the university’s president and chancellor immediately resign.

They have also vowed to instigate state and federal legislative inquiries into the agreement. Among the other actions, they are urging their constituents, friends and allies to sign letters they have drafted to state Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Dist. 22) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Dist. 19) calling for an investigation into the “negotiation and capitulation.” Local legislators will also be copied.

Another letter will be sent to Rutgers President Dr. Jonathan Holloway and Chancellor Dr. Francine Conway.

Their demand was prompted by the May 3 agreement, which among other things, included a statement “acknowledging the ongoing genocide against Palestinians,” hiring professors on Middle East and Palestine studies and establishing a full department for those subjects; and providing full amnesty for all students, student groups, faculty and staff who participated in the protests.

The five federations, which encompass much of the state, are: the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, and Jewish Federation of West-Central New Jersey.

The action came following an emergency meeting on May 5 of the federations’ chief executive officers in consultation with community members in reaction to “the pro-Hamas encampment” agreement.

For months Jewish students have been subjected to harassment and bullying, the occupation of buildings and disruption of classes. The final straw came on May 3 when protesters threatened to disrupt classes, forcing the postponement of morning finals and prompting the university to issue a 4 p.m. deadline for the dismantling.

“We need your help,” said Rutgers Hillel CEO Lisa Harris Glass in a virtual program on the evening of May 5. “We need to stand up for what’s right and for justice. I feel incredibly unsupported as I and many others work through the university processes.”

The program was conducted by Linda Scherzer, director of the MetroWest federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, and also featured Rutgers student Joe Gindi. Scherzer said that she was particularly troubled by the use of the word “genocide” by the university after months of propaganda from the demonstrators.

She noted that “while we all support the American value of the right to assembly and free speech,” it felt like the university was picking a side.

“This isn’t something any of us wanted,” said Gindi. “I have never been more disappointed in the administration.” He said after his appointment to the Chancellor’s Committee on Jewish Life by Conway and following his testimony before Congress, where he said, “Jew hatred had become blatant at Rutgers,” he thought things would get better.

“We are in a far worse situation,” said Gindi, with Jewish students being harassed in class, in the streets and in their dorms.

Moreover, Gindi said Jewish students were totally cut out of the encampment negotiations by the university.“We were never consulted by the university. The university just capitulated to this mob. My finals had to be moved, and these are the people that they are now negotiating with and are dictating university policy.”

Harris Glass said the encampment violated several university policies, including rules against staying overnight, holding a demonstration in an unapproved area—Voorhees Mall rather than Brower Commons—and no amplified sounds.

She said “desperate communications” were sent to Conway and Holloway, but they were negotiating with the encampment’s marshals. “It seems to me they were talking about capitulation,” said Harris Glass, adding she would use the word “extortion” to describe the agreement. “They [the protestors] held the university’s operations hostage.”

Gindi said that over the course of months pro-Palestinian protesters had interrupted Jewish events, harassed Jewish students without consequences or suspensions, and shouted antisemitic slurs from the encampment.

“It feels like a double standard, and this is what our taxes are paying for,” said Gindi, who cited Students for Justice in Palestine, which for years has been causing unrest and spreading antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda at Rutgers and other campuses. The organization had been briefly suspended earlier in the school year for violating the university’ s code of conduct and is now on a yearlong probation.

He noted as part of the deal, pro-Palestinian demonstrators agreed not to cause any more disruptions, but added, “Knowing their constituency, they’re not going to abide. I guarantee you there will be disruptions at commencement. The administration didn’t understand who they were dealing with.” Commencement is scheduled for Sunday.

Scherzer, who said the federations would be in contact with Gov. Phil Murphy’s office the next day, asked if the governor had interceded. Gindi, who previously served as a legislative affairs intern in Murphy’s office, said he had not.

“From my perspective the governor has been shamefully silent,” said Harris Glass. “He is the highest-ranking politician in the state, and I don’t have the right words for how heartbreaking and frustrating it is.”

Scherzer also expressed concern about faculty members who have clearly taken sides with the protesters and are standing with them, a concern also shared by Harris Glass. “I have absolutely been seeing faculty supporting and aiding the cause,” she said, and knows Jewish students who feared speaking out of concern it would affect their grade because of the positions of certain faculty, a situation she called “outrageous.”

Yet, Harris Glass believes that there is still a place for Jewish students at Rutgers, which has one of largest Jewish populations in the country. “If we stop showing up at our state university we have lost,” she said, and had a message to parents who are concerned about sending their children to Rutgers: “Make sure they have a place to land.” Along those lines, Harris Glass said Hillel had seen a surge in student participation this past school year.

In addition to the call for a state investigation, the federations will work with the House Education and Workforce Committee to support a congressional inquiry, will discuss the university’s actions with donors and governors, and will discuss “potential budgetary implications” with state and federal legislators and representatives.

The federations are also urging the Jewish community, friends and allies to come to the Statehouse in Trenton on May 16 for a Senate committee hearing on legislation to curb antisemitism. They will also consult with student leaders, community representatives and allies in planning a large community rally at Rutgers in the near future “to articulate our pain and outrage.”

Links to the letters are:

To NJ Leadership: Call for an Investigation:

To Rutgers Leadership: Reverse Agreement With Encampment Protesters:

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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