July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Rutgers Postpones Hearing Against Orthodox Student After Lawsuit Is Filed

Rutgers University has postponed a hearing by its Student Conduct Committee against an Orthodox law student who faced possible expulsion for doxxing a pro-Palestinian student who he claimed was circulating threatening antisemitic misinformation.

The hearing against Yoel Ackerman had been scheduled for January 4, but was put on indefinite hold after he filed suit two days prior charging the university was retaliating against him for exposing antisemitism on the law school’s Newark campus.

The suit was filed in Essex County Superior Court by the Roseland law firm of Mazie Slater Katz Freeman and names the law school, university and administrators, including law school dean Johanna Bond, as defendants. It alleges the school is attempting to punish Ackerman for complaining about “antisemitic propaganda.”

Ackerman, a first-year student, previously told The Jewish Link that a Palestinian student shared an Instagram video with misinformation about Israel with the Student Bar Association (SBA).

The incident ultimately resulted in the SBA being suspended and then reinstated after it tried to toss Ackerman out and triggered an investigation by the university involving claims and counterclaims from students, including the investigation of Ackerman, who said he was being kept in the dark about why he was being investigated.

The suit alleges the university’s actions are an “egregious example of Rutgers tolerating a culture of antisemitism on its campuses.”

Co-counsel David Mazie said that in addition to singling out Ackerman for disciplinary action, the student was told he could have an attorney present, but that attorney would not be allowed to speak. “It’s crazy,” he said. “They are violating his right to due process. It doesn’t make sense. It really is a kangaroo court. They are going after Yoel Ackerman but they haven’t done anything against the student who circulated the propaganda.”

Cory Rothbort, an attorney at the law firm handling the case, said while the legal action forced the postponement, he was concerned the cancellation was temporary and that the university would reinstate the proceeding.

The complaint alleges that Rutgers has for years tolerated an atmosphere among faculty, members, guest speakers and groups of students that endorse or legitimize antisemitic expressions.

“Toleration of bullying, intimidation, harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Jewish students denies them their right to an adequate educational environment,” reads the suit.

The Rutgers-Newark and New Brunswick campuses have been the scene of a number of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), that have been vehemently anti-Israel and antisemitic.

The university has since suspended SJP for violations of the student code of conduct and is under investigation by the federal Department of Education for a Title VI violation of the Civil Rights Act for alleged failure to protect Jewish students from harassment.

The incident occurred on the Day of Resistance, which called for students on October 13 to protest at various schools and universities. Ackerman said previously he heeded an email from the Rutgers Law Jewish Students group to be careful and vigilant and requested students take screenshots and make records of antisemitic or anti-Israel harassment or threats. That prompted Ackerman, a 36-year-old father of three, to share a screenshot of the Palestinian student who posted the propaganda, which claimed Israel had staged the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas and that no rapes had occurred, among other things.

Ackerman, who never identified the student, said he had questioned why the student shared the video in the SBA group chat “if it had zero to do with the SBA or Rutgers University.”

“In response, Rutgers and the Law School, by and through their employees and agents, including those responsible to oversee and supervise the students—punished or allowed to be punished—Mr. Ackerman for speaking out against the antisemitic video,” reads the 74-page suit.

The university launched an investigation of him for violating school policy regarding defamation and disorderly conduct based on his message to the Jewish student group. He received a letter from the SBA president, informing him that he and another student would be up for impeachment for having violated the Anti-Discrimination Clause of its constitution.

Ackerman then sat for “a three-hour public lynching” against him where 15 fellow students gave the same “anti-Zionist” testimony.

The suit charges that the law school and its faculty allowed Ackerman to be “publicly humiliated” and created “a victim-blaming narrative” in which he became the purported bully.

The complaint also alleges that the non-Jewish students who harassed and bullied Ackerman and other Jewish students faced no scrutiny or accountability for conduct that clearly violated the Constitution of the law school’s SBA, Rutgers’ Code of Conduct, New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the AntiBullying Bill of Rights Act and other laws.

It also states that Ackerman was “anonymously and falsely accused of ‘doxxing,’” even though Bond, the school’s dean, had previously emailed staff that doxxing is “the intentional revelation of a person’s private information, typically with malicious intent.”

The suit notes that not only did Ackerman not reveal any private information, but that his actions were only done to protect himself and other Jewish students, not as a revenge tactic.

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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