June 3, 2024
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June 3, 2024
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Rutgers Student Charged With Bias Crime

Security has been increased and Jewish students at Rutgers University are on edge following the arrest of a 19-year-old Rutgers student who threatened to have an Israeli student from the university’s Jewish fraternity killed.

Matthew Skorny has been charged with bias intimidation, terroristic threats and false public alarm, according to the university spokesperson Megan Schumann Florance. He was charged by Rutgers Police following his post on the social media site YikYak, which said, “Palestinian protesters, there is an Israeli at AEPi go kill him.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi has been the site of several antisemitic incidents in recent years, including having eggs thrown at its building during the reading of the names of Holocaust victims on Yom Ha’atzmaut and having antisemitic rhetoric shouted at students playing basketball from a car whose occupants waved Palestinian flags.

In response to an inquiry from The Jewish Link about whether Skorny would be allowed back on campus, Schumann Florance said the university could not discuss the student conduct process due to federal privacy laws.

She said the incident has been forwarded to several law enforcement agencies in the state, including the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, Schumann Florance said Rutgers Police are closely monitoring social media and collaborating with multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Attorney General’s Office, Homeland Security and the Prosecutor’s Office to head off threats to the campus community. They have also increased patrolling and security around religion-affiliated properties, and campus police are being informed of any planned events so that enough security can be provided to ensure a safe environment.

There have been other troubling incidents at the university’s main campus in New Brunswick. Rutgers Hillel CEO Lisa Harris Glass said two incidents on consecutive days are worrisome, even though law enforcement stated they were not bias-related.

The two events occurred the previous week outside Hillel where toy bullets were found and what looked to be a propane tank, but turned out to be an empty plumbing expansion tank. The bullets were said to have come from a Halloween costume.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” said Harris Glass. “Neither was ruled a bias incident and yet it feels particular.”

Several Jewish students were hanging posters of the kidnapping victims outside the College Avenue student center when a male student came up and began screaming antisemitic epithets at them, said Harris Glass. At Rutgers Chabad students have been harassed by a group gathered outside yelling, “Free Palestine.”

“Every student is concerned,” said Chabad Executive Director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, adding that students are being told by law enforcement authorities to keep their eyes open and to report, and if possible, record or take photos of incidents or verbal harassment.

Rabbi Carlebacah said Chabad has been in contact with university, state and county law enforcement, and representatives of those agencies have come to speak and advise students. State Attorney General Matthew Platkin has also visited Chabad.

Platkin has said the state has seen a dramatic spike in both antisemitism and Islamophobia, both in grades K-12 and on college campuses, in the wake of the terrorist attack on Israeli civilians on October 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza. Rabbi Carlebach said Platkin also encouraged students to report all incidents.

“It’s critical that our educational institutions respond immediately—and in a manner consistent with their legal obligations—when bias incidents occur,” Platkin said in a joint statement released with Sundeep Iyer, director of the Division on Civil Rights. “It is incumbent on our schools to promptly address the harassment and make clear in unequivocal terms to members of the school community that they denounce bias-based conduct.”

The White House recently announced new plans to fight antisemitism on campus, including a partnership between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and campus law enforcement to monitor online hate. The U.S. Department of Education recently clarified Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in federally funded programs or activities, to define a “hostile environment” as being when unwelcome conduct “is subjectively and objectively offensive and is so severe or pervasive that it limits or denies a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from” an educational program or activity.

And on November 7 the DOE sent guidance to colleges, universities and K-12 schools regarding their legal responsibility to provide all students with an environment free from discrimination under
Title VI.

Liran Kapoano, a former student at Rutgers during a period of anti-Israel activism, said he and six other former students from that period sent a letter to Hillel offering to share strategies they found effective. Kapoano was founder and president of Scarlet Blue and White, a multiethnic and religious pro-Israel student coalition. He continues to be active in the Jewish community as a member of the board of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.

He also noted that a Title VI investigation launched during his student days in 2011 remains open at the DOE and urged those having issues with Rutgers’ handling of complaints of antisemitism to add their issue to the complaint.

Harris Glass said Hillel is supporting students as they go about their normal activities “even though it does not feel normal.”

“It’s not just students who feel frightened,” she said. “It is also Jewish faculty, and there is reason to feel that.”

Rabbi Carlebach said he is befuddled how some who support many progressive causes could align themselves in this case with “the most sadistic, barbaric” terrorist movement who would kill them for the other causes they support.

He blamed much of the conflict roiling university campuses among students and faculty on the “propaganda machines of Arab nations” over the last 20 years.

“I think this is a wake-up call for Jewish leaders,” said Rabbi Carlebach, who suggested the American Jewish community use its influence and donations to support Israel and support Jewish students, faculty and the general community. Harris Glass said she was troubled by the abandonment of the Jewish community by others whom the Jewish community has backed when they were mistreated.

“I think the community was complacent and assimilated,” said Harris Glass. ”We thought we stood up for what’s right and thought others would be there for us, too. But, where are our allies?”

She said that while the university has a mechanism for reporting bias incidents, it, like other universities, must confront and draw the line between free speech, academic freedom and hate speech while defining what hate speech is.

“Hate speech can be shouted by someone and we perceive it as hate speech, but it means something different to the other side,” she said, “or there is a conflict that has been taught to a generation of students who then believe it to be true and yet we know the history and we know it not to be true.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

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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