Rutgers president Robert Barchi
Rutgers president Robert Barchi REUTERS

The president of Rutgers University in New Jersey has come under fire after he publicly defended several professors accused of anti-Semitism, and appeared to disparage a Jewish media outlet which helped publicized the professors’ behavior.

Over the past few weeks, an American-Jewish media outlet, The Algemeiner, published a series of articles publicizing blatant examples of anti-Israel bias and outright anti-Semitism by three Rutgers faculty members.

A month ago, for example, Algemeiner reported that Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of gender studies at Rutgers, had published a book claiming that the IDF’s policy of attempting to avoid fatally shooting suspected Arab terrorists was in fact a calculated plan to keeping Palestinian Authority residents “perpetually debilitated… in order to control them.”

Puar, it was also noted, has repeated conspiracy theories claiming that Israel harvests “young Palestinian men…for organs for scientific research,” and called Israel’s attempts to defend against terror attacks a “genocide in slow motion”. Puar also explicitly endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and in 2016 called for “armed resistance in Palestine” against Israeli Jews.

Earlier this month, The Algemeiner also exposed a former Syrian diplomat, Mazen Adi, who is now employed as an adjunct professor in Rutgers’ University’s political science department. Adi, a 16-year employee of the Syrian government – including during the Assad regime’s use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians – accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians and of “trafficking children’s organs”.

A third Rutgers faculty member, microbiology professor Michael Chikindas, was first exposed by the pro-Israel blog Israellycool for his explicitly anti-Semitic, homophobic, and conspiracy theory-driven views.

In one post, Chikindas claimed that "Israel is the terrorist country aimed at genocidal extermination of the land’s native population, Palestinians.”

His ire was not limited to Zionists, whom he lumped together with Orthodox Jews as “the best of two forms of racism.” He also blamed Jews for human rights catastrophes, egregiously including the 1915 Armenian Genocide. "We must not forget that the Armenian Genocide was orchestrated by the Turkish Jews who pretended to be the Turks.”

Chikindas shared numerous anti-Semitic wild conspiracy theories, including theories claiming that Israel was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, as well as claims that Jews control the Federal Reserve, Hollywood, the “cancer industry,” “pornography,” “sex-trafficking,” and others.

Despite the seemingly inexcusable behavior by the three faculty members, Rutgers President Robert Barchi nevertheless defended the three during a town hall meeting last Friday, praising their work at Rutgers and arguing that their first amendment right to free speech not only protects them from legal prosecution, but also from termination.

While Barchi admitted that much of what Chikindas said over social media was “repugnant”, he added that “nothing there…is actionable.”

Chikindas’ social media accounts, said Barchi “had cartoons and crude jokes about Israel, Judaism, women, homosexuality - a whole lot of things that most of us would find repugnant. On the other hand, though, they are also things that are covered by his first amendment right to free speech. So that's the problem, right?"

"There's nothing there that is actionable," Barchi continued. "So the question, does having posted that create an environment in his work that would compromise his ability to teach or to do research."

Barchi claimed that the university is completing an independent investigation into Barchi and whether his anti-Semitic views hamper his ability to carry out his duties as a professor, but then appeared to suggest he was unlikely to be terminated, praising him as a “very strong” teacher.

"Up until this point, his teaching record is actually very strong. So that's where we are with that."

Barchi also rejected the criticism of Puar as a Rutgers tenured faculty member, claiming that while her work and her assertions may be controversial, she is a “well-respected scholar” whose peer-reviewed book accusing Israel of systematically working to maim Arab’s is a “piece of scholarly work” that is “protected by academic freedom, one-hundred percent.”

Regarding Adi, Barchi stated that the university was “well aware of his past” work for the Assad regime, praising him as “an excellent teacher”.

In defending the three faculty members, Barchi also appeared to disparage The Algemeiner, blaming it for publicizing the professors’ extreme views and ridiculing Algemeiner as a “blog out of New York” which he claimed was all that remains of a failed Yiddish newspaper.

The Algemeiner newspaper is in fact still in publication, but is now published in English.