Rutgers University (illustrative)
Rutgers University (illustrative) iStock

New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-D) wrote to Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway this week to ask for clarification on a statement made by the part-time lecturer chapter of the Rutgers faculty union that accused Israel of being a “regime of legalized racial discrimination perpetrated against the Palestinian people” that it targeted with “military actions” that have “killed and maimed civilian populations.”

Gottheimer urged Holloway to speak out against the hateful statement from the Executive Board of the Rutgers PTLFC-AAUP-AFT that represents part-time lecturers at Rutgers, especially in light of the rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States.

The statement read in part, “As teachers and union members, we can no longer allow ourselves to be complicit in the illegal acts of the Israeli government,” accused Israel of “military actions that have targeted, killed and maimed civilian populations” and alleged that Israel oversees “a regime of legalized racial discrimination perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Gottheimer said his criticism of the statement was not an attack on freedom of speech or free expression in academia.

“We treasure universities for their commitment to open debate, free expression, and a robust exchange of ideas, while ensuring that our institutions of higher education remain inclusive to and respectful of people of all backgrounds, religions, and nationalities,” he said. “This is especially important given the rise in hate across the United States, including the recent surge of anti-Semitic incidents.”

He said that the university’s part-time lecturers are entitled forming their own opinions, even if they are disagreeable positions. However, the statement made by the part-time lecturer executive board went beyond free speech to negatively single out an identifiable group of students.

“It is important to recognize that invective which singles out, disparages, delegitimizes, or demonizes Israel can and in many cases does fall outside of bounds,” he said.

He expressed concern for Jewish or pro-Israel students at Rutgers who worry that the statement singles them out and makes them targets for hostility on campus or in classrooms.

“Considering recent events, it is important to send a clear message that all Rutgers students and community members, including those who identify as being Jewish or pro-Israel, will not be singled out, penalized, or made to feel unwelcome at our state’s flagship university. I would ask you to please speak out clearly and quickly against this hate-filled misinformation campaign and rhetoric,” he said.

Rutgers has increasingly become a campus that feels unwelcoming to many Jewish students.

In May, Rutgers chancellor Christopher J. Molloy apologized for a letter denouncing anti-Semitism after pressure from a pro-Palestinian campus group.

In the letter, Molloy had written he was “saddened by and greatly concerned about the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and anti-Semitic violence in the United States" and that "recent incidents of hate directed toward Jewish members of our community again remind us of what history has to teach us.”

He also linked anti-Semitism to overall prejudice in America, speaking about the murder of George Floyd and attacks on “our Asian American Pacific Islander citizens, the spaces of Indigenous peoples defiled, and targeted oppression and other assaults against Hindus and Muslims.”

But after outrage from Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers, Molloy retracted the letter.

The move was denounced by the Rutgers chapter of Hillel.

"What SJP and the Chancellor have said, in effect, is that NO condemnation of hatred against Jews, of attacks on Jews, of threats against Jews, is legitimate in and of itself," wrote Hillel. "Such bizarre moral logic is twisted, wrong, and must be condemned."