Several statements from the chancellor and executive vice chancellor of Rutgers University have sparked controversy online as students complained about the intent of the message.
Chancellor Dr. Christopher J. Molloy and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dr. Francine Conway released a statement on May 26 condemning anti-semitism in response to a rise in anti-semitic attacks across the country brought about by the fighting in Israel and Gaza.
“Recent incidents of hate directed toward Jewish members of our community again remind us of what history has to teach us. Tragically, in the last century alone, acts of prejudice and hatred left unaddressed have served as the foundation for many atrocities against targeted groups around the world,” the email said.
The chancellors encouraged students who were affected by antisemitism or discrimination to contact the university administration.
Impact of Message ‘Fell Short’
The following day, Jewish Exponent reported that campus group Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement condemning the one released by the chancellors. According to the group, the chancellor’s message “conveniently ignores the extent to which Palestinians have been brutalized by Israel’s occupation and bombing of Gaza.”
They also expressed concern about the chancellor’s decision to “lump [together] the murder of George Floyd and attacks against the AAPI community, Indigenous persons, Hindus, and Muslims.”
“By attempting to combine each of these significant issues for the purpose of making a blanket statement decreeing that ‘racism is bad,’ Chancellor Molloy and Provost Conway trivialize these issues and the experiences of their students who are impacted by them on a consistent basis,” they wrote.
This prompted an apology from the chancellors, who conceded that “the impact of the message fell short of that intention.”
“In hindsight, it is clear to us that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused,” they wrote.
Rutgers University President Steps In
On May 29, the university followed with another statement, this time from President Jonathan Halloway.
“Rutgers deplores hatred and bigotry in all forms. We have not, nor would we ever, apologize for standing against anti-Semitism,” he wrote, “At Rutgers we believe that anti-Semitism, anti-Hinduism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism, intolerance and xenophobia are unacceptable wherever and whenever they occur.
Discussion concerning the wisdom of the statements erupted on Twitter.
Under pressure, the Rutgers chancellor *apologized* for condemning the surge of anti-Semitic violence.
How can someone this weak lead a university? https://t.co/8pd1nRFOkD
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) May 28, 2021
Chancellor of Rutgers condemns recent anti-semitic attacks — then apologizes for that condemnation, noting that condemning anti-Semitism failed "to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused." https://t.co/Ngf1d40kSY pic.twitter.com/q4Xa88BPAI
— Abigail Shrier (@AbigailShrier) May 28, 2021
The underlying assumption is that these particular antisemites are "good antisemites," not "bad antisemites" like white supremacists, but basically fine people who hate Jews.
Hence the imperative to balance out condemnations to make the antisemites feel good about themselves.
— Gary Weiss (@gary_weiss) May 28, 2021