June 10, 2021

Meeting with Rutgers President

Linda Scherzer JCRC Director

At a time when Jews have been experiencing a surge in antisemitic attacks, both in person and on-line, our Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) has actively engaged in building new civic alliances, deepening our relationships with interfaith and inter-ethnic communities, and condemning hate and double standards when we see it.

Last week our Federation, along with four other NJ Federations, called out Rutgers University for referencing “increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians” in its statement condemning antisemitism at home. Responding to angry calls from Students for Justice in Palestine, the university then issued a second statement apologizing for not communicating their support for Palestinian students, stating that the university is a place where all students should feel supported and validated.

As Jewish Federations, representing our statewide Jewish community, we were deeply disappointed by the university’s stand. To issue any qualifications, hesitations, or expressions of sympathy for Palestinian suffering when Jewish students are fearful of walking through campus wearing kippot or Jewish stars, is wrong.

Yesterday, in a meeting with President Jonathan Holloway, who assumed his position just one year ago, executives and JCRC directors from five NJ Jewish Federations had an opportunity to voice our disappointment directly and share concerns from the statewide Jewish community.

We urged President Holloway to reject any attempt to connect antisemitism in this country to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 3,000 miles away. Would Rutgers qualify its support for Asian Americans because of China’s actions against the Uyghurs? Would Rutgers withhold allyship with its Muslim community because of Saudi bombings of Yemen? To create such a linkage for American Jews is applying a double standard not used for any other people or faraway conflict. Not only does this not help Palestinians in the Middle East, we told President Holloway, it helps perpetuate antisemitism here.

We shared with the president the concerns of many Jewish parents thinking of sending their children to Rutgers, who fear that university administration, in its attempts to apply moral equivalence to hate everywhere, is diluting support for its stand against antisemitism. We also communicated the outrage we feel watching Jewish students at campuses across the country, submit to “purity tests;” forced to renounce their support for Israel before being welcomed into progressive spaces.

We were gratified by President Holloway’s response and commitment to learning more about the specific challenges facing the Jewish community on campus. The President promised to connect us with Student Affairs administrators, who engage on a regular basis with the Rutgers student community.

For the professionals from the five NJ Jewish Federations (Northern NJ; South Jersey; Heart of NJ; Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties; and Greater MetroWest), the meeting with President Holloway provided us with a model for advocacy in action: Engage with leaders of all communities; develop and deepen personal relationships; be trusted sources of good information; demonstrate commitment to one’s cause but be open to other opinions; recognize that not all people see things our way but make the case with clarity and confidence; understand that the key to overcoming hatred and mistrust is building bridges between people of different faiths, ethnic groups, and nationalities to build and strengthen the fabric of our society.

The Rutgers president delivered a heartfelt apology for any appearance of undermining Rutgers firm stand against antisemitism. He reaffirmed his commitment to publicly support Jewish students against any form of hate or bigotry. Equally as important, for community relations professionals who understand the value of alliances, a new relationship was born.