(April 16, 2018 / JNS) Rutgers University held a day-long program last month on “Fighting Hate While Preserving Freedom: A Best Practices Forum.” Under President Robert Barchi’s leadership, a number of distinguished speakers talked about fighting back against hatred, including anti-Semitism, without infringing on the right to free speech.
Forums like this one can be useful, but talk is no substitute for action. Barchi is well-aware of the anti-Semitism a member of his own faculty is expressing. Yet to date, he has never so much as spoken up and condemned it. In fact, he has praised the faculty member at issue and legitimized the hateful falsehoods she is promoting.
Jasbir Puar is an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers. Masquerading as scholarship, she has made false and outrageous accusations against Israel that cross the line into anti-Semitism. When she delivered a lecture at Vassar College in 2016, she told the audience that Israel had “mined for organs for scientific research” from dead Palestinian Arabs—a bald-faced lie and a modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel reminiscent of the age-old claim that Jews use the blood of gentiles to make Passover matzah.
In her recently published book, The Right to Maim, Puar shamefully accused Israel of the goal of “creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.” She also claimed that children are a “prime target” of Israel—another blatant falsehood. No army, including Israel’s, is perfect. But the Israel Defense Forces go to extraordinary lengths to protect civilians, especially children. After Israel’s 2014 defensive operation in Gaza, former military leaders from around the world investigated and found that the measures Israel took to avoid civilian casualties were exemplary, and that it was the policy of Hamas—and not Israel—to cause as many Palestinian Arab civilian deaths as possible.
On April 9, Puar was a scheduled panelist at “Academic Freedom Week,” held at Columbia University. According to the panel’s agenda, she and other speakers were to promote themes that are both odious and false, including that Zionism—the expression of Jewish nationalism—is a form of white supremacy; that Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, collaborated with European anti-Semites to “remove” Jews from Europe; and that Zionists allied themselves with the Nazis “to rid Germany of its Jewish population.”
Puar is certainly entitled to her bigoted views, but the truth matters. As educators, the truth should matter to Rutgers and Barchi. Yet New Jersey’s state university is unwittingly giving legitimacy to Puar’s anti-Semitic falsehoods and affording her prominent platforms for expressing her bigotry. It is unlikely that Puar would have been invited to speak at Columbia or Vassar—or had her book published by Duke University Press—had she not been a member of a university faculty like Rutgers.
At a minimum, Barchi should be condemning Puar’s claims since they are factually inaccurate, inflammatory and anti-Semitic. But he hasn’t. Instead, Barchi referred to Puar as “a well-respected scholar.” He noted that her book was published by Duke University Press, and justified and legitimized her lies as an exercise of academic freedom.
It’s no surprise that Duke University Press published Puar’s book. Several members of its editorial advisory board are signatories on initiatives related to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Recently, Puar expressed her anti-Semitism more bluntly. In a seemingly lighthearted Facebook exchange with another professor, she referred to “the Zios”—a term frequently used by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a rabid anti-Semite—to refer to Jews.
Duke often uses “Zio” as an anti-Semitic prefix. For example, one of his YouTube videos is called “CNN Goldman Sachs & The Zio Matrix,” and Duke’s website hosts the “Zio-Watch News Round-up.” In 2013, Duke reportedly discussed “the Zio control of Hollywood, which not only promotes lies about the enemies of Jewish extremism, but literally poisons the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in [the] West and all over the world.”
Puar’s casual reference to “the Zios” tarnishes not only the reputation of Rutgers, but also the campus environment for the university’s Jewish community. It is difficult to imagine a Jewish student feeling safe and welcome in her classes, particularly if the student also supports Israel. We recently asked Barchi to speak out and condemn Puar’s anti-Semitism, but so far, he has remained silent.
Barchi’s failure to tackle Puar’s bigotry head on is particularly perplexing since Rutgers has a well-documented problem with anti-Semitism. In 2016, Brandeis University released a report identifying the “hot spots” of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on U.S. college campuses, and Rutgers was one of them. The researchers found that at Rutgers, the anti-Semitism is driven more by traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes, rather than by criticism of Israel.
In short, it’s the kind of anti-Semitism that Jasbir Puar felt strangely comfortable expressing on Facebook. Her behavior is despicable and not acceptable from a professor anywhere—and certainly not at Rutgers.
In December, Barchi took disciplinary action against another Rutgers professor who had posted and shared dozens of disgusting anti-Semitic messages on social media. He cannot let Puar off the hook either for her appalling conduct.
Let Barchi know that he must publicly condemn Puar’s actions as hateful, anti-Semitic and against the values of the university. Then, he must investigate whether disciplinary action is warranted, so that Rutgers maintains its reputation as an excellent university and “a great place to be Jewish.”
NOTE: Jasbir Puar did not show up for the April 9 panel at Columbia.
Susan B. Tuchman is the director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice. Alan D. Jay is the executive director of the ZOA’s Northern New Jersey Chapter.