US: Rutgers University to face congressional antisemitism investigation

Rutgers University joins several other universities under investigation for their alleged ‘failure’ to protect Jewish students on campus

Zainab Iqbal

Rutgers students wait for a bus in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on 10 April 2023 (Spencer Platt/AFP)

Rutgers University is the latest university under investigation for its handling of antisemitism and “failure to protect Jewish students” on campus, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced on Wednesday. 

“The Committee on Education and the Workforce is investigating Rutgers University’s response to antisemitism and its failure to protect Jewish students. I have grave concerns regarding the inadequacy of Rutgers’ response to antisemitism on its campuses,” the letter from the Congressional committee said.

The letter lists incidents of antisemitism the committee says the school did not adequately address and requests information dating back to 2021 on antisemitic activity, what disciplinary actions were taken, and communications that occurred between university officials on the subject.  

“Rutgers stands out for the intensity and pervasiveness of antisemitism on its campuses. Rutgers senior administrators, faculty, staff, academic departments and centers, and student organisations have contributed to the development of a pervasive climate of antisemitism,” the letter said.

“Rutgers takes claims of antisemitism, and all forms of bias and intolerance, very seriously,” a university spokesperson said in a statement about the documents request.

Rutgers University joins other universities under investigation, including Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘False accusations’

Lawmakers from the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the president of Rutgers University, requesting details on the financial support provided to the Rutgers Center for Security, Race and Rights (CSR), a research centre founded in 2018 which aims to advance the civil and human rights of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians.

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Citing anti-terrorism legislation, they inquired whether the university was aware of contentious events and speakers associated with the centre and questioned if it intends to maintain its backing for the centre.

In a letter dated 6 February, committee members, which include US Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, accused the centre of organising events “featuring antisemitic speakers, individuals who justify violence against the State of Israel, terrorist sympathisers and advocates for domestic radicalism”.

Sahar Aziz, the executive director of the Rutgers centre, told Middle East Eye that she found it “troubling that the Education and Workforce Committee is attacking the first and only civil rights centre at an American law school whose mission is to combat Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism”.

“Notably, out of the more than 85 lectures we have hosted at CSR, the committee is highlighting only those where Palestinian professors and experts are the speakers,” she said.

“This causes me concern that they are more interested in quashing the free speech rights of Palestinians and violating the academic freedom rights of an academic centre combatting Islamophobia than they are about protecting the rights of Jewish students at Rutgers University.”

Aziz, who is also the author of the bookThe Radical Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom, added that in neither letter – from last month or Wednesday – was there any evidence provided for what she called “false accusations”.

She said that all of the centre’s lectures are available on YouTube for anyone to watch. Yet there was no citation to a specific statement or comment to support their accusations.

“What appears to be their concern is a disagreement on the political analysis and legal analysis of the speakers, which is precisely what academic centres do, is provide analysis about current events related to the mission of the centre,” she said.

Aziz said that her overarching concern is that these types of inquiries are intended to “quash free speech and censor academics and students from open inquiry into political, legal and policy issues relevant to their studies”.

“Over time, such efforts will lead to the demise in the quality of higher education in the United States. Because freedom of speech and academic freedom are essential for training students to be critical thinkers on complex issues.”

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