The president of Rutgers University in New Jersey is facing increasing criticism for his defense of three faculty members who made widely condemned remarks about Israel and Jews.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Monday sharply rebuked President Robert Barchi for failing to openly condemn professor Michael Chikindas, who shared "anti-Semitic, homophobic, and misogynistic" posts on social media; Jasbir Puar, who repeated discredited allegations that Israel mines the organs of Palestinians; and Mazen Adi, who served for years as a spokesperson for "the murderous Assad regime."
"President Barchi's unyielding defense of the professors on free speech grounds is inexplicable," said Rabbi David Levy, who heads AJC's New Jersey office. "Respect for academic freedom does not compel silence in the face of faculty bigotry."
In a town hall last week, Barchi defended the free speech rights of Chikindas, Puar, and Adi, saying the former's postings — which included claims that Judaism is "the most racist religion in the world" — are "repugnant" but "constitutionally protected."
Barchi also called Puar — who has reportedly expressed support for "armed resistance in Palestine," and claimed Israelis and Jews "thoroughly hijacked the discourse of trauma through exceptionalizing Holocaust victimization" — a "well-respected scholar." He similarly defended Adi, who also accused Israeli officials of harvesting children's organs while serving as a Syrian diplomat at the United Nations in New York between 2007 and 2014, and who — according to a former student who spoke to The Algemeiner on condition of anonymity — defended Palestinian terrorism in class as a legitimate form of "resistance" to Israeli "occupation."
The AJC noted that it had "engaged in direct talks with senior officials at the highest levels of the Rutgers administration" for weeks, and previously wrote a letter to Barchi urging the university to condemn Chikindas, Puar, and Adi.
"President Barchi's written response to our letter is deeply disappointing, as he continues to avert openly confronting anti-Semitism on campus," Levy said. He challenged Barchi's argument at the town hall that painting swastikas on a university building is protected speech under the First Amendment, noting that it ignored the potential violation of New Jersey hate crime statutes.
"Jews know how valuable our freedoms and civil rights are, and we do not wish to see anyone else's rights infringed upon," Levy added. "Nevertheless, we are puzzled why President Barchi has consistently spoken up to defend these professors, rather than castigate them for their bigotry."
The AJC statement also condemned Barchi for having "verbally attacked" The Algemeiner during the town hall.
"The Algemeiner should be applauded for exposing this bigotry, and its reporting should have encouraged the Rutgers administration to immediately make clear its institutional opposition to this hate," Levy said. "It is incumbent upon the University to use its own free speech to condemn vociferously these shameful acts."
The AJC's statement comes on the heels of calls by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) for Barchi's resignation.
The Rutgers president has "repeatedly defended anti-semitism," CAMERA's international campus director Aviva Slomich said on Thursday, and "has expressed anti-Semitic rhetoric of his own, making disparaging remarks about The Algemeiner, the Jewish newspaper which has provided extensive coverage of these anti-Semitic incidents."
"President Barchi's continual defense of these anti-Semitic faculty members, in addition to his own apparent prejudice, leave no other option other than Barchi stepping down immediately to allow Rutgers students the justice and safety they deserve," Slomich added.
Dory Devlin — a spokesperson for Rutgers — rejected the criticism leveled at Barchi, saying on Monday that the president "has publicly stated his strong support for our Jewish students and his disgust at anti-Semitic words and actions."
"Anti-Semitic comments, materials and posts on social media are antithetical to our university's principles and values of respect for people of all backgrounds, including, among other groups, our large and vibrant Jewish community," Devlin told The Algemeiner. "Such comments do not represent the position of the University."
"Rutgers' position on free speech is clear: All of the members of our community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens," the spokesperson added. "Yet at Rutgers University we also strive to foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination."
Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, who heads Rutgers' Chabad House, told The Algemeiner earlier this month that while Rutgers was generally a friendly place for Jewish students and faculty, over the years administrators has used "the freedom of expression line to give license to absolute wrong."
The Jewish campus group Rutgers Hillel similarly said this month that while they "certainly believe in free speech and academic freedom," they were concerned that Chikindas, Puar and Adi each "gives voice to traditional racist, anti-Jewish tropes."
The "hiring of such professors has brought national shame and embarrassment to our university, with negative media coverage across the spectrum, from NPR to Fox News," Hillel added. "It contributes to a feeling among many that universities, as a whole, have lost their moral compass."