VICTORY: Rutgers University Disbands Student Bar Association for Violating Its Own Rules and Targeting Jewish Students With Vile Antisemitism
Ever since the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas unleashed a brutal attack on our closest ally, the State of Israel, last month, a number of antisemitic campus groups have stood up to defend the terrorists, including by denying that Hamas did the very things they proudly and openly filmed themselves doing. This depraved antisemitic support for an organization whose charter literally calls for the extermination of every Jewish person in the world – including on American campuses – is both shocking and terrifying. Jewish students watching the mass denial of the slaughter of their people were and are rightly terrified.
The ACLJ is fighting back, and we have just scored an important win.
On October 12, just five days after the attack, a student in a Rutgers Student Bar Association (SBA) chat posted a terrorist propaganda video that cruelly denied the atrocities Hamas had committed and accused the State of Israel of “staging” everything. Our client, a member of the SBA, asked why he would share the video in an SBA chat when it was unrelated to the SBA or Rutgers, and the individual explained that he was “clearing up some information about Palestine” and that he was, in fact, spreading the video widely in other group chats as well. There are approximately 52 people on that chat, and there is no expectation of privacy for matters unrelated to the agenda of the student government.
That same day, responding to a call from the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization (a group that has already been credibly accused of providing material support for terror), the Rutgers SJP group planned to host a protest on campus supporting Hamas. To be clear, the SJP Toolkit that Rutgers SJP was following called for schools to host events on Thursday, October 12, as part of a national “day of resistance” and explicitly defined that resistance to include violence and even murder. The Toolkit made clear that the people participating in this “day of resistance” did not consider themselves merely in solidarity with the fighters on the ground, i.e., Hamas, but rather “a PART” of that movement and its efforts – those efforts that include the torture, rape, and murder of Jews. Indeed, SJP was widely seen to be acting at the behest of or in coordination with Hamas’ simultaneous call for a global “day of rage.” Across the country, Jewish students were scared for their lives, and predictably, a number of SJP events across the country have become violent and dangerous. That very day at Rutgers, an anonymous poster on Yik Yak wrote a public message saying, “Palestinian protestors there is an Israeli at AEPI go kill him.” Since that time, the author of the post has been arrested.
Like every other Jewish listserv around the country, the Rutgers Law Jewish email list informed the Jewish students in the vicinity to be careful and vigilant and to take screenshots and make records. Our client responded to this email with a screenshot of the message from the students who were spreading and liking Hamas propaganda. He did not include any identifying information other than what they had publicly posted on the SBA group page. He did so because the students were, in fact, spreading and “liking” Hamas propaganda, and the Jewish students on campus were fearful of those who would deny the murderous horrors that had just occurred to their co-religionists and support the “resistance” of a group whose charter calls for their extermination.
However, instead of supporting the Jewish community that is literally under attack, Rutgers opened an investigation, charging our client with defamation and disorderly conduct. Shortly thereafter, our client received a letter from the SBA President, informing him that he would be up for impeachment for having violated the Anti-Discrimination Clause for actions “based on race, ethnicity, immigration status, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, trans-sexuality, parental status, source of income, Minority Student Program status, religion, accent, national origin, economic class, disability, or appearance, and pledges to actively condemn all forms of such discrimination.” Our client’s email contained nothing whatsoever about any of those protected classes. In fact, it is clear that he was being singled out for abuse because of his Jewish identity.
At a three-hour SBA meeting the next day that was open to the public, no less than 15 accusers came forward with prepared similar remarks, berating, degrading, and humiliating our client and other Jewish students. They called for “Zionist students” to “expose themselves” and “take accountability” and launched personal attacks against Jewish students in speeches laced with discriminatory language and profanity. After the hearing, one witness who filed a formal complaint described the proceedings as “derogatory and dehumanizing” toward Jews. Just a few days later, in a proposal led by one of the members who had ‘liked’ the Hamas propaganda, the SBA actually voted to suspend its own constitution in order to make the impeachment go faster. The next meeting was set for last Thursday, November 9.
The ACLJ took quick legal action, sending a demand letter to Rutgers University. In our communications with the Rutgers administration, the ACLJ explained in no uncertain terms that the above-mentioned incidents were, among other things, part of a pattern of both a hostile environment and direct intentional discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. A violation of Title VI may be found if discrimination is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by administrators. Title VI protects Jewish students from discrimination based on their perceived ethnic, racial, or ancestral background. Among the various claims and associated demands, we also reminded Rutgers that they are responsible for ensuring non-discrimination in the SBA and that doing nothing to stem the ugly tide would show complicity in the SBA’s blatantly antisemitic targeting and harassment of Jewish students.
To Rutgers’ great credit, last Thursday, mere hours before the SBA witch hunt was set to resume, the university took the bold and courageous move of suspending the entire student government indefinitely. That is the correct approach for handling an institution that has clearly become so infested with antisemitism that it has stopped even pretending to follow any rules and an excellent first step toward making sure that Jewish students once again feel safe on campus. We are encouraged by this victory and look forward to the administration continuing to do the right thing. Meanwhile, we will continue to do our part and aggressively defend Jewish students who are targeted for any aspect of their Jewish identity – including a real or perceived connection to the State of Israel.