Aaron Marcus, a recent Rutgers graduate and pro-Israel activist at the center of campus controversy, pointed to his days at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School as the beginning of his activism.
Marcus, who graduated from Kushner in 2007, spoke to this year’s graduating class May 21 at the Livingston school about what they could expect when they get to college campuses and urged them to become activists themselves.
“As Modern Orthodox Jews who attended Jewish day schools, middle schools, and high schools, we are used to thinking everyone loves Israel,” said Marcus. “But when it comes to defending Israel, we are not showing up; we are making Facebook statuses. That’s nice, but it’s not fighting back.”
Raised in West Orange, Marcus, 23, majored in political science at Rutgers and wrote a column for The Daily Targum newspaper that frequently defended Israel and criticized its enemies.
In April, a campus satirical newspaper published a parody version of his column — using his byline and actual photograph — that praised Hitler. Campus president Richard McCormick called the parody “vicious, provocative, and hurtful” and said the university was launching an investigation.
Marcus is also at the center of a federal probe into charges, put forward by the Zionist Organization of America, that the university did not do enough to protect Marcus and other pro-Israel students from harassment by critics of their pro-Israel views.
“When I came to Rutgers, a school with 6,000 Jews, I expected a lot of Jewish activism,” Marcus told the Kushner students. “But I found apathetic people. Either they did not care to stand up for Israel or Jewish causes, or they didn’t want to deal with the conflict that comes with it.”
A number of incidents caused him to get involved, he said. He cited donations by the Rutgers Student Assembly to The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which, Marcus said, has “dramatic ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Fund. They say all they do is give aid to children; we say, yes, that’s true, as long as they are not Jewish and not Israeli.”
He recalled being berated and called a “racist Zionist pig” by the outreach coordinator for the Middle East Studies Department at Rutgers, an incident included in the federal probe. He described protesting against various groups coming to campus, like the Free Gaza Movement, and posting videos of representatives of these groups on YouTube.
Marcus is now a policy analyst at the Selous Foundation for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC.
He told the students he doesn’t want to scare them and discourage them from going to any college but Yeshiva University, but, he said, “this is going on at every university across the country.”
“I urge you to go out, fight back, and expose them for who they are, and use their words against them,” he said.
The students listened attentively to his talk.
“He’s teaching kids what’s going on and how we need to change that,” said Steven Wengrofsky of Livingston, who said he is planning to attend New York University.
Another student from Livingston who asked not to be identified said Marcus “brought up a lot of information we need to know. I think he was eloquent and made his point clearly. I didn’t feel like he was pushing his opinion onto us but rather giving us information about what happened to him.”