As a long-time subscriber, I am fascinated by the controversy between NJJN columnist Martin Raffel and Morton A. Klein and Susan B. Tuchman of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) related to the re-opening of a seven-year-old case of alleged anti-Semitism at Rutgers University.
I should state at the outset that I have grown to enjoy Raffel’s columns, viewing them as a breath of fresh air and a laudable effort by NJJN to offer a wide range of opinions to enhance the paper’s relevance and expand its readership.
Nevertheless, the amount of ink that has been consumed by this controversy in back-and-forth opinion pieces and letters over the past month suggests to me that there is an intense, if largely implicit, backstory to this controversy.
I suspect that the backstory has to do with ZOA’s support for an announcement by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that expands its jurisdiction with respect to cases involving anti-Semitism. In that regard, the Trump administration’s OCR has decided to vacate a 2014 decision it reached during the Obama administration involving an incident that occurred on the Rutgers campus in 2011.
Raffel appears to have become a foil in this “family feud” to publicize and advance ZOA’s legal and political agenda. As a consequence, Raffel is charged and convicted by his ZOA detractors of details that are not clearly evident from his columns.
Raffel’s detractors presume findings of an investigation that has yet to happen, and about which an earlier investigation seems to have disagreed. Moreover, the resumed investigation will take place several years after the incident, when facts will be more difficult to establish. Raffel does not argue that Jewish students should be restricted from availing themselves of the protections provided by Title VI, as his ZOA critics contend. Instead, he counsels that as a practical matter, Title VI may be too blunt a tool and should be supplemented by less clumsy instruments perhaps more precisely tailored and better able to meet challenges when tested by academic and First Amendment norms. Raffel even offers recommendations for alternatives (see “Rutgers case demonstrates anti-Semitism is in the eye of the beholder,” Nov. 1).
The ZOA writers also accuse Raffel of rejecting a State Department definition of anti-Semitism; he disagrees.
Raffel’s reactions of outrage to ZOA’s efforts to paint him with a broad derogatory brush by asserting that he accepts “violent threats against Jews,” that he “endangers Jewish students,” and that his words encourage “Jew-haters who will undoubtedly use Raffel’s message to bolster their own claims …” are understandable (“Jewish leaders must urge students: Use Title VI to fight anti-Semitism,” Nov. 15). These characterizations only enflame, rather than advance, important dialogue with respect to increasing concerns related to anti-Semitism.
Martin A. Bierbaum