Rutgers Jewish fraternity harassed after pro-Palestinian rally
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Rutgers Jewish fraternity harassed after pro-Palestinian rally

Hillel director hears different tone in university administration’s response

The AEPi house on the Rutgers campus
The AEPi house on the Rutgers campus

Ezra Perlmutter was in the back yard, “chilling,” two Fridays ago, when “someone sent a picture in our group chat of two cars, a Porsche and a BMW, raising Palestinian flags, blasting music, shouting, and flipping the house off.”

The house in question, in whose backyard Mr. Perlmutter was chilling, is the residence of AEPi, a historically Jewish fraternity at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

“We all ran to the front to see what’s going on. They were standing on our front lawn, yelling comments like ‘F the Jews,’ ‘Baby killers,’ ‘Kikes,’ ‘Dirty Jews,’ Mr. Perlmutter, a junior from Teaneck, said.

The AEPi house is down the block from the Rutgers student center, where Students for Justice for Palestine had just concluded a rally and protest called to “Defend Al Aqsa — Defend Palestine,” a reference to the Muslim worship site on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that has been the site of violent clashes between Israelis and Arabs in recent weeks.

Attendees were urged to bring flags and wear keffiyehs.

The AEPi house is directly across the street from a parking lot that serves the student center.

Mr. Perlmutter said the AEPi residents “tried to avoid any possible confrontation. We knew they were trying to instigate us and looking for a reaction. We yelled at them to leave and get off our property.

“They drove away but kept doing drive-bys. It was going on for a good hour.”

Mr. Perlmutter is the house’s “sentinel,” in charge of risk assessment and such tasks as ensuring that the only people drinking at the fraternity’s parties are at least 21 years old. In that role, he has an ongoing relationship with the campus police.

“They’ve been really helpful,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out who it was, if they’re Rutgers students.”

Dr. Francine Conway, the university’s chancellor-provost, issued a statement condemning the incident.

A scene from the April 22 Students for Justice in Palestine demonstration at Rutgers (Instagram)

“We understand and are sensitive to the concerns of those who were targeted, and stand by our Jewish students, faculty and staff,” her statement said. “Harassment based on religious belief, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or for any reason, is antithetical to our values at Rutgers University.”

She promised to increase security patrols around the AEPi house.

For its part, Rutgers SJP said that none of the people who antagonized the AEPi brothers after the rally were Rutgers students or formal members of their group, and that claims to the contrary were “entirely false and baseless.”

The group also claimed that it had obtained “video footage which suggests that it was members of AEPi who approached the individuals who attended our rally with slurs, Islamophobic rhetoric, and attempts to provoke physical altercation.”

The group has not posted the video footage online and did not respond to requests for further comment from this paper.

“It’s absolute horse crap,” Mr. Perl-mutter said about the SJP statement, noting that he had a video — which he showed this newspaper — of the pro-Palestinian protesters screaming at the AEPi building. There were no AEPi students on the lawn in that video.

This week, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt blasted Students for Justice in Palestine, along with Jewish Voice for Peace and the Council on American Islamic Relations, for endorsements of antisemitic conspiracy-mongering and of Palestinian violence in conflict with Israel. “These radical actors indisputably and unapologetically regularly denigrate and dehumanize Jews,” he said, in an online speech on Sunday.

Rabbi Esther Reed, the interim executive director of Rutgers Hillel, praised the response of the Rutgers administration. “They responded differently than they have in the past,” she said.

Dr. Conway assumed her post on July 1, 2021.

Rabbi Reed said that representatives of the current Rutgers administration “have been here multiple times during the semester.

“I was very happy that there was a statement that Jews should not be targeted,” she said.

Ezra Perlmutter, left, and Rabbi Esther Reed

Rabbi Reed credited part of the difference in response to Rutgers administrators participation in Hillel’s new “Campus Climate Initiative,” which aims to work “collaboratively with higher education administrators to ensure a positive campus climate in which Jewish students feel comfortable expressing their identity and values, free of antisemitism, harassment, or marginalization,” according to the program’s website.

Rutgers participants in the initiative include university staffers from the chancellor’s communication unit, the student affairs office, and the Rutgers Division of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement.

Antisemitism at Rutgers, a school in which an estimated 15 percent of the student body is Jewish, has been a hot topic for years. Last May, just before he retired, the school’s chancellor, Christopher Molloy, issued a statement condemning antisemitism on campus — only to apologize for that statement after pushback from the school’s SJP chapter.

The former longtime director of the school’s Hillel, Andrew Getraer, said on his retirement last year that he believed that left-wing antisemitism on campus, spurred by anti-Zionist activity, was on the rise.

Mr. Perlmutter said harassment of AEPi is an ongoing problem.

“You’ll hear people scream ‘Stupid Jews! Kikes!’ on a daily basis. We don’t talk about it. It is what it is,” he said.

“The huge problem is people think being Jewish America gives you an automatic stance on what’s going on there, and they decide they want to bring the war here, even though we have nothing to do with it,” Mr. Perlmutter said.

A few days after the Palestinian rally, AEPi marked Yom HaShoah with a 24-hour reading of names of Holocaust victims. And sometime in the night, while fraternity members were in a tent on the AEPi lawn reading the names, someone threw eggs at the building — as happened last year during the Yom HaShoah observance.

“We get egged all the time,” Mr. Perlmutter said. But it happening on Yom HaShoah, two years in a row, was particularly unnerving, he said.

All of this followed an incident of antisemitism a month earlier from the local chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative student organization. The group posted a flyer for an event, “Exposing Marxist Tactics,” featuring four racial caricatures, including one of a hook-nosed Jew punching an Uncle Sam character under the heading “Cultural Marxism.”

Antisemitic flier posted, then deleted, by the Rutgers chapter of Turning Point USA.

“Cultural Marxism,” as used in current conservative discourse, refers to the antisemitic trope that a group of German Jewish sociologists, who found refuge from Nazism at New York’s New School for Social Research, were trying to implement a diabolical Communist plot to overthrow America through their writings and research, some of which was funded by the American Jewish Committee. It is a mutation of the belief, widespread in the American South during segregation, that the civil rights movement was a Jewish communist plot to destroy white Christendom.

Video documenting the harassment of of AEPi students by Palestinian activists (Supporters Harr)

Following protests, the Turning Point group removed the flyer from its Instagram account and the event’s registration page.

“It’s a little concerning,” said a Rutgers student from Bergen County who didn’t want his named used in this article, since “I would just be putting a target on myself.

“Rutgers is a very Jewish campus. You see yarmulkes wherever you’re walking, on the bus, in class. My professors sometimes wear yarmulkes.

“I don’t feel worried about being Jewish at Rutgers, but it’s the idea that something could happen, something could escalate,” he said.

Mr. Perlmutter of AEPi said he wants to install cameras around the fraternity building, but that will take coordination with both AEPi’s national headquarters and the company that oversees AEPi’s housing.

He said that the harassment the fraternity has received has been going on for “four, five years already. It’s getting a little ridiculous.”

He said that the Rutgers administration “needs to control their funded student group.” The school’s Students for Justice in Palestine receives funds from student fees.

“We don’t go around creating pro-Israel rallies and then going and screaming at random kids,” Mr. Perlmutter said. “We need Rutgers to take some sort of an action because we’re sick of being scared to be Jewish. This isn’t the 1940s anymore.”

He said that antisemitism won’t deter him from wearing his fraternity’s letters on campus, but “we have a lot of non-Jewish brothers who I assume are having second thoughts. Why would they want to be associated with that?

“I’m a 6 foot 3, 220 pound individual. I don’t think they are going to approach me in the street” about my AEPi jacket. “At the end of the day we’re dealing with college kids who are stupid.”

Andrew Lapin and Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
contributed to this story.

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