Feds study antisemitism complaint against Princeton; Muslim group files against Rutgers

Princeton University is the latest elite school to be investigated by the federal government for allegedly violating the civil rights of Jewish students.

The investigation began April 3 after a complaint was filed by a conservative activist and faculty member in Kentucky who has filed 33 such complaints alleging antisemitism at schools across the country.

The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin at institutions receiving public funds. The government is also investigating antisemitism allegations at Columbia and Harvard universities.

Rutgers University, which was already under investigation for alleged antisemitism, now faces a complaint brought by CAIR-NJ, the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, alleging that the university has failed to address hostility toward Muslim and Palestinian students since war broke out in the Middle East.

The latest complaints come amid a months-long wave of protests and accusations by Jewish and Muslim students on campuses across the country, sparked by the Hamas attack against Israel last October and Israel's subsequent military invasion of Gaza.

The competing protests have left academic leaders struggling to protect the free speech rights of students while also trying to ensure that those from each camp feel safe and non-threatened on their campuses.

The presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania recently stepped down after congressional hearings on antisemitism in which Republicans and Democrats grilled them about their handling of campus unrest after Jewish donors, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, and students raised concerns about pro-Palestinian demonstrations fomenting antisemitic sentiment.

Columbia University's campus is closed for in-person classes after its president called in the New York Police Department to remove protesters who had set up a "tent city" to protest Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

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Princeton, meanwhile, has been mostly unscathed by the campus tensions and media scrutiny that have hounded fellow Ivy League colleges since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7.

Rutgers faces complaint by Islamic group

The latest CAIR-NJ complaint against Rutgers alleges "ongoing, patterned anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim bigotry at the Newark law school and New Brunswick undergraduate campuses, since October 2023," the organization said.

"Rutgers University takes seriously every claim of bias, intolerance and hate," said a spokesperson for the university.

"Rutgers has policies in place for reporting and investigating bias incidents. We investigate them fully," the university said when asked to comment on CAIR-NJ's complaint.

Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University vandalized. April 10, 2024.
Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University vandalized. April 10, 2024.

This month, Muslim students celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday learned ― just before morning prayers ― that the Center for Islamic Life on Rutgers' New Brunswick campus was broken into and vandalized. A 24-year-old man was arrested and charged with vandalizing the center; police said he was not affiliated with the university.

And Rutgers students voted overwhelmingly in referendums to call on the administration to withdraw certain investments in Israel and to cancel the school’s partnership with Tel Aviv University

Princeton rejects notion of antisemitism on campus

Princeton University rejected any notion of antisemitism on its campus.

"We are confident we are in full compliance with the requirements of Title VI," read a statement issued by the university. It asserted that the complaint was brought by an outsider, who is not from Princeton University or its community, objecting to language used in a peaceful protest.

"His complaint appears to be premised on chants at protests," the university statement said, noting that while Princeton values "freedom of expression and vigorous debate," it also "attaches great importance to mutual respect, and it deplores expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group."

Princeton University rejected any notion of antisemitism on its campus.
Princeton University rejected any notion of antisemitism on its campus.

The complaint against Princeton was brought by Zachary Marschall, a conservative activist and adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. It is one of 33 complaints he has filed accusing universities of antisemitism, Marschall said in an email.

He also runs a website called Campus Reform to "expose liberal bias and abuse" at colleges and universities. The website is a project of incumbent Virginia Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell, whom former President Donald Trump recently endorsed.

Articles on the website object to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and the Biden administration's funding of transgender research.

Free speech, campus protest, academic freedom

When posters at Drew University's Hillel center that called for Hamas to release Israeli hostages were torn down, Jewish students on the Madison campus grew alarmed. Provocative and angry chanting with megaphones and flags by pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus ― just days after the Hamas attacks in Israel ― also frightened some Jewish students who gathered to watch.

In turn, the recent vandalism of the Islamic Center on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus frightened many Muslim students, and faculty members have said many are afraid to complain to administrators for fear of being doxxed. Campus presidents have had to walk a tightrope, balancing demands to tackle Islamophobia and antisemitism while protecting free speech, a core tenet of American higher education.

Questions raised in February by Republican senators over Rutgers-Newark Law School's Center for Security, Race and Rights in turn raised concerns about academic freedom.

High-profile Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway and William Best, chair of the Board of Governors, asking if the Center for Security, Race and Rights received funding from foreign sources.

They also questioned the university's support for center director and Rutgers law professor Sahar Aziz, who has been critical of Israel and has tweeted about the Hamas attacks.

Sahar Aziz, professor at Rutgers University Law School and author of The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom, published Nov. 30, 2021.
Sahar Aziz, professor at Rutgers University Law School and author of The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom, published Nov. 30, 2021.

Aziz, a frequent author and commentator on human rights, civil rights and Islamophobia, said she was disappointed by the inquiry from the Republican senators. Rutgers faculty unions, the AAUP-AFT and the Adjunct Faculty Union, supported Aziz, saying in a statement that "criticizing Israel is not de facto antisemitic, just as criticizing the self-proclaimed 'Islamic' states of Iran and Afghanistan is not de facto anti-Muslim."

Aziz said on LinkedIn that the Center for Security, Race and Rights is the only one in the U.S. that studies laws and policies affecting its Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.

More than 500 law professors condemned an investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce into the center and Aziz in a letter delivered to lawmakers last week, reported the website Jurist News. Aziz posted the article on her LinkedIn profile.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Feds investigate antisemitism complaint against Princeton