Blowback is growing against Rutgers University over its agreement to end a pro-Palestinian encampment on the New Brunswick campus.

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, who was already scheduled to testify on Thursday, told an Assembly Budget Committee hearing that he did not attend the meeting with the organizers of an encampment on the Voorhees Mall campus green.

Chancellor Francine Conway and Holloway's chief of staff represented him at the meeting, according to Holloway. Four of the encampment organizers attended with two faulty advisors from the Council on Arab, Muslim and Palestinian Life.

Assemblyman Gary S.Schaer, D-Passaic, who is Jewish, asked if people of "various ideologies" were invited. Holloway said the university did not seek any other views because the primary goal of the meeting was the safety of the campus. Schaer asked why other ideologies were not part of the discussion given the magnitude of the issues.

"I think in a perfect world we would do exactly that but in a very rapidly shifting and unstable environment we did not have the luxury of time at that moment," Holloway said.

Demands of the SPJ met by Rutgers
Demands of the SPJ met by Rutgers (Canva)

Is Rutgers safe for Jewish students?

The assemblyman said he has received calls from constituents with safety concerns about sending their children back to the university for the next school year.  Holloway said Rutgers is not immune from the increase in antisemitic activity across the country. He also blamed social media declarations that are taken as true.

"It is safe to be a Jewish student at Rutgers," Holloway said, adding that Rutgers police have stepped up their presence. He said the New Brunswick campus has "incredible" resources for Jewish students.

Holloway told the Senate budget committee the agreement was not about appeasement but a "strategic engagement" to protect student safety as commencement approaches. He cited the example of an encampment at USC being broken down by police only for it to return larger.

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Encampment at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, message from Rutgers delaying finals
Encampment at Rutgers University in New Brunswick (SPJ), message from Rutgers delaying finals (Listener submitted)

Questions from Gottheimer, Norcross

U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District and Donald Norcross D-N.J. 1st District, wrote a letter to Holloway questioning the agreement and its lack of “perspectives and voices of members of the Jewish community at Rutgers.”

"As a Jewish faculty member said, 'We played nice and got little; SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) broke every rule in the book and got rewarded with amnesty," the Democrats wrote, referring to one of the demands agreed to by Rutgers.

Specifically, Gottheimer and Norcross asked how the Jewish community will be considered during the discussion about divestment from Israel, if he has meet with Jewish students to discuss the encampment demands and what assurances he can offer Jewish students to maintain their campus safety and security.

The congressmen asked for a response to their letter by Thursday. Holloway is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on May 23.

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Poster left outside Rebecca "Rivka" Schafer's dorm, according to a lawsuit she filed against the school
Poster left outside Rebecca "Rivka" Schafer's dorm, according to a lawsuit she filed against the school (NJ Courts)

'Hostile school environment' leads to lawsuit

A Rutgers student from Bergen County has filed a lawsuit against the school over the encampment and the "hostile school environment" created all academic year by the SJP.

Rebecca "Rivka" Schafer said she was harassed in her dorm after attending a pro-Israel event when “free Palestine” and “Free Gaza” posters were put up.

During a town hall-style meeting about a referendum on divestment and the partnership with Tel Aviv University, Holloway was shouted down by SJP members.

Instead of having them removed by security, Holloway ended the meeting and walked away, the lawsuit says.

"Rutgers and President Holloway left the Jewish students, including Schafer, to fend for themselves against a mob of angry students who outnumbered the Jewish students and who began angrily chanting antisemitic rhetoric," according to the lawsuit.

Schafer also says that a female believed to be a Rutgers student participating in the encampment told Schafer and other Jewish students that “Hitler would have loved you.” The student defended Hamas while equating their actions with the German Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto who fought back against the Nazi regime.

She seeks a jury trial and sought unspecified monetary damages.

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