WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, American Association of University Professors President Rudy Fichtenbaum and Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deepa Kumar issued the following joint statement in response to the Trump administration’s probe into anti-Semitism at Rutgers University:
“We are currently living in a period when racist and xenophobic hatred is being seen more and more on college campuses. The events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer of 2017 are seared in our memory, but the issue remains: Earlier week, anti-Semitic fliers were plastered around the campus of University of California, Davis; Sacramento City College was defaced with swastikas; and the president of the United States continues to claim that George Soros is funding his opposition. In light of that, we would expect this administration—particularly the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights—to use its limited resources to investigate serious offenses that threaten the safety and civil rights of students on these campuses.
“Instead, the department has chosen to reopen a 7-year-old case and investigate in particular an allegation that only certain students were charged fees to attend an event organized by a pro-Palestinian group called Never Again for Anyone. This event brought together people of all religions and activists from both sides, including Holocaust survivors, to discuss the nuances of a complicated issue. It is exactly the type of open dialogue we should be encouraging on our college campuses. The initial claim that any criticism of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians—at this event or any other—is anti-Semitic, was mistaken, and the initial investigation of the incident by the Department of Education under the Obama administration said just that.
“Now, years later, the DeVos Education Department is trying to use the Office for Civil Rights to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. This is a very dangerous move, as what happened on the Rutgers campus seven years ago was a free exchange of ideas, expressly allowed by the First Amendment, and such an exchange of ideas should be welcomed on our campuses—even when they’re ideas with which we disagree. Religious bias is far different than a discussion of a nation-state’s policies.
“We are very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in America. What we cannot countenance, however, is the Trump and DeVos administration attempting to equate advocacy for Palestinians with anti-Semitism. That is dead wrong. Our unions are committed to both the free expression of ideas and to challenging racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism on our campuses. The fight against hate is undermined when Trump administration officials attempt to equate political debate with racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. If our institutions of higher learning cannot provide space for open political debate, then democracy will wither even more under this administration.”