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October 26, 2017 10:29 am

Jewish Groups, Leaders Praise Rutgers for Disavowing Antisemitic Professor — Who Continues to Deny Bias Against Jews

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The College Avenue campus at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. Photo: TJ DeGroat.

Jewish civil rights groups and local community leaders have applauded Rutgers University for disavowing antisemitic comments made by one of its professors — who continues to deny that his controversial postings are discriminatory toward Jews.

Michael Chikindas — a microbiology professor at Rutgers and director of the school’s Center for Digestive Health — published and shared dozens of posts featuring classic antisemitic libels on his personal Facebook page in May, some of which described Judaism as “the most racist religion in the world” and suggested that Jews control the Federal Reserve, Hollywood and the “cancer industry.” His invective frequently extended to Israel — with multiple posts endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign — and also included sexist and homophobic rhetoric.

A spokesperson for Rutgers said on Tuesday that Chikindas’ comments “do not represent the position of the University,” and that a review is underway to determine whether actions he took “in the context of his role as a faculty member” violated Rutgers’ policies.

Joshua Cohen, the New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, “We welcome the university’s strong statement distancing themselves from the posts. We are deeply disturbed by the virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel language on social media and attempts to explain away these posts as legitimate criticism of Jews.”

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Rabbi David C. Levy, the regional director of AJC New Jersey, also praised Rutgers’ condemnation of Chikindas’ posts, saying his organization “has been engaged in productive discussions with the President and Chancellors’ office of Rutgers University since being made aware of Professor Chikindas’ vile anti-Semitic social media posts.”

“We understand that a serious investigation into possible violations by Professor Chikindas of the University’s anti-discrimination policy has been mounted by the Chancellor’s office under the auspices of a University Vice President and the University Counsel and we eagerly await the results of that investigation,” Levy added.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, similarly commended “the Rutgers administration for strongly condemning this bigotry,” and urged the university “to hold this professor accountable for his hate speech against the Jewish and LGBTQ communities.”

According to a 2016 study by the Center for Modern Jewish Studies (CMJS) at Brandeis University — highlighted by John-Paul Pagano at Tablet Magazine — Rutgers was found to be one of several campuses where “hostility toward Jews and antisemitic harassment are relatively high but do not seem to be highly connected to criticism of Israel.”

“At these schools,” the report’s authors noted, “more traditional antisemitic stereotypes and tropes, rather than criticism of Israel’s politics, seem to be driving the perceived hostility toward Jews.”

Between 10 to nearly 15 percent of survey respondents from Rutgers reported hearing one such trope — that “Jews have too much power” — frequently or all the time, the study found.

Andrew Getraer, the executive director of Rutgers Hillel, told The Algemeiner he was not surprised by the CMJS report’s findings on antisemitism at Rutgers, “other than to find that it is less common on so many other campuses.”

“At one time Rutgers struggled with anti-Israel issues as severe as any in the country,” he said. “But while there are still challenges and anti-Israel events on campus, the establishment of the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement in 2011 began a period in which support for Israel on campus has become normalized and widespread.”

Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Debasish Dutta met on Wednesday with Getraer and Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director of Rutgers Hillel, “to assure us that the University takes this issue very seriously and that there will be accountability,” the campus group said in a statement.

Rutgers Hillel also noted that The Algemeiner’s report on Chikindas — based on initial reporting by the blog Israellycool — “comes one day after white supremacist flyers were found littering the College Avenue Campus and two days after the announcement that another Rutgers professor, Jasbir Puar, will be publishing a book accusing the world’s only Jewish state of what amounts to a modern blood libel.”

“Each of these incidents gives voice to traditional racist, anti-Jewish tropes,” the statement continued. “These actions must not be tolerated. These professors must be held accountable.”

Chikindas denies that his posts were motivated by antisemitism, telling The Algemeiner in a statement on Tuesday — after his comments were exposed — “I do not hate people of Jewish nationality — neither do I hate any person, group of people united ethnically or religiously or otherwise.”

“I do disagree with the way in which Palestinian people are being treated on their homeland,” he added. “I feel as having a right to express my opinion on this matter. This does not make me Antisemitic.”

Chikindas also accused the Israellycool blog of hacking his Facebook account and personal computer to expose his posts, which have since been removed. “My personal information which was not in a free access was hacked and distributed openly,” he said.

“Moreover, an access to my Facebook account became freely available to everyone which violates privacy and is illegal,” Chikindas claimed, adding he had received threatening comments on his Facebook posts from individuals who “are not supposed to have access to my account.”

“I cannot treat with respect those who are incapable of civilized discussion and can only stub [sic] in the back in manner it was done to me and is still in progress,” he said. “The person who published on israellycool.com did not identify his objective. Was it ‘exposure’ or ‘punishment’? Then why this individual used illegal tools to attack me?”

The founder and managing editor of Israellycool, who writes under the name Aussie Dave, rejected the accusations as “entirely false and ridiculous.”

“I do not know how to hack sites and personal computers, nor would I ever do such a thing on principle,” he told The Algemeiner. “Someone needs to explain the concept of public Facebook posts to Mr. Chikindas, which can be viewed by anyone who visits a Facebook profile.”

“All information in my post comes directly from publicly available information on the Internet, which Mr. Chikindas himself — or Rutgers, his employer — published,” Aussie Dave pointed out. “To answer Mr. Chikindas, my goal with these posts is to show just how prevalent antisemitism is among those claiming they are only critics of Israel.”

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