Antisemitism at Rutgers: Business School faculty, donors express fear, outrage

Incident in Piscataway in late November — and lack of strong response to it — is one source of growing tension

Like many colleges across the country, Rutgers University has had numerous demonstrations and protests on its campuses since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. There also have been documented acts of antisemitism.

To date, Rutgers has avoided the national spotlight — unlike the University of Pennsylvania, which forced President Liz Magill to resign Saturday night. The presidents of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among others who also have been roundly criticized, leading some donors to freeze giving.

But Rutgers is facing growing tensions. The university’s lack of a strong response to protests and incidents has sparked deep concerns among several faculty members and influential members of the state’s business community, particularly those associated with the Rutgers Business School and the Rutgers Center for Real Estate.

In interviews with ROI-NJ, both groups said they are outraged the university has done little to stop what are considered genocidal chants: “From the river to the sea; Palestine will be free,” and, “Say it loud, say it clear; we don’t want Zionists here.”

They said they were especially troubled by an incident at the Rutgers Business School in Piscataway on Nov. 29, when demonstrators entered the building and disrupted activity, actions specifically prohibited.

ROI-NJ interviewed more than a half-dozen faculty members and persons associated with the university and reviewed numerous internal emails. There clearly is heightened fear and frustration.

“This is not some abstract thing that is theoretical or to people halfway across the globe they don’t have a connection to, this is deeply personal,” said Rabbi Esther Reed, the chief experience officer at the influential Rutgers Hillel, a branch of the world’s largest and most inclusive Jewish campus organization.

Reed was one of the few interviewed with ties to Rutgers who spoke on the record. All faculty members requested anonymity, out of fear of reprisal or losing their positions.

“There are many Business School faculty and staff who are scared,” one of those faculty members said. “The ones who were there are in shock. They’re beside themselves. There was a sense that this was a real assault that could have turned violent very easily.”

No one disputes the fact that protestors disrupted classes and scared faculty and students, but it’s unclear how long protestors were in the building. An eyewitnesses told ROI-NJ it was 10-20 minutes before they were removed by police.

“The line between protests and violence is razor-thin,” a faculty member said. “So, there’s a lot of fear and a lot of tension on campus — and dismay that the university has yet to enumerate the practical steps that it will take to protect people.”

On Monday morning, Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway is expected to meet with some members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism on campus. It is not clear who will be in the meeting or the agenda. Members of the Jewish community — some of whom have said Holloway has been approachable and active regarding their concerns in the past — welcome the opportunity.

It is a challenging situation for Holloway.

While hundreds of Rutgers professors have signed a letter condemning antisemitism and Hamas, Holloway also is under fire from other faculty members who feel he has shown too much support for Israel. In October, nearly 200 Rutgers professors published an open letter in which they accused Holloway of making “one-sided statements that only mentioned Israeli victims in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.”

Rutgers did not respond to multiple requests for comment this weekend. A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy said he would decline comment.


U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) has been a strong voice in the fight against antisemitism on campuses.

A spokesperson for Gottheimer said he has not spoken directly with Rutgers officials and none of Rutgers’ three campuses are in his district. But, Gottheimer has noted universities that receive federal funding have a responsibility to create a safe environment for all students. The ones that don’t, he said, could lose funding.

Jewish, Muslim enrollment at Rutgers

Because the number is based on self-reporting, there’s no official count of which college campus in the country has the most Jewish students.

Rutgers University, with more than 6,000, is considered to be among the five largest, along with the University of Florida, University of Maryland, University of Michigan and New York University.

Rutgers also is believed to have a similar number of Arab and Muslim students.

Speaking about Penn, Harvard and MIT, but broadly about all schools, Gottheimer told CNN on Friday: “Each of these colleges receives a large amount of federal research funding and other resources, and if they’re in violation of Title VI (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), I think the Department of Education needs to investigate as well. They can lose their funding.

“The government should not encourage environments that literally put students in fear, regardless of background — antisemitism, Islamophobia. None of this should be accepted. And we need to send a very strong message to these campuses that this can’t go on.”

Faculty at the Rutgers Business School said a strong message cannot come soon enough.

“What is scary about these seminars and speeches on Gaza is that it’s a one-sided narrative about race,” said one of the professors who requested anonymity. “They are factually inaccurate. They are misappropriating words, like colonization and genocide and apartheid. Students are listening to it, and they’re believing it. And there’s no counter-dialogue at all right now because people are scared.”

While antisemitic activity has been reported across Rutgers’ campuses, some faculty members fear the business school may be a bigger target. At its most basic level, the Jewish community often is associated with business, they said. The newer building and its striking design features also draw attention on the Livingston Campus, they said.

In addition, they said the Rutgers Business School presents itself as an international center and hangs the flag of the nation for any enrolled student in the Piscataway building. There are dozens in the main hallway.

Those flags were a point of protest during the Nov. 29 incident, as some wondered why there was a flag of Israel but not Palestine. (A Rutgers official said only flags of countries recognized by the United Nations are hung.)

A day after the incident, emails show business school faculty asking Dean Lei Lei why there is not security at the entrances in Piscataway, limiting admittance to business school students, as is the case at the Rutgers-Newark business school. (It is worth noting that multiple entrances to the Piscataway building and hundreds of other campus facilities make this challenging.)

Another faculty member asked if classes should return to online versions because some students are fearful of attending in person.

Lei was not made available for comment.


The New Jersey business community certainly is watching. Many have deep ties to Rutgers, either as alumni, donors or guest lecturers and adjunct professors.

Ralph Zucker, the founder of Inspired by Somerset Development and the developer of numerous projects across the state, most notably Bell Works in Holmdel, said he has frozen his longstanding relationship with the Rutgers Center for Real Estate.

Zucker, whose daughter graduated from Rutgers Law School, said he has great affinity for the university and has hired Rutgers students as interns and graduates as staffers over the years. He and his staff sometimes lecture at the Center for Real Estate. But, he recently skipped an annual scholarship dinner at the Rutgers center (which included a scholarship he personally was funding) because of the recent rise of antisemitism on campus. He noted his displeasure in a personal note to Holloway that he did not make public.

In a conversation with ROI-NJ, Zucker made sure to be precise about his actions.

“I did not write a letter in any way, shape or form telling the university what they should do or shouldn’t do,” he said. “I simply voiced my own views about my personal involvement in an institution that actually means a lot to me.”

Developer Carl Goldberg, who has donated generously to the university and served as a founding chair of the Center for Real Estate for nearly seven years, has a similar affinity for Rutgers.

And a similar concern.

“If (Rutgers) does not respond effectively, I will likely pull back from the program,” he told ROI-NJ. “I certainly will discontinue my contributions to the Rutgers Foundation.

“It’s unacceptable to me as both a Jewish person and a businessperson to support a university where that kind of hate speech activity is tolerated on the grounds of the university campus. President Holloway has an obligation to ensure that those kinds of incidents and that kind of hate speech cannot and will not take place on the grounds of our state university.”

Goldberg said the center’s mission of diversity and inclusion makes the situation even more frustrating.

“One of the primary goals of the Center for Real Estate studies and the programs that we’ve initiated there was to increase and enhance both ethnic and gender diversity at the uppermost tiers of the real estate industry,” he said. “And I think we’ve been really quite successful.”