Murphy offers criticism of Rutgers, laments missed opportunities with protests

Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday offered a criticism of Rutgers University’s recent response to anti-Israel protestors on their campus, indicting he felt the administration’s willingness to hear demands from that group differed from how it has dealt with complaints of antisemitism from Jewish students on campus.

“If you’re going to sit down with one group of students, and you’re going to go through a (list of) ‘Will you consider this?’ — what about the folks, in this case in particular, the Jewish students, who apparently had given a set of demands back in December?” he said. “You owe everybody their seat at the table.

“We cannot allow any institution in the state, certainly not an institution of higher education, to have even a perception that someone is not welcomed, or that they won’t be safe. To me, there’s a lot of wood still left to chop there.”

Rutgers was criticized by many when it met with protestors last week, agreeing to some concessions in exchange for them abandoning the encampment they had set up.

Murphy was speaking in an open media moment after an event at Stevens Institute of Technology, where NJ FAST, a fintech accelerator, was introduced, when asked about Rutgers’ response.

The governor would not say specifically if he had spoken with Rutgers officials, including President Jonathan Holloway, about the decision — saying only that the administration speaks with Rutgers “at the highest levels” on a constant basis. He also said the administration had no input in the decision to meet with the protestors.

Holloway, in a statement sent to ROI-NJ, defended the decision.

“Our guiding principles were to maintain a safe and controlled environment, to protect Rutgers students and Rutgers property, and to assure that our students’ academic progress — taking finals and completing the semester — are not impeded.

“These principles underpinned every decision we made.

“We have met regularly with our Jewish students, faculty and others and will continue to do so. Ours is a community with many faces and many voices. We try to see and hear them all.”

To be clear, Murphy said he was not against the protest or protestors in general. In fact, he went out of his way to show support for the act.

“You have every right to protest,” he said. “I may not agree with a thing you say, I may find it despicable, but, even if it offends me or disgusts me, if you do it peacefully, you have a right to do that, whether I like it or not. And that’s a hallmark of America.”

What is not OK, he said, is preventing kids from getting their education.

Murphy also said he’s particularly upset that entire groups are being harassed or held accountable for a long list of perceived grievances.

“(We’ve) seen far too much of a conflation of — you’re Jewish and, because you’re Jewish, I’m holding all of the above against you,” he said.

Murphy said the same holds true for those who feel anyone who is Muslim is responsible for the actions of Hamas.

“Folks cannot cross those lines,” he said.

Murphy acknowledged these issues did not start with the Oct. 7 attacks — but he said they have gotten worse since then, particularly when it comes to antisemitism.

“Hate behavior is exploding in all forms: antisemitism, Islamophobia, you name it,” he said. “It’s exploding. And all of that existed before Oct. 7. But there is no starker example than anti-Semitism. It is awful. And it’s gotten worse.”

Murphy noted a blue pendant that illustrates the fact that those who are Jewish make up just 2.4% of the U.S. population, but that 55% of hate crimes are antisemitic.

As he has said previously, Murphy said he wished something more productive could have come from all the protests.

I think there’s been a huge missed opportunity in these protests,” he said. “The opportunity to forcefully fight and advocate for a comprehensive two-state solution that’s bought into by the neighborhood in the Middle East, where people have equal treatment, all the things that, as a country, we’ve committed to since the (Lyndon) Johnson administration.

“That should have been the fight, as opposed to devolving into what it’s devolved to.”