Rep. Josh Gottheimer spoke out against rising antisemitism at colleges across the country and emphasized the need to protect Jewish students from the threat of on-campus violence.
It is something that the Congressman revealed happened to him when he was touring Bergen County with a member of the Biden Administration earlier this year.
“Not long ago, I held an event in my district to talk about the benefits of the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill, only to have members of the Working Families Party disrupt the event by screaming ‘Jew’ at me….What has our country come to?” Gottheimer asked.
During a Dec. 13 visit to the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the congressman noted that while “antisemitism is nothing new…in recent years, what had been simmering beneath the surface has now been uncorked and we are seeing it rear its ugly head from extremists both on the far right and the far left.”
Gottheimer recounted to students that he was met by antisemitic protesters on Sept. 20 while making a tour of Bergen County businesses promoting President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
The congressman told those assembled they were greeted by around 100 protestors in Glen Rock he identified as being with the local chapter of the Working Families Party and the situation was grave enough that Raimondo’s security detail insisted the pair travel in the commerce secretary’s vehicle.
“They were going from store to store protesting and as we were going into the bakery someone from the crowd derisively screamed ‘Jew!’” he said.
The federal lawmaker added Raimondo heard the remark too and reacted with disgust. “I remember looking at her,” the Congressional representative from the 5th District recalled. “She couldn’t believe it.”
While a representative of the Working Families Party denied the allegation, Raimondo confirmed the story, adding “Antisemitism is wrong, reprehensible and unacceptable. I join Congressman Gottheimer in condemning these hateful attacks that have absolutely no place in our politics.”
Antisemitism Is ‘An Attack on All Of Us’
With over 6,000 Jews on campus, Rutgers is known as a destination for students seeking a vibrant Jewish lifestyle, with a range of services, programs and clubs. And, when that community “is confronted by hate or intolerance,” Gottheimer called it “an attack on all of us, regardless of background, regardless of faith.”
“It’s important to send a clear message that all Rutgers students and community members, including those who identify as Jewish or pro-Israel, are equally valued and they shouldn’t be afraid to be penalized or singled out. That goes for anyone of any race, religion, gender—you name it—especially as White supremacy is on the rise, and across the nation, we must not tolerate it in any form,” he stated.
Lack Of Response ‘Shameful, Unfortunate’
Following fighting in Israel and Gaza last Spring, Rutgers was among the many schools that saw a spike in antisemitism on campus. The uptick prompted Rutgers’ then Chancellor Christopher Molloy to condemn antisemitism; however, after a protest from a pro-Palestinian group, he apologized for the condemnation.
The three-term lawmaker criticized the university for its silence in the wake of a part-time faculty union’s calls to boycott Israel, writing an open letter to Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway and urged him to “speak out” against what the Congressman defined as a “hate-filled misinformation campaign.”
Gottheimer reiterated his disappointment at his speech with students, calling Rutgers’ lack of response “shameful” and “unfortunate.” He said it was “sickening” that the university had “trouble defending the pro-Israel students on campus” after receiving blowback.
“Instead of choosing to address hate and animosity toward our ally Israel, the university felt that the pressure was so intense that it had to change its course,” he said.
BDS Is ‘Furthering Hatred’
Additionally, Gottheimer urged Rutgers to reject the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which, he believes, is “antisemitism dressed up as political party.”
“While it’s absolutely acceptable for students and faculty to speak their minds and disagree, the goal of the BDS movement is eradication of Israel.” he stated. “When organizations, companies, and institutions validate BDS, they’re contributing to the problem and furthering that hatred.”
That, the Congressman said, is “why it was deeply problematic when New Jersey-connected entities like Ben & Jerry’s chose to participate and validate the movement by refusing to do business in the West Bank.”
Gottheimer noted that he has called on the ice cream maker’s parent company, Englewood Cliffs-based Unilever, to handle the matter and praised Gov. Phil Murphy for “divesting New Jersey from Unilever stocks until the company addresses Ben & Jerry’s support of the antisemitic movement.”
The congressman earlier this month asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “to request Unilever amend their regulatory filings and disclose the material, financial risk factors they face by participating in the antisemitic BDS movement, including the approximate 13% decline in their stock since the announcement of the boycott.”
The Rise Of Antisemitism
While Jews constitute less than 2% of the country’s population, antisemitic crimes makes up half of religiously motivated crimes in the U.S.
A recent survey found that 82% of American Jews believe antisemitism has only gotten worse over the past five years. Within the last 12 months, one in four American Jews said they have been targets of antisemitism or have personally witnessed antisemitic incidents.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 2020 marked the third-highest year on record when it came to antisemitic incidents.
‘What Has Our Country Come To?’
“Like many of you, I have experienced far too many of antisemitic incidents firsthand, including swastikas on my campaign signs, slurs on my Facebook page, and to my face, and, unfortunately, in the halls of Congress,” Gottheimer said.
Amid growing antisemitism, the Congressman called on the community “to stand strong in our shared fight against hate.”
“Even a slight, slight crack in this paper-thin veneer can allow a flood of these evils to take an even tighter hold of our society, as we have seen many times before in Jewish history. We cannot allow these ideas to fester, to go unchecked, or to be further embraced. We must always stand up and speak out whenever and wherever we see it,” Gottheimer said.