The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, which hosted a controversial 2007 speech by secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for anti-Semitism after complaints that an employee bullied a Jewish student on Facebook, harassed him verbally, and threatened him physically between 2009 and 2010.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) filed an anti-discrimination complaint against the university in 2011 on behalf of the Rutgers student. An employee of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies harassed the student online and called him a “racist Zionist pig!!!!!!!!” in 2009, the complaint alleged.
The university official also “tried to provoke a physical fight” with the student after a school event, according to a ZOA memo detailing the complaint that was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Rutgers, in a December 2011 article in the New Jersey Jewish News, denied claims administrators ignored the student’s complaints and said the “claims by the ZOA are contrary to the true values of Rutgers University and are not supported by the facts.”
The controversy is currently under review by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in New York, according to the ZOA.
The Office of Civil Rights in New York and the Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Rutgers directed inquiries to the Department of Education.
Rutgers professor Charles Häberl, one of the organizers of Hagel’s 2007 speech, was the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies during the time of the alleged harassment.
Senators have raised questions about anti-Israel statements Hagel reportedly made during his speech.
Häberl told the Chronicle of Higher Education last April that he was concerned the investigation into anti-Semitism charges on campus would dissuade the center’s professors from weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in class.
“They are frightened to say anything about these issues, especially since they don’t have the shield of tenure to hide behind. And I don’t blame them,” Häberl said.
Häberl also told the Chronicle he reviewed screen shots of the Facebook threats against the student and had doubts about their authenticity. The ZOA told the Free Beacon that there is no basis for his claim.
Häberl did not respond to requests for comment.
Aaron Marcus, the former Rutgers student who is the main complainant in the case, now does campus outreach for ZOA. He told the Washington Free Beacon that the Center for Middle Eastern Studies’ hostility toward Israel was well known at Rutgers.
“There were so few [Jewish students] that majored in Middle Eastern studies because of the extreme bias against Israel that the students faced,” Marcus said. “They experienced a lot of hostility … professors who [would] post anti-Israel blogs as academic sources … professors spewing outright propaganda and blood libels, saying that Israeli soldiers strap Palestinian children to their tanks.”
According to the ZOA, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in New York will be submitting the complaint for review at OCR headquarters in Washington, D.C., after it finishes its own review.
Häberl disputed a contemporaneous report of Hagel’s 2007 Rutgers speech in an interview with BuzzFeed last week and said he was “certain” the secretary of defense nominee never called the State Department an adjunct of the Israeli government.
When the Free Beacon contacted Häberl two weeks ago, he had declined to discuss the 2007 speech.
“Have you been in touch with Hooshang Amirahmadi?” Häberl wrote in an email. “He’s the one who organized the event, and he would be the best situated to talk about it. At the time, I was just a lecturer.”
Nichole Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for American Freedom, assisted in this report.