17 January 2022
Dear President Holloway,
I write to protest the recent memorandum of understanding that you signed on behalf of Rutgers with Tel Aviv University, as part of the New Jersey Innovation and Technology Hub. I write as an associate professor in the history department at Rutgers-Newark and as a supporter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
As you’re surely aware, Governor Murphy applauded the MOU because it “will help strengthen” the “cultural, academic and economic ties” between New Jersey and Israel. But frankly, those ties are already too close. They have resulted in such state legislation as the atrocious 2016 anti-boycott law that enlists the state of New Jersey in implementing political censorship on behalf of Israeli-state interests, most recently on display in the decision to divest state funds from the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, after the ice cream company made the morally correct decision to stop selling in occupied territories. This was truly a shocking penalty that served no productive purpose for the citizens of New Jersey and has strong echoes of McCarthyism. Is this what greater ties with Israel will entail for Rutgers University?
President Holloway, I respect you enormously and am proud to have you as the leader of our university. But is moving Rutgers further into the orbit of an apartheid state a “commitment to excellence,” as you called it? No less an authority than the Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared what he called “the illegal occupation of Palestine” to his own experiences in apartheid South Africa. He supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and in a 2014 essay for Haaretz, Archbishop Tutu wrote, “Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of ‘normalcy’ in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.”
I agree with Archbishop Tutu, and I find it impossible to reconcile the extension of Rutgers’ and New Jersey’s ties to Israeli state institutions with any kind of moral excellence. Indeed, a better example was set in 1985 when New Jersey became the first state to divest from South Africa in protest of apartheid—though it took sustained protest by students and faculty to pressure Rutgers itself to divest from South African injustice. It is that legacy I ask you to extend here. You can better embody Rutgers values by canceling this MOU, expressing public support for Palestinian liberation and the BDS movement, strengthening our shared opposition to anti-Semitism by highlighting that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and also taking a stand against New Jersey’s repressive, unjust, and profoundly non-excellent anti-boycott law. That would be true Rutgers excellence and the kind of bold moral clarity New Jersey needs.
With great admiration,
Associate Professor, History Department
Rutgers University, Newark