Stephen Loeb’s column in the December 14, 2017 issue of The Jewish Link (“Hating the Speaker: A Pathway to Censorship of Minorities”) was an excellent essay on the legal criteria surrounding hate speech. Although he does not mention Rutgers, this is at the heart of the Rutgers situation, the difference between legal and moral behavior.
No one, including President Barchi himself, denied the fact that the three Rutgers professors, Chikindas, Puar and Adi made vile, reprehensible anti-Semitic/Israel remarks. However, in his infamous November 16, 2017 Town Hall speech, he rushed to defend their hate-mongering under the guise of “free speech” and went on to attack the Jewish paper The Algemeiner for exposing them. While the professors’ remarks may qualify as being permissible legally under First Amendment rights, Barchi should have instead rushed to deplore their actions on moral grounds. Undoubtedly, after public outrage at his stance, he belatedly pulled back somewhat with his letter to the faculty on December 8, in which he censured one of the professors, Chikindas, and only then admitted the hateful nature of their remarks.
The legal criteria of what constitutes hate speech, may depend on a fine line, hairsplitting interpretation of the law. However, there is a wide gulf separating hateful speech legality from morality, and this is where Barchi was terribly at fault. Many societies, even Democratic ones, have passed laws making certain actions legally permissible at that time and place, but which are absolutely repugnant morally, like slavery in the U.S.; Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany; and on a smaller scale, the eruv laws in Mahwah.
As head of a major state university it behooves President Barchi to pay less attention to legal hairsplitting and more attention to moral issues to protect the Jewish students constituting the largest Jewish population of any American university, as indeed all other minorities.
Max Wisotsky, Ph.D.