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Much has been made of the explosion of anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly in France. Jacques Chirac has come under harsh criticism for not doing enough to combat the outbreak of violence against Jewish citizens and synagogues that has become commonplace in the French republic.
But if leaders across the Atlantic are to be rebuked for their seeming indifference to surges in Jew-hatred, surely politicians here at home should be held accountable for ignoring the same. And topping the list of spineless elected leaders who have done little to combat growing attacks against Jews is New Jersey’s Gov. James McGreevey.
To be sure, being a resident of New Jersey is not something that one immediately volunteers at a cocktail party, what with the rest of the country having an impression of us as the state where New York dumps its petrochemical plants. The ignominy of being a New Jersey resident was only increased when the success of the “Sopranos” had people associating New Jersey with gangsters and strip joints, like the Bada-Bing. But McGreevey has allowed our state to sink further into infamy as it gradually comes to be known as a haven for anti-Semites.
First, there was the lamentable story of the none-too-literate New Jersey Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka. McGreevey, in an August 2002 ceremony at the governor’s mansion, beamed as he proudly announced that Baraka was the state’s new poet laureate – this, even though Baraka had spent 25 years devoting his “art” to dozens of anti-Jewish diatribes like this one where he mixes charges of Jewish imperialism with Jewish murder:
Now let us face these realities: a nigger wants to put down the Zionist and the Zionists control the radio, the television, the movies, the education, the intellectual life of the United States, the morality of the United States-Judeo-Christian ethics. The minute you condemn them publicly, you die. They will declare a war on you forever.
It was therefore not surprising that, just a few months later, Baraka published a famously anti-Semitic poem where he alleged that Israel had prior knowledge of the 9-11 attacks..
Also during 2002, the Palestine Solidarity Movement – a student group that openly supports suicide bombings and calls for the destruction of the state of Israel – announced its intention to stage a conference at Rutgers, New Jersey’s largest state-funded University. It wasn’t only Jews who were outraged.
John Bennett, New Jersey’s past Republican leader, sent a letter to McGreevey calling the Palestine Solidarity Movement “abominable.” Demanding that the governor ban the conference from Rutgers, he said that he was “strongly opposed to our taxpayer dollars being used to help spread their message of hate and intolerance.”
But McGreevey saw it differently and issued a statement through the president of Rutgers that said: “The governor and I agreed that … the best way to counter deplorable arguments is more discussion, not less, and that the appropriate place for this kind of discourse is the university.”
McGreevey’s shameful refusal to ban the conference (which was later cancelled by the organizers themselves) was utterly incomprehensible. Would he have allowed a militant faction of the Ku Klux Klan – which openly called for the burning of black churches with children inside them – to have a public meeting at Rutgers? Or say that the Palestinian group in question had also called for the murder of American soldiers in Iraq – would McGreevey have believed that Rutgers was ‘the appropriate place” for this call to action as well? Or is it only the call to murder Jews that is to be tolerated at a public university?
McGreevey’s unpardonable behavior reached its apogee last week when the Rutgers student newspaper, The Medium, which receives more than $14,000 per year in student fees, mocked the genocide of European Jewry during the Holocaust memorial week by running a front-page cartoon showing a carnival contestant trying to throw a terrified Jewish man into a burning oven. The caption read: “Throw a Jew into the oven! Three throws for one dollar.”
Now, with the debauched state of so many of today’s students (who would have believed 40 years ago that Ivy League colleges would have to teach seminars to forewarn male students against date rape) perhaps such degenerate humor is to be expected. But this is why colleges are not run by students, but by responsible adults. Public universities, especially, are overseen by democratically elected leaders like Mr. McGreevey who are answerable to the people and are responsible to take action against publicly funded periodicals that promote hate-speech and racism. Cutting off their university funding would be a good beginning.
Yet, the good governor from New Jersey has to date done absolutely nothing to penalize or even publicly condemn The Medium or its cartoon. He has been afforded ample opportunity to do so by many newspapers, including the New York Sun, which called him for a comment … which he refused to give. My radio producer asked the governor, through a member of his staff, to appear on my show or issue a statement. We are still waiting.
How strange that it took former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a man no longer in office and who is not even a resident of New Jersey, to vociferously condemn the cartoon, writing to Rutgers’ President Richard McCormick that “you have embarrassed by your inaction both the university and the State of New Jersey.” Yet, McGreevey, the governor of a state with a sizable Jewish population, could not be bothered to condemn the rancid cartoon.
One is forced to ask oneself: Who is stupider? Nathaniel Berke, the student managing editor of the Medium who approved the cartoon, or the huge amount of Jewish donors who throw money at McGreevey’s campaigns amid his refusal to aggressively combat shocking outbreaks of Jew-hatred.
Indeed, I contrast McGreevey’s inaction with that of Newark mayoral candidate and former Rhodes Scholar Cory Booker, whom I had the pleasure of befriending while serving as rabbi at Oxford. An African-American with a mostly African-American constituency, Cory did not refrain from risking his voter base by publicly condemning and voting against a city appropriation for Leonard Jeffries, because of his inflammatory statements against Jews.
Conservative detractors of Sen. John Kerry, like Rush Limbaugh, joke that he is the “French-looking” American politician. But the French-acting American politician? Jim McGreevey’s got that one all sewn up.