Organized by the campus Hillel chapter, a coalition of students at Rutgers University is planning to take control of a campus humor publication after it ran a widely panned satirical Holocaust cartoon on its cover.
“Students on a grassroots level have to step up and take charge,” said Andrew Getraer, Hillel director at the state-funded college in New Brunswick, N.J.
The cartoon was part of what Getraer called “a constant stream” of offensive content in the Medium, a university-funded newspaper, which calls itself “the entertainment weekly of giving birth to a retarded child,” and features a monkey at a typewriter as its logo.
The April 21 edition, which is full of off-color language and cartoons, featured a crude drawing of a bearded Jew poised atop an oven, with
a young man pitching a baseball. The caption reads “Knock a Jew in the oven! … Three throws for one dollar.”
University President Richard McCormick called on the editors to apologize, saying the cartoon “desecrates the memory of six million innocent Jewish people, and many other groups, who were brutally murdered …” according to the New Jersey Jewish News. But McCormick added that the student-funded publication “is protected by the First Amendment.”
On Monday, the university’s Daily Targum newspaper reported that the Medium editors would distribute an apology across campus for the cartoon, saying they did not intend to offend anyone.
In an open letter to McCormick, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who is heading a delegation to the European conference on anti-Semitism this week in Berlin, wrote “you have embarrassed by your inaction both the university and the state of New Jersey.” In a separate letter to New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, Koch also called for a review of the incident, asking if the governor or the state legislature could take action against the paper.
The student editor who allowed the cartoon, Ned Berke, a sophomore, told the Star-Ledger of Newark that he is Jewish and viewed the cartoon as “clever. It took a serious situation and made it ridiculous.”
Noting that he had relatives who died in the Holocaust, Berke added, “Humor is a way of honoring them and trying to get over it and laugh. The Holocaust has been taboo for years.”
Getraer said defunding the publication, as some have urged, would be impossible because allocations to student clubs are decided by college government associations whose bylaws prohibit the removal of funds based on content or speech.
“[The Medium] is a self-indulgent project of a dozen students who use it to provoke and grab attention,” he said. “If we can put together a coalition of students that wants to see an entertainment publication that serves the university rather than hurts it, there are internal channels. It would only take two dozen students.”
The publication has in the past offended other campus groups with its content, including a mock personal ad last year directed at “sons of slaves.”
Scott Roland, the incoming student president of Rutgers Hillel, said he had reached out to African-American and other student leaders to discuss a coalition to gain control of the Medium.
“We want to make sure incidents like last week’s or last semester’s don’t happen again,” said Roland. “We’re getting together this week to try to formalize and formulate a strategy to come together and reform the paper, to turn it into an actual humoristic paper as opposed to bashing whomever they feel like bashing.”
Getraer, the Hillel director, said that despite the bad publicity from this incident and one last year involving a planned anti-Israel conference on campus, Jewish life at Rutgers was “lively and enriched,” with about 5,000 students on its five campuses.