Is the comparison of an Israel defender to a Hitler apologist fair game, or an offensive characterization that pushes free expression too far?
Rutgers University believes one of its school newspapers crossed that line last week and has launched a bias investigation into what it calls an “offensive parody” of a student whose pro-Zionist views have made him the subject of ridicule and threats.
“No individual should be subject to such a vicious, provocative and hurtful piece, regardless of whether First Amendment protections apply to such expression,” Rutgers’ President Richard L. McCormick said in a statement last Friday.
Aaron Marcus, 23, the student targeted in the newspaper, The Daily Medium, is a Rutgers senior who writes a pro-Israel column in another student newspaper in which he is often critical of anti-Israel events on campus. The paper is focused on entertainment and each April Fool’s Day publishes a satire of the main Rutger's daily, The Targum, where Marcus's column appears. The fake article attributed to Marcus asserted that “history has given the Third Reich a bad name” and was titled, “What About the Good Things Hitler Did?”
Marcus said the article was particularly painful because many of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
“If I weren’t Jewish and I weren’t pro-Israel they wouldn’t have used this Hitler reference,” he said.
Told that the editors of The Daily Medium insist it was just a parody of him, Marcus replied: “But they also wrote something like, ‘Everytime you walk by Hillel, give ‘ol Hitler a thanks.’ Hillel is solely for Jewish students on campus.”
Susan Tuchman, director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, said this is just the latest in a series of incidents that began a year ago in which Marcus and other Jewish students have been targeted on campus. As a result, she said her group filed a complaint against Rutgers last summer with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.
“Mr. Marcus was physically threatened on Facebook by another student and he was also threatened with a crowbar,” Tuchman said. “We don’t believe the university has been responsive. The president issued a statement but he didn’t call on The Daily Medium to apologize to Mr. Marcus.
“If the president had responded appropriately to other incidents that have targeted Jewish students, we believe this incident would have been much less likely to have happened. … It is essentially sending a message to the campus community that these attacks are acceptable, they are tolerable and nothing is going to be done about them.”
Ronald Miskoff, a faculty adviser to The Medium, said the column Marcus complained about is “the kind of thing the Medium does all the time. The difference is that Marcus decided to file a complaint about it.”
He said he does not see the paper until publication but would have pulled it had he seen it.
Although declining to say who wrote the parody, Miskoff said much of the staff is Jewish and that they just thought it was “run of the mill funny.”
“I don’t think it was malicious,” he said, adding that parodies are regularly made of the university president.
But Marcus replied: “Had the publication praised Hitler in the name of the president of the university, there would be serious consequences and there should be.”
Regarding Marcus’ contention that he was particularly sensitive to such a parody because his relatives had been killed by Hitler, Miskoff replied: “My grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, but I don’t go wearing it on my lapel. [Marcus] is someone who is out there, a public person, and we have a campus publication that takes on those who feel too big for their britches.
“It’s just part of the normal discourse that goes on in the public forum.”