If they find out I’m Jewish, they’ll target me.”
This is one of a litany of chilling claims by Jewish students at Northeastern University about the anti-Semitic hostility they have been forced to deal with on campus, as quoted in a letter recently sent by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to Northeastern’s President Joseph Aoun. First alerted by our organization’s exposés of the university’s hostile climate for Jews, the ZOA’s own investigation has gone much further to lift the curtain on what Jewish students can expect to face if they enroll at Northeastern.
ZOA’s letter, based on first-hand reports from students, shows that the problem at Northeastern is not simply a case of professorial academic bias against Israel. Northeastern’s professors are using the basest forms of social bullying and intimidation to silence Jewish students who dare defend their Jewish identity in the classroom.
According to ZOA’s investigation, Professor Denis Sullivan, Director of the university’s Middle East Center goes furthest in abusing his authority in the classroom to violate his students’ academic freedom. Here are some vignettes from what the students told ZOA about Sullivan’s lack of academic ethics in class:
“A Jewish student in the class raised her hand and asked a legitimate question… Instead of answering the question, Professor Sullivan personally attacked the student, as the rest of the class snickered. …She was so traumatized by the attack that she began crying and had to leave the room.”
“According to one Jewish student, when you question what Sullivan tells the class about Israel, Sullivan ‘finds a way to make you feel stupid.’”
A Jewish student wrote a paper taking the position that Hamas, with its genocidal goals, cannot be given legitimacy. “Professor Sullivan rejected the student’s paper and threatened her with a poor grade unless she rewrote it … The Jewish student felt that she had no choice but to rewrite her paper.”
“One student reported that he is afraid even to reveal his Jewish identity in Sullivan’s class.”
When a Jewish student questioned the anti-Israel position of a visiting Palestinian diplomat Sullivan brought as a guest to his class, “Professor Sullivan publicly ridiculed the student.” The diplomat “refused to answer the question, characterizing it as offensive.”
Sadly, Sullivan is not the only Northeastern professor who has victimized Jewish students, according to the ZOA:
“When a Jewish student respectfully challenged” Northeastern Sociology and International Affairs Professor Berna Turam’s justification of Islamic honor killings during class, “Professor Turam – and the other students in the class – laughed at the student, humiliating her. On another occasion, Professor Turam laughed at and publicly mocked this same student as she presented her research proposal in class … Strangely, Professor Turam repeatedly referred to this student as “Rachel” – a Hebrew name – despite being told that this is not the student’s name. This student stopped wearing her Star of David to Professor Turam’s class.”
Readers of this column will have heard by now about Northeastern’s Economics Professor and Pakistani citizen M. Shahid Alam, who was caught on video telling students that anti-Semitism is something that one should be proud of and bragging about intimidating pro-Israel students in his classes. As the ZOA’s investigation revealed, in an e-mail to Northeastern’s President Joseph Aoun, a Jewish student personally recounted his feelings in response to hearing Alam’s hateful words:
“I sat painfully listening to Professor Alam insinuate that students should be proud to be called anti-Semitic. I had never in my life, ever, experienced anti-Semitism firsthand until this past year when I witnessed Professor Alam and Professor Sullivan display an age-old hatred against the Jewish people ... No one should experience hatred like this in their learning environment.”
Aoun never did respond to the Jewish student, although his cold shoulder was better than the treatment other Jewish students got from campus administrators. At a seminar on campus inclusiveness held by the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, a Jewish student spoke up about how marginalized he and other Jews felt on campus. As the ZOA recounts, “Interim Dean Uta G. Poiger publicly embarrassed the student. Instead of showing compassion for the problems that he and other Jewish students have been enduring at Northeastern, Dean Poiger questioned the veracity of Jewish students’ campus experiences and thereby publicly demeaned them and their concerns.”
The responses of other campus administrators to the issue have been disappointingly similar, according to the ZOA. For example, Northeastern Provost Stephen Director has said that claims of anti- Semitic incidents on campus “are completely unfounded, and we reject them. The present-day facts are clear: Northeastern is fully supportive of Jewish life and learning.”
The former President of the American Jewish Committee of Boston, Larry Lowenthal, who is now on Northeastern’s payroll, went so far as to defend the Professor Sullivan:
“As an Adjunct Professor in the Jewish Studies program at Northeastern University, I wish to offer some personal comments on the controversy surrounding Professor Denis Sullivan ... At all times, Sullivan treated me and my views with dignity, sensitivity and deep respect. In my personal experience, Northeastern has provided an open, unhindered and stimulating environment for the expression of Jewish and Zionist points of view.”
And perhaps most disappointing has been the reaction of Lori Lefkovitz, the Chair of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies Department. She has refused to acknowledge any problem, stating that: “I am sorry that there are those who are unsatisfied with an accounting of the present state of Jewish life and learning at the school.” She claimed that concerns about anti- Semitism on campus are “designed to put us on the defensive and to make the Jewish community less supportive of Northeastern at precisely the moment when Northeastern deserves kudos and the strong support of Jews who care about Jewish campus life.”
Lefkovitz invited Professor Sullivan to speak at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Newton, where her husband is the Rabbi.
Discussing the initial Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) exposé of Northeastern’s mistreatment of its Jewish students with members of Mishkan Tefila, Lefkovitz said the Jewish community should not “dignify it by taking it too seriously.” It is particularly disappointing to see the head of Jewish studies at Northeastern place more importance on being a dutiful employee than on protecting the Jewish students in her charge.
Jewish leaders naturally want to claim that there is no hostility toward Jewish students within their spaces of influence, yet this only abets the further marginalization of those students. Faced with undeniable proof that they’re wrong, they are caught in a trap. Admitting that there is a problem would raise questions about their lack of response in the past and in the present. Denial allows them to avoid stressful conflict with those among their fellow professors who abuse Jewish students, and with the administration, which refuses to stop the abuse. The abandonment of Jewish students on campus is a massive scandal that has not yet been entirely exposed.
Northeastern University exemplifies the ugly atmosphere that makes being a pro-Israel Jewish student so difficult on today’s campuses.
ZOA’s letter to Aoun exposes with intense moral clarity the stark failure of Jewish leaders and American educational institutions to keep Jewish students safe from a hostile environment. It should be a clarion call for all Jews and people of conscience to speak out in condemning this failure. Only consistent and unyielding pressure will protect Jewish youth from hatred.
Ilya Feoktistov and Charles Jacobs are Research Director and President, respectively, of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (www.peaceandtolerance.com).
(This article first appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate on August 24, 2012)
By Charles Jacobs
Written with Ilya Feokstisov
Back in March, Northeastern University's president, Joseph E. Aoun, was appointed to an academic board that advises the Department of Homeland Security on how American universities can contribute to antiterrorism efforts. Aoun told The Boston Globe: "We need more research and training related to security." Ironically, Aoun's own Northeastern campus may be an appropriate place for him to start.
Perhaps we can help: Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) will soon release a 10-minute video documenting Islamic radicalism at Northeastern. Based on several months of research, the video will describe a culture of extremism residing at Northeastern's officially sanctioned and financially supported Muslim student group, the Islamic Society of Northeastern University (ISNU).
The campus group has received thousands of dollars in funding from Boston's Roxbury mega-mosque run by the Muslim American Society (MAS), a group federal authorities describe as an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ISNU is headed by the university's Muslim chaplain, Abdullah Faaruuq, who is closely associated with the Roxbury mosque.
Two Muslim students who attended Northeastern and who had ties to the Roxbury mosque have been charged with terror plots. Two other convicted terrorists from Boston are being actively supported by Faaruuq and Northeastern's Muslim students.
*Rezwan Ferdaus, a 2008 Northeastern University physics grad who frequented the Roxbury mosque, described himself to undercover FBI agents as a fan of Al Qaeda and was arrested in 2011 for a plot to attack the Capitol building and the Pentagon.
*Tarek Mehanna, who was convicted and sent to prison for 17 1/2 years for providing material support to Al Qaeda and conspiring to kill Americans. At the time of his arrest in 2009, the FBI alleged that he and others plotted to attack a mall in North Attleboro in an automatic assault rifle rampage similar to the Mumbai attacks in India. Before his arrest, he would frequently give classes on Islam at Northeastern for ISNU's evening "Deen and Dine" programs.
*Ahmad Abusamra, another Northeastern graduate and son of the Roxbury mosque's former vice president, was indicted together with Mehanna and is now a fugitive in Syria.
*Aafia Siddiqui - an MIT student who prayed at Imam Faaruuq's mosque near the Northeastern campus and became his friend - had been the most wanted woman on FBI's list of Al Qaeda terrorists and was caught with plans for a chemical attack on New York City. She was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years for attempted murder of FBI agents in Afghanistan.
Faaruuq has been publicly campaigning on behalf of Siddiqui and Mehanna. The chaplain praised Siddiqui for trying to shoot FBI agents in Afghanistan, telling worshippers at a mosque in Worcester in 2011: "They say that she took up a machine gun while they held her captive in the other room... What a brave woman she is. What a brave woman she continues to be, and how much her bravery and her faith and her belief, warrant our support at this time."
In 2010, Faaruuq told a group at a mosque in Allston to be brave in supporting Tarek Mehanna and Siddiqui because after the US government is done with them it could come after other area Muslims. Referring to Boston, he read from the Quran: "Rescue us from this town, whose people are our oppressors." For years, the extremist nature of Northeastern's Muslim student organization has been clear for anyone to see. Until 2010, when we first began exposing Faaruuq, the ISNU Web site openly recommended a reading list to Northeastern's Muslim students that included much of the main canon of modern Jihadist ideology. Among the suggested authors was Yusef Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who for years was listed as trustee of the Roxbury mega-mosque and on multiple occasions has called for the murder of Jews and homosexuals. How Northeastern's administration officials ignored the promotion of his views by their Muslim student group is unfathomable.
The same can be said of another recommended author, Sayyid Qutb, whose book "Milestones" calls for Muslims to hate the West and to refuse to accept Western values like the emancipation of women.
In the 1990s, Faaruuq's mosque, which is on Shawmut Avenue near Northeastern, housed CARE International, designated and shut down by the federal government as an Al Qaeda fundraising front in 2002.
Northeastern's radical Muslim leadership joins in the campus's anti-Israel activities. In 2011, the Spiritual Life Center at Northeastern hosted a talk by the virulently anti-Semitic son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, Norman Finkelstein.
In his speech, Finkelstein denied the true number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, accused Jews of being too rich and claimed that Israel is behaving like the Nazis. Sitting in the front row and wearing keffiyahs were some of the center's faculty, including Faaruuq, who joined the others in a standing ovation at the conclusion of Finkelstein's talk.
The Jewish students were appalled that the religious leaders at Northeastern would so enthusiastically support open anti-Semitism. Their complaints about the Spiritual Life Center and the subsequent investigation by Northeastern resulted in organizational changes at the center.
It is the Muslim students of Northeastern, however, who may be the biggest victims of extremists in positions of influence on campus. Faaruuq may well be exerting a strong radical influence on young and impressionable students. Yet, to date, the administration of Northeastern has failed to remove Faaruuq from his position as Muslim chaplain.
In response to emailed concerns raised about Faaruuq in 2011, Madeleine Estabrook, interim vice president for student affairs, wrote: "We are aware of concerns about our Muslim chaplain, Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, based on various Web site accounts. However, our interactions with the Imam have been reasonable and appropriate." We're speechless.
Northeastern University should remove Faaruuq from its Office of Spiritual Life, appoint a truly moderate Muslim chaplain, and fully investigate Islamic extremist activity on its campus.
Charles Jacobs is president and Ilya Feoktistov research director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
(This article first appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate on September 7, 2012)
By Elise Kigner
Northeastern University has informed a controversial religious leader that he would no longer be recognized as the school’s Muslim chaplain.
Abdullah Faaruuq, who is the imam of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Roxbury, said he had served as volunteer chaplain at Northeastern for about 15 years.
Northeastern also replaced its Spiritual Life Center with a new Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. The Spiritual Life Center’s director, Shelli Jankowski-Smith, resigned in June after working at the school for eight years, according to the Huntington News, the Northeastern student newspaper. Brandy Purcell, another staff member at the Spiritual Life Center, also has left Northeastern.
Faaruuq’s departure came soon after Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, wrote in an Aug. 24 column in The Advocate that his group would soon be releasing a short video about Islamic radicalism at the university. The video criticizes Faaruuq for supporting convicted terrorists. Jacobs said the film would soon be available at nuextremism.com.
Among the incidents detailed in the film is a speech by Norman Finkelstein that was hosted by the Spiritual Life Center, according to Jacobs’ column. In his speech, Finkelstein said Israel was behaving like the Nazis and criticized Jews for their wealth. He also questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, Jacobs wrote.
In an interview, Jacobs said that about six months ago his group, at the request of officials from the Spiritual Life Center, provided a film clip that showed Faaruuq at the event arguing with Jewish students and applauding Finkelstein.
Mike Armini, senior vice president of external affairs at Northeastern, said the changes at the Spiritual Life Center were prompted by the arrival in January of a new vice president of student affairs, Laura Wankel. Around this time, staff began rethinking the center and its annual chaplain appointments, Armini said. He said Faaruuq’s departure was not connected to news of the release of the APT video.
“This reorganization has been taking place for many months, so it’s not related to any outside group,” Armini said.
In an interview Tuesday, Faaruuq said about a week ago he received an email from Robert Jose, associate dean for cultural and residential life, explaining that Northeastern no longer needed his services.
“My email return was, I still remain in the service of G-d, of Muslim students and humanity as a whole,” he said.
As chaplain, Faaruuq said he taught classes on Islam and counseled hundreds of Muslims who came from around the world on issues ranging from wearing a head scarf away from home to fitting in daily prayers with school work.
Faaruuq said he might continue to be involved with the Islamic Society of Northeastern University, a Muslim student group. He said he was in contact with student members who are planning events for the fall.
“I think [for] Northeastern, because of certain circumstances, things are better that I am not there,” he said, declining to elaborate on the circumstances.
The new director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, Alexander Levering Kern, previously served as Protestant chaplain at Brandeis University, and directed its Interfaith Leadership Development Fellows program.
Kern, who is a Quaker, also served as executive director of Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, an interfaith social justice network. He declined to comment for this story.
In an interview on the Northeastern Web site, he explains that the center will continue to offer space for prayer; will develop relationships with new and returning religious leaders; and offer dialogue programs. He appointed a new Muslim spiritual advisor, Irfan Imalie.
In a statement, Jacobs commended Faaruuq’s dismissal, but said Northeastern President Joseph Aoun should take steps to reduce the further radicalization of Northeastern’s Muslim students, including investigating the funding sources of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University.