Hillel director responds to allegations of ‘Islamophobia’
After screenshots of Twitter direct messages and retweets were leaked on alternet.org, an alternative news and information website, Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, is now replying to accusations of “shocking Islamophobia.”
In an article published on alternet.org, contributor Zaid Jilani, a former senior reporter and blogger for ThinkProgress, a liberal American political blog, accused the Hillel director of “defaming Muslims and Palestinians” through a “series of hateful messages.”
The screenshot conversation was leaked by Ido Shapiro, an unidentified student from Maryland rumored to be Jewish. The Twitter account has since been deactivated.
Describing the article as “nonsense” and “a publicity stunt,” Getraer said the article was a character misrepresentation and that he was not “Islamophobic.”
“There’s nothing I said [that] I think is false, and in many cases I’m defending Muslims against the charge that they are all responsible for atrocities,” he said. “As I pointed out in the article, the victims of some of the worst atrocities by Islamic extremists are Muslims themselves.”
While he continuously denounced Jilani’s article as having no substance, Getraer also said he has promoted the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and Jewish students on several occasions during his 14 years at Rutgers Hillel.
Jilani, the author of the alternet.org article, said he believes in the harmonious coexistence of Jewish and Muslim people. He also said he believes the stance Getraer is taking toward coexistence is not conducive to its survival.
When asked about the Hillel director’s censure of his article, Jilani said he published the screenshots to provide the entire background story for his readers.
“I published virtually all the material given to me, and I do not believe any of it was taken out of context,” he said. “That’s why we published so much of the conversations so readers would know the full background.”
Taufeeq Ahamed, president of the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association, said the Hillel director should use his leadership position to establish a sense of unity among students of all religious backgrounds.
On a similar note, he denounced Getraer for not fulfilling his duty to facilitate a peaceful coexistence of Muslim and Jewish students on campus.
“Andrew Getraer is creating a hostile environment between students of different faiths with his divisive and ignorant views,” Ahamed said. “At such times of heightened tension, religious leadership needs to be inspiring tolerance and unity, not fear and suspicion.”
The Rutgers Graduate Muslim Student Association also voiced their disdain over Getraer’s online activity.
“It is highly upsetting and disappointing to see that the executive director of a group representing our Jewish classmates indulge in such hateful rhetoric,” they said. “This not only burns bridges between persons of differing faiths on campus, but this also creates a threatening environment on campus.”
Along with publicly speaking out against police surveillance of Muslim students, Getraer cited his involvement in the 2009 organization of Rutgers United Against Hate, a group that protested the Westboro Baptist Church when it visited the University.
“Every single positive Jewish-Muslim coexistence initiative that’s happened on this campus in the last decade has started as a project of Rutgers Hillel under my leadership,” Getraer said. “This is what [Rutgers Hillel is] about.”
Even though many individuals have been calling for Rutgers to terminate Getraer, he is not a University employee. Getraer said he has no intention of resigning from his position at Rutgers Hillel.
While he said it is his job to communicate with Jewish students, he said he is unsure and needs to reflect on whether or not he will engage in this same type of online messaging.
“I have to reflect on it,” Getraer said. “We live in a world where no matter what you do, there’s nothing that’s private. People can attack or label you whenever, wherever they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Although he censured the alternet.org article as “an attack on all students,” the Hillel director acknowledged the screenshots were legitimate.
When asked if he regrets or would like to take back anything he retweeted or said in the Twitter messages, Getraer said everything he posted was factual.
“What happened here is that [someone] who has nothing to do with our Rutgers community has attempted to polarize and divide us,” he said. “With no real substance, but with shocking headlines worthy of BuzzFeed, [Jilani] has tried to create divisions over difficult issues.”