February 6, 2014
The Daily Targum, the Rutgers University newspaper, published an odious and nearly incoherent op-ed by a student that questions the wisdom of building a privately funded, $18 million Hillel house on campus when, she asserts, the money could presumably be spent more productively on the underfunded infrastructure of New Brunswick or on a new college dorm. Her essay is a mishmash of false assumptions, misstatements of fact, bizarre nativism bordering on anti-Semitism, and not-so-thinly veiled contempt for the diversity represented by religious or ethnic student organizations. (“As a non-Jewish person,” she asks, “does the Jewish nature [of Hillel] make you feel welcome?”)
The paper’s editor-in-chief responded to criticism of the essay by asserting that the Targum “does not practice censorship and hopes to create conversation about issues on campus,” before acknowledging that “elements in this piece relay discriminatory undertones that do not reflect the values and goals of our organization.”
The column not only offended Jewish readers and their interfaith allies, but it threatened to undermine Rutgers’ well-deserved reputation as a top destination for Jews. The university’s 7,400 Jewish students enjoy a thriving, pluralistic Hillel, a huge Chabad, and the renowned Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life. A vocal and confident Jewish community stands up for Israel every chance it gets.
After two weeks of criticism, the newspaper’s board of trustees did the right thing and apologized for the commentary’s publication, set up a new system for vetting such submissions, and pledged to train incoming editors in best journalistic practices.
Student journalists, who make their mistakes in public and often without guidance from veterans, deserve to be cut a little slack. However, you don’t need a lot of experience to understand the difference between “censorship” and “editing.” Not every letter or op-ed deserves to be published, especially ones that are bigoted or inaccurate. Rejecting such submissions is not censorship, it’s quality control.