Rutgers president says anti-Semitic remarks by professors protected by ‘academic freedom’

Rutgers University's president is defending professors at the school who've been accused of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks, arguing many of the controversial comments fall under “academic freedom.”

Several professors have recently drawn sharp criticism for propagating conspiracy theories about Jewish people, such as claims they control global money markets to assertions they carry out ritualistic organ harvesting.

Rutgers University president, Robert Barchi, addressed those issues one by one during a student government-sponsored town hall last week.

“If I’m a Ku Klux Klan member, and I’m going to burn a cross on a vacant lot, that’s a constitutionally protected right,” Barchi said, according to Tap Into New Brunswick. “You put that cross on my front yard, and you light it, that is not constitutionally protected. That’s harassment. It’s an exception to the First Amendment.”

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Barch said online posts from microbiology professor Michael Chikindas that called Judaism “the most racist religion in the world” and made crude jokes about Israel, Judaism, women, homosexuality were repugnant. But Barchi said it’s all protected speech “so there’s nothing there that is actionable.”

“But the question is: Does having posted that create an environment in his work that would compromise his ability to teach or to do research?" Barchi said. "That’s an employment issue, so we are actually investigating him."

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Barchi then defended "well-respected scholar" Jasbir Puar, a tenured women’s studies professor whose latest book accuses the Israel Defense Forces of maiming Palestinians “in order to control them.”

“That book and the material in it were reviewed independently by scholars around the country,” Barchi said.

Lastly, Barchi stood by Mazen Adi, an adjunct professor of international law who, while serving as a spokesperson for Syrian President Bashar Assad, accused Israeli officials of trafficking children’s organs.

“We’re fully aware of his past, having vetted his employment credentials,” Barch said. “Everything is absolutely in order.”

Barchi added: “We are faced with the difficult challenge to thread the needle on free speech and academic freedom. I just ask you to keep in mind when you hear things and those things get picked up…there is very often a back-story to it.”

Barchi's comments come at a time of worry for some of the school's Jewish students.

In recent days, some Jewish students have said they've seen a spike in anti-Semitism on campus -- from swastikas scrawled on walls to threats of violence.

“This is a disturbing trend, what we’re seeing here at Rutgers, which has one of the largest Jewish student populations in the country,” Austin Altman, a sophomore at Rutgers and a member of the campus’ Hillel organization, told Fox News.

But Rutgers said it stood steadfast in its commitment to free speech.

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“Rutgers’ position on free speech is clear," the university wrote in a statement to Fox News, adding that while Rutgers “strive[s] to foster an environment free from discrimination,” faculty and staff “are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens.”

The statement continued: “Anti-Semitic comments, materials and posts on social media are antithetical to our university’s principles and values of respect for people of all backgrounds, including, among other groups, our large and vibrant Jewish community.”

Adi, Puar and Chikindas did not immediately respond to Fox News' requests for comment.

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke