New Brunswick, NJ
Rutgers University postponed a planned speaking engagement for a Fox News reporter, after students, in an online petition, labeled her an Islamophobe.
Rutgers is a public research university with about 70,000 students. Its main campus is located in New Brunswick, NJ.
Lisa Daftari, born to Iranian Jewish parents, is a Fox News investigative journalist focusing on regional issues in the Middle East, including counterterrorism. Daftari is a 2002 alumna of Rutgers, where she majored in Spanish and Middle Eastern Studies.
Rutgers invited Daftari to appear on its main campus on October 16, 2018, as part of its Undergraduate Academic Affairs Speaker Series. The planned subject of her talk was “Radicalism on College Campuses,” with a focus on the threat to Free Speech. But just four days before the event was to take place, Daftari and the school community were informed that the event would be postponed.
The postponement came on the heels of a petition drive launched by the Muslim Public Relations Council, a student organization at Rutgers. The petition was titled “Stop Islamophobe Lisa Daftari from Coming to Speak at Rutgers Paid By Our University Funds.” By October 20, more than 1,700 individuals had signed it. They claimed that Daftari, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, had conflated Islam with extremism by saying “Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law…” Daftari says the petitioners purposefully misquoted her by omitting the word “claims” from her quotation, as in “Islamic terror claims its guidance and teachings from the Quran…”
Daftari supporters also started a petition, led by the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at Rutgers, the Rutgers University College Republicans, The Centurion (a conservative online magazine at Rutgers) and the Young Americans for Freedom chapter there. This petition had gathered 1,757 signatures as of October 20, 2018.
Rutgers released a statement on Twitter regarding this public clash, stating that school administrators were planning to meet with student dissenters regarding their opposition to the event, and that Rutgers hoped the incident would “generate public debate about important issues.”
The following day, The Daily Targum, Rutgers’s student newspaper, published an op-ed from the Muslim Public Relations Council entitled “Lisa Daftari is Islamophobe, threatens safety of students.”
Rutgers re-invites Daftari; she declines
Following the uproar and confusion surrounding the event, Rutgers administrators contacted Daftari, offering her several alternative dates in November on which to give her speech. Spokesman John Cramer declined to specify publicly why the October date had been dropped. But Jewish Journal, a Los Angeles-based newspaper, reported that Rutgers canceled the speech over fear of a security threat and the need to be sensitive toward the students.
Daftari said she would not accept the new invitation, claiming that her reputation had already suffered irreparable damage due to the university’s actions. She also disclosed that, although Rutgers had used the term “postponement” in its original announcement, university officials told her privately that they intended to cancel the event altogether.
The Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus offered to host her instead, but Daftari did not comment on whether she would speak to a specific student organization.
Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20
Uploaded: December 22, 2018