At the City University of New York (CUNY), Antisemitism has become synonymous with the university system itself. A report published in March of 2023 by Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY), a group of concerned students and faculty members, exposes a disturbing pattern of insidious and normalized Jew hatred.
In February 2022, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated the alleged harassment of Jewish students at Brooklyn College. The complaint, filed in 2021, outlined “severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment from professors and peers directed at students.”
The complaint outlines several concerning incidents, including one where a professor claimed that Ashkenazi Jews are “oppressors” and another where a student was bullied for identifying as Jewish and not “white.” These incidents join dozens of others documented in the report.
The problem has only intensified.
In July of 2022, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a Title IV complaint against CUNY outlining decades of normalized antisemitism:
“Antisemitic flyers with vulgar comments about religious Jews—incredible as it may seem, even swastikas—are regularly observed on CUNY campuses. Attacking, denigrating, and threatening “Zionists” has become the norm, with the crystal-clear understanding that “Zionists” is now merely an epithet for “Jew.” Jewish faculty and staff members at CUNY have faced pervasive, antisemitic discrimination, and CUNY has done nothing to protect them, thereby tacitly endorsing the widespread antisemitism and discrimination.”
In March 2023, the Office of Social Justice and Equity (SEJC) at the Borough of Manhattan Community College sponsored and displayed a “visual timeline” of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict riddled with propaganda that denied the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
In response to the widespread condemnation, BMCC gave a weak unsigned “apology” for its actions.
CUNY administrators routinely fail to acknowledge and take measures to address the problem of antisemitism at best or appear complicit in promoting antisemitism themselves, most notably when Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez failed to attend two scheduled City Council hearings on antisemitism in CUNY, instead sending a lawyer and two witnesses to appear on Zoom.
New York City Councilmember Inna Vernikov called Matos’ actions “a sham…an insult to the Jewish community of New York.” Matos Rodriguez has also avoided hearing testimonials from students like Rafaella Gunz, who was harassed by anti-Zionists during her first year of law school at CUNY Law before choosing to transfer out of the CUNY system.
Even with the overwhelming antisemitism in recent history, this spring proved to be one of the most challenging for Jewish students and faculty across CUNY campuses.
In response to BMCC’s statement, various Students for Justice in Palestine Chapters and CUNY For Palestine, hosted “Palestine Education Week” with events at Hunter College, John Jay.
On April 18th, Reclaim The Commons rehung the counterfactual display created by the SJEC in the CUNY Graduate Center. On April 19th, CUNY For Palestine posted a series of testimonials where individuals use the opportunity to provide testimonials and make slanderous claims about Israel.
On April 27th, Brooklyn College SJP rallied outside Brooklyn College’s Hillel. Advertisements for the rally included the worrying statement that “zionism is not welcomed on campus and anywhere at CUNY,” a demographic comprising an overwhelming majority of American Jews. The rally was riddled with horrifying chants and featured the widely discredited extremist sect Neturei Karta as an example of token Jewish anti-Zionists. Neturei Karta frequently allies itself with antisemites.
In a repeat of the hateful speech presented at the 2022 CUNY Law commencement ceremony by Nerdeen Kiswani this year, CUNY Law platformed Fatima Mohammed, a member of CUNY Law’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Mohammed was chosen by her peers to speak at their commencement ceremony on May 12th and delivered a speech so antisemitic that the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York released a statement condemning the speech.
CUNY Law removed the speech from their public social media pages, leading anti-Israel groups to demand they reupload it in the hopes of disseminating their vile message to the masses. Upon doing so, it was discovered that Fatima made several remarks that were egregious enough to inspire Felix Matos Rodriguez and the CUNY Board of Trustees to release a public statement condemning them as hate speech. The simple act of condemning antisemitism has led to widespread backlash, including from CUNY Law Faculty.
On May 13th, several CUNY SJP’s and affiliated groups attended and promoted a Within Our Lifetime rally in Bay Ridge, chanting in support of violent terrorism and intifada, including the Baruch Middle East and North African Society, which made an Instagram post showing them taking photos of a sign that said “NYC stands with Al-Quds” and “resistance until return.” They had previously posted TikTok videos’ showing their rock-throwing technique – often used as violent “resistance” by Palestinian Arabs. For whatever reason, both have since been deleted.
Even to the most casual observer, it should be evident that something must change on CUNY’s campuses.
Widespread efforts were made to prevent the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – adopted by over 1000 entities around the globe – from being adopted by CUNY, with the excuse being that it would limit free speech. This reasoning disregards the definition: “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
CUNY’s antisemitism problem has been allowed to fester through inaction.
While the response by Chancellor Matos Rodriguez’s and the CUNY Board of Trustees to the horrible commencement speech was a first step to standing up to the Jewish community, CUNY must do more to stand up for, and protect Jewish students.
CUNY must adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, thoroughly investigate and condemn the antisemitism that is rampant within its university system.
This article was originally published in JNS.