The City University of New York is a staple of one of the greatest cities in the world. It is the college option many New Yorkers take, as it is generally far less expensive than private institutions around the city. One of the most wonderful things about this vibrant city is its unrivaled diversity. Nowhere else in the world can you find a wider variety of voices – each with a story to tell.
Unfortunately, even CUNY is not immune to the poison of antisemitism. Students and faculty alike have participated in such bile. This is not news to Jewish CUNY students and alumni. We’ve all heard stories, signed petitions, and heard excuses and rationalizations. All too often, hatred or discrimination towards Jews goes unaddressed. Why is it that when someone attacks, threatens, or verbally berates a Jew, there are no consequences?
This sickness has infected every corner of CUNY and goes all the way to the top. Former Brooklyn College student Liav Zuri-Shaday shared his grueling story about a group of students who would harass him during his Zoom class through the text-chat feature. The harassment included antisemitic slurs, personal attacks, and even death threats.
According to Liav, when he took his story to the Brooklyn College administration, they coerced him to sign a non-disclosure agreement under penalty, being that he would lose all of his Brooklyn College credit.
After a total lack of action by the school administration, Zuri-Shaday left Brooklyn College, thus relinquishing his college credits and voiding his non-disclosure agreement. “You can say whatever you want about Jews, but you can’t say anything about anyone else,” Zuri-Shaday stated. He has no plans to ever return to CUNY.
Liav’s story is not dissimilar to others that have been told, especially recently. Most other schools have a ratio of Jewish students that is substantially lower than that of CUNY. Unfortunately, this means that not all colleges have the tightly-knit Jewish community that can be found in New York City.
According to the ADL-Hillel’s 2021 Campus Antisemitism Survey, antisemitic incidents on campus were higher than ever before during the 2020-2021 academic school year, perhaps due to the fact that many classes are online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affording anonymity to antisemitic trolls. The survey also found that 32% of Jewish students on college campuses experienced some form of antisemitism directed toward them during that school year, while 31% of Jewish college students witnessed antisemitism that was not directed toward them. Just 51% of Jewish students who had experienced antisemitism on their campuses believed that they were safe places for Jews.
If nearly half of Jewish college students who have experienced antisemitism do not feel safe on their own campuses, then it’s time for the rest of the world to admit that there is a rampant problem. The Jewish community is well aware of this. To repeat this news is to shout in an echo chamber. What accounts for such antisemitism?
Last year’s Israel-Gaza war’s politics naturally bled over into the United States. The rhetoric surrounding Israel in American media and on college campuses led to the spike in antisemitism seen that year. Nearly a quarter of Jewish students said that others assumed they held particular views about Israel because they are Jewish, while 15% of Jewish students felt the need to hide their Judaism or support for Israel from others on campus in order to feel safe.
College campuses now have created a culture of suppressing Judaism while attempting to use anti-Israel political rhetoric to justify their actions. False information surrounding Israel directly leads to antisemitism. Around the country, but in New York City especially can spike in antisemitism be seen during attacks on Israel. On college campuses, these lies allow hatred to flourish. And to all of this, campus faculty have largely turned blind eyes to the matter.
Anti-Zionism by definition opposes Jewish self-determination, yet it is allowed to run rampant across CUNY. In order for hatred to become popular, it must be disguised as something far more trivial. Since the modern state of Israel’s founding, criticism of it has been the costume worn by antisemites. While there may be fair critiques of the state (as with all nations), the unjust bashing of Israel has become a seed deeply embedded in today’s political narrative, with its roots spreading through college campuses.
In February of 2022 during a virtual Brooklyn College anthropology class, a Jewish student (who requested she remain anonymous) came forward with a story about her professor claiming that the State of Israel was committing genocide against the Palestinian people. This falsehood is a blood libel. Other examples of professors infusing antisemitism in their curriculum include a recent example of a Brooklyn College class assigning students to write about, “How Jews Became White Folks”. When professors and school faculty spew lies such as this, it creates an unsafe culture on campus. CUNY has done its best to turn “Zionism” into a bad word, endangering all Jewish students who grace its campuses.
Recently, the federal Department of Education’s OCR (Office for Civil Rights) launched an investigation into Brooklyn College after complaints from Jewish students in its mental health counseling program were deemed by students and professors alike as “white, privileged” and “complicit in the oppression of people of color”. Jews are excluded from academia’s definition of intersectionality, painting targets on the backs of every Jewish college student who does not share the same (often and ironically uneducated) opinions of those they are supposed to be learning from. Baseless and racist claims of all Jews being a part of an oppressive upper class feeds into classic antisemitic tropes that have cemented themselves as a part of Jew-haters’ arsenal. Lumping Jews in with “oppressive groups” ignores the great suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of nearly every nation on Earth throughout history, as well as the discrimination Jews quietly face today.
Once college administrators confront antisemitism as they do other forms of hate, Jewish students can feel safe on campus and further steps of raising awareness can be taken to reduce such discrimination. As long as hatred towards Jews goes unchecked, we will never feel safe. Giving hatred free reign leads to its proliferation. Until authorities — from presidents of the United States to presidents of universities — start imposing serious consequences, such pernicious behavior will continue its inexorable march. Evil, misguided people are emboldened by inaction. It’s time for college presidents to grow backbones. Once awareness is raised outside of the Jewish community, progress can be made. We Jews must remain loud, proud, and at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism.