NY Senate cuts funding to CUNY over anti-semitism, ADL says defunding 'wrong solution'

According to The Zionist Organization of America several anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded on CUNY campuses.

March 30, 2016 07:50
3 minute read.
CUNY Graduate Center

CUNY Graduate Center. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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NEW YORK - The New York State Senate approved a resolution to cut $485 million in funds for the City University of New York system in order to “send a message” that the colleges were not taking enough action in response to campus anti-Semitism.

The City University of New York had said earlier this month that it would take steps to review recent allegations of anti-Semitism on campus at four of its colleges over the past months and will establish a task force composed of members of the administration, faculty and students in order to monitor these incidents.

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The anti-semitism came to light when the Zionist Organization of America had issued a formal letter to CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken late February, urging him to act against the harassment of Jewish students at Hunter College, John Jay College, Brooklyn College and the College of Staten Island, where students reported being attacked by members of the pro-palestinian group “Students for Justice in Palestine”.

According to ZOA several incidents have been recorded on each campus.

Among them: a rally for free public college tuition and the cancellation of all student debt organized by SJP at Hunter College this November turned into a demonstration attacking Israel, Zionists and Jews.

Just last week a group of 10 students at Brooklyn College interrupted a meeting of the Faculty Council calling for “Zionists off campus”; at The College of Staten Island, swastikas defaced desks and walls and at John Jay College Jewish students have reported being afraid to come to school and some have transferred out.

In the letter, ZOA warned the CUNY Chancellor that his institutions violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that federally funded universities ensure that Jewish students and others suffer no discrimination on campus.

The Anti-Defamation League, which aims to combat anti-semitism around the world, expressed concern over the State Senate’s decision and said defunding CUNY is the “wrong solution to a real problem.”

“We are glad the Senate leadership reacted to this troubling phenomenon, but the mode is ineffective,” ADL New York Regional Director Evan Bernstein said. According to him, the way to address anti-Semitic incidents at CUNY is to “deal with them head on, and to work actively to create a welcoming and inclusive community.”

“Defunding the system will not solve the issue of anti-Semitism, but rather simply punish students, regardless of their actions – positive or negative,” he added. “For years, CUNY has made a university education accessible to students who otherwise might not be able to earn a college degree.”

Bernstein explained that access to higher education helps to “address inequities that still persist in society more than half a century after the Civil Rights movement” and “brings together people of all different backgrounds and races, helping them to break down barriers and challenge preconceived notions about others.”

“This approach by the Senate leadership would only hinder access to higher education and does not solve the core problem in question,” he continued. Bernstein also pointed out that ADL is still very concerned about anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on many of CUNY’s campuses, and unlike the Senate, was pleased with the response of the CUNY Chancellor and his administration.

“CUNY leadership should be commended for recognizing that there is a problem that threatens its values of inclusivity,” he said. “We expect the task force to meet and promptly offer tangible results, and stand ready to help in this process.”

But anti-Semitism might not have been the only reason the Senate favored the funding cut. The resolution was accepting a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “shift $485 million in annual operating costs” from the state to New York City.

Cuomo had not mentioned anti-Semitism in his proposal, according to Politico, instead explaining the move as in response to the city’s financial stability and efforts to make the system more efficient.

JTA contributed to this report.

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