New York City Council to probe antisemitism claims at CUNY

A hearing to review antisemitism claims at CUNY comes after NYC Councilwoman Inna Vernikov worked to withdraw funds from the institution over a BDS resolution.

Activist Nerdeen Kiswani speaks out for Palestinian rights while taking part in a rally on International Women’s Day in Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, March 8, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)
Activist Nerdeen Kiswani speaks out for Palestinian rights while taking part in a rally on International Women’s Day in Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, March 8, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

The New York City Council is set to investigate allegations of antisemitism at The City University of New York (CUNY) on Wednesday, according to legislation published on the council's website.

Probe into CUNY

"I hope this probe/hearing leads to real action and not just headlines."

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov

"Antisemitism will no longer go unchecked at CUNY. Not on my watch," NYC Councilwoman Inna Vernikov wrote on Facebook.

Vernikov implored professors and students at CUNY who have experienced antisemitism to contact her.

The councilwoman noted that she had already worked to expose antisemites and defund antisemitism. 

Funds pulled from CUNY

On May 27, the New York Post reported that Vernikov was set to pull $50,000 in funding for the CUNY Law School over the faculty's support of a Boycott, Sanction and Divestment (BDS) movement resolution.

"I have pulled funding from the program and redirected it to Legal Services NYC,” Vernikov, who is a Ukrainian-born Jew, told The NY Post. “It seems as if antisemitism is the only politically acceptable form of racism which exists. We must stop handing out free passes to antisemites like candy.”

CUNY Law School faculty adopted a BDS resolution on May 11 that had been originally introduced and passed by the student government in December. The resolution officially endorses BDS, and calls on the institution to divest from Israel, end all Israeli student exchanges, and cut ties with any groups that "repress Palestinian organizing."

A "toxic" environment

Rafaella Gunz was a student at CUNY but left the institution due to what she described as a "toxic" antisemitic environment.

"There was just a big sort of like, icing out of me, a big culture of exclusion amongst the Jews that don't full-heartedly endorse the Palestinian cause by any means necessary," said Gunz, who noted that the anti-Zionist CUNY Law Jewish Law Students Association was of no help. "Basically, I was just not welcome in the community, despite the fact that I agree with them on, like, 99% of issues."

"CUNY's persistent and longstanding practice of ignoring antisemitism has enabled it to foment the horrifying Jew-hate that we are all seeing now across its campuses," said SAFE CUNY,  an NGO that describes itself as an alliance of CUNY students or scholars.

 City University of New York (CUNY) (credit: Wikimedia Commons) City University of New York (CUNY) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Nerdeen Kiswani's CUNY speech

Other controversies at CUNY included having Nerdeen Kiswani, the founder of the anti-Israel group Within Our Lifetime (WOL), give the CUNY Law graduation commencement speech on May 12. 

Kiswani has been under scrutiny in the past for threatening to light a person's IDF sweatshirt on fire, as well as several controversial statements. 

Gunz, a former classmate of Kiswani's at CUNY Law, has said that Kiswani has been criticized "because she interrupts Holocaust memorial ceremonies and says that she hopes the last thing Zionists hear in their life is 'pop pop.'"

"Not just in this speech, but in other venues, Kiswani has demanded 'Zionism out of CUNY.' In other words, that Zionist Jews should be discriminated against based on their religion, ethnicity, and/or national origin as students, faculty, or staff members and be thrown out of CUNY."

SAFE CUNY

Kiswani's NGO, WOL, made headlines on March 30 when they chanted “globalize the intifada” – armed uprising – and “there is only one solution, intifada, revolution.” 

On April 20, the revolutionary movement organized a rally in support of Arab participants in clashes with Israeli Police at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Promotions for the rally stated that “Zionism has no place in Palestine and it must be eradicated to achieve full liberation.” At the event, a local Jewish man wearing an Israeli flag was allegedly beaten.