CUNY sued over failing to deal with antisemitic instances on campuses

The university has allegedly sat back as students and faculty have turned the university into a hostile place for Jewish students and staff.

 Students enter the 2012 Big Apple Job and Internship Fair at the Javits Center in New York, April 27, 2012. The job fair was organized specifically for students from the various City University of New York (CUNY) schools. (photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW BURTON)
Students enter the 2012 Big Apple Job and Internship Fair at the Javits Center in New York, April 27, 2012. The job fair was organized specifically for students from the various City University of New York (CUNY) schools.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW BURTON)

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed a Title VI complaint last week to the US Department of Education, alleging that the City University of New York (CUNY) has ignored a sustained pattern of antisemitic activity.

While the Department of Education is already dealing with complaints regarding individual instances of antisemitism, ACLJ “is focused on the overall environment at the University, and not just at one or more schools,” the complaint read.

Antisemitism took several forms

Numerous antisemitic incidents dating as far back as 2013 are listed in the complaint. Among them are several instances of students carving swastikas on school property. Moreover, it notes that the head of the Organizational Management and Leadership program at the Silberman School of Social Work stated that mandatory classes took place on Saturdays so as to make the program inaccessible to observant Jewish students. 

Other examples include nails being found in the tires of a Jewish professor’s car, students using class time to accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and a Jewish professor finding swastikas carved in her office and her keyboard drenched in urine. 

CUNY Graduate Center (credit: Wikimedia Commons)CUNY Graduate Center (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

CUNY’s Faculty of Law has been a particularly active participant in campus antisemitism, according to the complaint. The law school’s faculty voted to endorse the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, its student government passed a resolution to ban Hillel and other Jewish institutions on campus and the school honored Nerdeen Kiswani — who has openly condoned the killing of Zionists — as a graduation speaker. 

The University allegedly failed to respond 

In all of these cases, CUNY was aware of the incidents and did nothing to stop them nor the situation, the complaint claims. Numerous students have said that they left the university due to the unaddressed antisemitic atmosphere that often caused them to feel unsafe. 

The Chancellor has been uncooperative

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who is Jewish, pulled $50,000 in funding from the law school in response to the BDS vote. In addition, the New York City Council probed claims of antisemitism at CUNY.

A hearing scheduled for June 8th was postponed when the university’s chancellor, Félix V. Matos Rodriguez indicated that he would not be able to attend due to a scheduling conflict. The night before a rescheduled hearing on June 30th to accommodate Rodriguez, “the Chancellor again backed out, demonstrating just how little he cares about the subject,” the complaint explained. 

Congressman Lee Zeldin, the co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, criticized the chancellor’s absence. “This week’s New York City Council hearing on antisemitism was delayed for weeks to fit CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez's schedule,” he said. “The Chancellor was still a no show! For too long, CUNY leadership has looked the other way, empowering antisemitism to expand within its ranks.” 

“CUNY's law school faculty and student government have openly endorsed the antisemitic BDS movement, an adjunct professor at CUNY called to ‘erase this filth called Jews’, and the school's faculty union adopted a harshly and ignorantly worded anti-Israel resolution. Just a few weeks ago, an antisemite was CUNY Law School’s commencement speaker. Antisemitism in all forms must be identified, called out and crushed. It’s time to clean house at CUNY!”

"CUNY's law school faculty and student government have openly endorsed the antisemitic BDS movement, an adjunct professor at CUNY called to ‘erase this filth called Jews’, and the school's faculty union adopted a harshly and ignorantly worded anti-Israel resolution."

Congressman Lee Zeldin

The hearing, which proceeded without Rodriguez, included testimony from students — both current and former — and staff at CUNY, who shared their experiences with antisemitism at the university. Antisemitism watchdog group AMCHA wrote in a statement before the hearing that it has recorded over 150 incidents of antisemitism on 11 CUNY campuses since 2015. According to the group, more than 60 of these occurrences directly targeted Jewish students with the intent to harm them.

CUNY has claimed otherwise 

CUNY has denied claims that it sat idly in the face of its antisemitism problem.

“Every day the University engages in efforts to combat anti-Semitism [sic], violence, hate, racism, and intolerance of any kind within our campus communities,” a university spokesperson said, per the New York Post. “This is important but hard, never-ending work, and we are always learning new ways to improve our efforts.”