Push to cut CUNY budget over anti-Semitism ‘extreme response,’ says Jewish leader

"Cutting the budget is an expression of the frustration on the part of some of the legislators about the history of the past few months.”

CUNY Graduate Center (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CUNY Graduate Center
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The New York State Senate’s push to slash the City University of New York’s annual budget by hundreds of millions of dollars following a string of campus anti-Semitic incidents is an “extreme response,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
On Monday, New York’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a non-binding, one house budget resolution to halt the transfer of $485 million in funding to New York City’s municipal university system, citing the lack of a plan to guarantee student safety. With more than half a million students at 24 constituent colleges, and graduate and professional schools, CUNY is one of the largest educational institutions in the United States.
Hoenlein described Monday’s resolution – which will be used during subsequent budget negotiations – as resulting from the perception that CUNY has not responded to complaints over the harassment of Jewish students.
“There are other ways to address this. Cutting the budget is, I think, an expression of the frustration on the part of some of the legislators about the history of the past few months,” Hoenlein said.
Earlier this month, CUNY announced it will establish a task force drawn from its administration, faculty and students to review allegations of anti-Semitism at four of its colleges.
The move came after the Zionist Organization of America urged CUNY chancellor James B. Milliken to prevent the harassment of Jewish students at Hunter College, John Jay College, Brooklyn College, and the College of Staten Island by members of the pro-Palestinian Students for Justice in Palestine.
The ZOA cited a series of incidents of harassment of Jews at the campuses.
In November, it noted, a SJP rally at Hunter College for free public college tuition and the cancellation of student debt turned into a demonstration attacking Israel and Jews.
Last week a group of 10 students at Brooklyn College interrupted a faculty council meeting calling for “Zionists off campus,” the ZOA said. At the College of Staten Island, desks and walls were defaced with swastikas, the group said. And at John Jay College, Jewish students reported being afraid to attend classes, and some have transferred out, the ZOA noted.
During the incident at Brooklyn College, a faculty member was called a “Zionist pig,” said the ZOA.
“SJP has created a hostile campus environment for many Jewish students, causing them to feel harassed, threatened and even physically unsafe, in violation of the law,” ZOA national president Morton Klein wrote in his letter to CUNY’s chancellor Milliken.
“Such bigotry would never be tolerated by CUNY if it were directed against another ethnic, racial or other targeted group. CUNY should not be tolerating it when the bigotry is directed against Jews.”
In a news release issued in late February, Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind said he received complaints after the meeting from “dozens” of faculty members.
While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially explained the budget cut was prompted by other concerns, Senate republicans who supported the measure reframed it as a way of responding to campus anti-Semitism.
“In light of recent anti-Semitic events at CUNY campuses, the Senate denies additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths. The Senate fully understands the importance of the City University system, and supports the full restoration of state support when this difficult and atrocious situation is adequately addressed,” read the senate’s budget summary, as reported by the Gotham Gazette.
Democrats spoke out harshly against the Republican rationale, however.
“The language in the resolution says that because CUNY has had a few anti-Semitic incidents, we should cut funding for higher education for 500,000 students in the City of New York. None of us endorses anti-Semitism, racism... Unfortunately we live in a society were those incidents occasionally happen everywhere,” senator Liz Krueger told the website Politico.
“Everyone agrees that anti-Semitism is bad. But the way you fight it is not by hurting the students,” another Democratic senator said.
Speaking with the Gazette, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “Our institutions of higher education must be spaces where people of all faiths can thrive and feel safe, and CUNY must ensure that’s the case. The best tool to combat hate is education – and we must be investing in it, not cutting it.”
“This was years in the making,” the ZOA’s Klein told the Jewish Daily Forward. “We are seeing horrific incidents of anti-Semitism on campuses.”