CUNY doesn't know what antisemitism is - opinion

CUNY's antisemitism problem stems from ignorance and not knowing what antisemitism is.

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

The widespread antisemitism problem at City University of New York didn’t start with this month’s hate-filled commencement speech spewed by Nerdeen Kiswani, one of the most violence-inciting and universally recognized Jew-haters in America today. It didn’t start with CUNY Law School’s faculty formally adopting discriminatory policies that violate Title VI, Title VII, New York State’s anti-BDS Executive Order 157, and many other discrimination laws by formally endorsing the BDS movement, as reported this week.

It didn’t start weeks earlier, in late April, when CUNY Professional Staff Congress union delegates (representing some 25,000 faculty and staff members) marched alongside Ms. Kiswani in a #ZionismOUTofCUNY rally outside of the CUNY Graduate Center. It didn’t start in June 2021 when the PSC-CUNY union issued a deeply antisemitic resolution that accused Israel of apartheid, endorsed the BDS movement and condemned Palestinian civilian deaths while aggresively refusing to condemn or utter a word about Jewish civilian deaths.

And although shockingly outrageous and very personal to me, the antisemitism problem at my university did not begin anywhere near February 2021, when, after an approximately yearlong investigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that I and other observant and Zionist Jews were discriminated against, banned from faculty groups, harassed and retaliated against on our campus at Kingsborough Community College because of our religion. Nor did the problem begin when CUNY chose to handle my horrific treatment and legal vindication by ignoring the findings completely and engaging in a cruel campaign to ignore me, humiliate me and retaliate against me.

Even the president of my college and the chancellor of the university have completely ignored all of my requests to act on the discriminatory findings by the EEOC. They refuse to even sit down and have a conversation about it. Something the EEOC excoriated them for, the first time around.

No, none of these incidents, nor the scores of others in recent years is where the story of antisemitism at CUNY really begins.

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

The source of CUNY's antisemitism

The problem begins with ignorance – CUNY administrators do not know what antisemitism is. At no level does CUNY policy even define antisemitism. How can a scourge be addressed when its nature, goals, and tactics are not understood? To make matters worse, the PSC-CUNY faculty union leaders do indeed know what antisemitism is, but happily practice it against people like me all while pretending that such horrid discrimination is somehow a political debate regarding a dispute over land 10,000 km. away.

ODD AND nonsensical? Yes. This is strategic antisemitism at its core. And it is done by union leaders who seek to represent all CUNY faculty, including Zionist faculty, who then chant #ZionismOutOfCUNY.

As one union delegate and CUNY faculty member said in a secret internal email to fellow union delegates, “What we MUST start re-remembering in the discourse... is that antisemitism does not only apply to the Jewish people... [i]t applies to the Semitic peoples and there isn’t only one Semitic people.” Her delegate colleagues didn’t object to this position.

They didn’t, because many of these delegate CUNY faculty members seek ways in which to discriminate against their own Zionist Jewish faculty member colleagues at CUNY. So badly do they wish to practice antisemitism that they won’t even permit Jews themselves to have a hand in defining what it is.

CUNY and its faculty union have a very long way to go in addressing their very real and terrifying antisemitism problem, but allowing Zionist, observant and other outward Jews to assist in defining antisemitism is a crucial first step in even beginning to consider to address it.

It is time for CUNY and the PSC-CUNY union to adopt the widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism. The IHRA definition of antisemitism reflects the lived experience of Jewish students, faculty, staff and others at CUNY, and its adoption by the university is the most effective way to begin to understand what antisemitism is, how it has been experienced throughout history, and what needs to be done to combat it.

865 entities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It has been adopted or endorsed by 37 nations, the US State department, over half of US states, over 50 Jewish organizations in the US and it is the accepted definition of antisemitism for the vast majority of Jewish organizations and scholars.

I, with colleagues, have founded a group called S.A.F.E. CUNY (Students And Faculty for Equality at CUNY). We advocate for voiceless Zionist Jews, observant Jews, and other Jews at CUNY. We have started a petition demanding that CUNY and the PSC-CUNY faculty union adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We hope that this will be the beginning of meaningful change to address antisemitism at the university.

The writer is a CUNY professor, department chair, and a founder of Students And Faculty for Equality at CUNY (S.A.F.E. CUNY), a non-partisan group of CUNY students and faculty who advocate for systemically discriminated against and excluded Zionist Jews at CUNY.