CUNY Chancellor Absent from City Council Hearings on Visceral Jew Hatred on Campus
By: Fern Sidman
As anti-Semitism and visceral Jew hatred continues to mount at blinding speed on the nation’s college campuses and in society in general, the problem has reached epidemiological proportions at the network of campuses that comprise New York City’s public higher education institutions. Known at the City University of New York, CUNY schools have morphed into a hotbed of the most egregious forms of bias, discrimination and over hostility towards Jewish students, professors, and other faculty.
On Thursday, the New York Post reported that both students and professors testified in front of the City Council Committee on Higher Education. It was there that they told city lawmakers of their experiences of being targeted because of their Jewish faith.
Missing from the proceedings was CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez and his disinterest in providing testimony to the city council committee did not escape the notice of many in attendance.
The Post reported that in a sharply worded statement, Brooklyn Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, said: “Last night, in a very cowardly fashion, the chancellor said he won’t appear. Instead he sent a lawyer to represent him. What a sham, what an insult to the Jewish community of New York.
A Ukrainian born Jew, Ms. Vernikov represents the predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Midwood, Gravesend and Flatbush in Brooklyn.
Ms. Vernikov, who is the ranking Republican on the Council’s Education Committee asked angrily, “When it comes to Jews, do Jewish lives matter?!”
The Post also reported that Vernikov asked CUNY officials how Jewish students could feel welcomed when their own professors approved BDS resolutions “that promote discrimination against them.”
Also weighing in on the issue of Matos Rodriguez’s absence from the committee hearings was Bronx Councilman Eric Dinowitz, as was reported by the Post. Dinowitz, who is the chairman of the higher education committee and head of the city council’s Jewish Caucus said he was “deeply disappointed” that Matos Rodriguez elected not to attend the hearings on a subject that is extremely important.
Leading representatives of CUNY did testify before the committee remotely but did not have data available on the number of anti-Jewish incidents on its campuses. They acknowledged that the network of campuses has not instituted a systemwide sensitivity training about anti-Semitism, as was reported by the Post.
The Post reported that Dinowitz said that Matos Rodriguez’s absence and the remote testimony of other CUNY officials does not ‘fill me with hope” that CUNY (which oversees 26 public colleges in the city) will take a leading role in vanquishing hatred directed at Jewish students and professors.
Dinowitz read off some of the slurs and hate symbols that Jewish students who testified anonymously faced on CUNY campuses including, “We need Hitler again,” calls for the murder of Jews, the presence of swastikas, “jokes about Jews in ovens” and finding a Star of David smeared in feces, among others, as was reported by the Post.
The chancellor’s absence from the day of testimony caused him to miss out on the litany of horrific accounts of anti-Jewish prejudice that were related by students and professors at city universities.
The Post reported that former CUNY School of Law student Rafaella Gunz said she transferred to Yeshiva University because, “I feared for my physical and emotional well being” after she was demonized by other students over her Jewish faith and Zionist beliefs.
Joshua Greenberg, a Baruch College student, said he was assaulted for being a “Jewish, disabled student,” and complained about restrictions on prayer, as was reported by the Post.
“It’s completely unacceptable what’s going on at Baruch College,” he told the committee.
Michael Goldstein, an administrator and an adjunct professor of communications and government relations at Kingsborough Community College in the Manhattan Beach section of Brooklyn told the committee that “it is horrible for Jews at CUNY”, claiming that anti-Semites defaced a photo of his dad, Leonard Goldstein, the former longtime president of Kingsborough, at the Brooklyn campus, according to the Post report.
In March of 2019, the Jewish Voice reported that Professor Goldberg penned an article that was published in the New York Daily News on in February of that year that said: “I’ve worked at Kingsborough for 20 years, and within the City University of New York network for 30 years. The anti-Semitic vandalism and death threat perpetrated outside my office this past February was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The reason for their attack? I’m Jewish, politically conservative and I believe in Zionism, the civil rights movement of the Jewish people.”
Goldstein also explained in his piece that appeared in the Daily News that in an attack in February 2018, the assailants defaced a photo of his father with anti-Semitic graffiti, and he later learned that the incident occurred a day after Kingsborough Professor Katia Perea, a member of the radical Progressive Faculty Caucus (PFC), an unsanctioned group of faculty members, apparently told an administrator who refused her request to fire him, “I guess I will have to handle this myself.”
“This was my jarring introduction to the PFC and its unending campaign of harassment… It was also my introduction to the inertia of the Kingsborough and CUNY administrations,” he wrote, adding that the college refused to classify the incident as a hate crime and denied his requests for added security.
“This was just the beginning of an orchestrated, aggressive movement to destroy me,” he said.
Besides the multiple manifestations of Jew hatred on CUNY campuses, students attending private colleges and universities also voiced concerns about the rising rates of anti-Semitism on their campuses and shared their stories of being subjected to hostilities because of their Judaism.
The Post reported that former NYU student Adela Cojab Moadeb said the downtown private college became “very unsafe for Jewish students” where pro-Palestinian supporters “equated Zionism with Nazism” and students were exposed to the burning of the Israel flag. She added that, “I was afraid.”
In a 2019 article that Cojab Moadeb wrote for the New York Post, she describes how uncomfortable she felt as a pro-Israel Jewish student on the NYU campus, due to the BDS protests that targeted Jewish students and groups on campus. Viewing these protests as creating an unwelcoming environment for pro-Israel Jewish students led Cojab Moadeb to sue the university for discrimination, invoking the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin on any program and activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.
The Jewish advocacy group AMHCA testified that it has logged more than 150 antisemitic incidents on 11 CUNY campuses since 2015 when the group began its tracking. More than 60 of those incidents involve acts that directly target Jewish students for harm, including swastikas and other types of genocidal vandalism, bullying, suppression of movement and assembly and denigration. Most of the acts targeting Jewish students for harassment on CUNY campuses have been Israel-related, and these acts have more than doubled over the last year, according to a statement sent to media by AMCHA.
Serving as an expert witness at the New York City Council’s hearing on rising campus antisemitism AMCHA Initiative’s Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin warned that faculty-driven boycotts of Israel are directly fueling antisemitism, and she will urge the legislators to prohibit faculty from using university positions and resources for anti-Israel political advocacy, including the implementation of an academic boycott of Israel (Academic BDS).
“Our research has isolated two major sources of campus antisemitism. The first are anti-Zionist student groups whose presence on campus is highly correlated with acts of harassment. A less well-known, but frankly far more dangerous and long-lasting source of campus antisemitism – and one which we believe deserves your immediate attention – are faculty who use their academic positions and the prestige and resources of their institutions to carry out the anti-normalization campaigns demanded by Academic BDS,” Ms, Rossman-Benjamin testified.
During her testimony, Ms. Rossman-Benjamin also delivered a statement from 106 civil rights, religious and education organizations deeply concerned antisemitism will “skyrocket” if CUNY faculty are permitted to implement Academic BDS. Dozens of the groups are NYC-based, including CUNY-specific organizations such as Hillel of Baruch, City, John Jay, Pace, School of Visual Arts (SVA), Fordham, FIT and The New School; Chabad at Brooklyn College; Bulldogs for Israel at Brooklyn College; Students Supporting Israel at City College of New York; Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY; and the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion.
“It’s crucial to understand that although an academic boycott of Israel claims to target Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation on U.S. campuses, such as CUNY, will directly harm Jewish students,” wrote the organizations.
The Post reported that during their testimony, CUNY senior vice chancellor for institutional affairs Glenda Grace and vice chancellor for student affairs Denise Maybank rattled off programs and events at various campuses to help combat anti-Semitism.
“We understand more has to be done.” Grace said.
Maybank said “I hear you” and that more has to done to deal with “uncivil discourse” before it crosses the line into discrimination, as was reported by the Post. She said it “remains our responsibility” to make students “feel safe and welcome on campus.”
At one point, CUNY officials said they did not use the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which includes “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
CUNY, in a statement, said, “Making sure everyone feels safe and protected at our campuses is a top priority at CUNY, which is arguably the nation’s most diverse university system and attracts people of all backgrounds and nationalities.
“CUNY leadership was pleased to testify today about the University’s ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism, violence, hate, racism and intolerance of any kind on our campuses, in our country and in the world. This is important but hard, never-ending work, and we are always learning new ways to improve our efforts. CUNY is committed to fostering an environment where all faculty, staff and students can work, teach and learn free from any form of discrimination.”