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September 13, 2016 10:07 am

Watchdogs, Jewish Officials Slam ‘Failed’ CUNY Antisemitism Investigation, Say It Will Encourage Further Jew-Hatred

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Brooklyn College campus. Photo: CUNY.

Brooklyn College campus. Photo: CUNY.

Jewish officials and campus-watchdog representatives slammed the findings of the New York City public university system’s investigation into  antisemitism at its colleges, telling The Algemeiner on Monday that the report will encourage further Jew-hatred.

Referring to the recently released City University of New York (CUNY) report on anti-Jewish incidents, which looks particularly at the activities of the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Susan B. Tuchman, director of the Center for Law and Justice at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) — the organization that the report cites as the “primary source of the allegations of antisemitism on CUNY campuses” — said it “failed in its mission.”

“The report justifies and defends SJP’s actions, and tries to shift blame away from the group, when there’s no question — even from the report — that SJP is responsible for inciting hatred of Israel on campus, encouraging students and student groups to marginalize and ostracize Jewish students, and harassing and threatening students and others who disagree with the group’s hateful views,” she told The Algemeiner.

The CUNY investigation, Tuchman said, provided a “unique and important opportunity for CUNY to make a difference for its students” and become “a model for other campuses around the country where antisemitism has been a problem.” The report, she told The Algemeiner, “will embolden students and student groups like the SJP to continue to harass and threaten Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

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Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of the campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative, said that while some of SJP’s actions are protected by civil liberties, two points “hold true”:

First, Jewish and pro-Israel students also have a right to their free speech, and it is being quashed. That’s heinous. Second, Jewish students have a right to complain about SJP to the administration, to say that the group is antisemitic. Jews are being shut down, defamed and targeted for harm in many ways that are not protected. It is illegal for SJP to use its own free speech to take away someone else’s.

Rossman-Benjamin said that research conducted by her organization “found that schools with SJP chapters are seven-to-eight times more likely to have instances of anti-Jewish hostility. People are jumping to reasonable conclusions when they blame SJP for antisemitic incidents.”

Tracy Turoff, vice president and general counsel of Hillel International — the world’s largest student organization — told The Algemeiner that the CUNY report “highlights a disturbing trend of incidents specifically targeting the Jewish community on campus with antisemitic rhetoric and threats of violence.”

She called on CUNY administrators and presidents to “condemn antisemitic comments and actions and to promptly and forcefully challenge hate speech.”

Clandestine watchdog group Canary Mission — which monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic activities on college campuses — said its “data and facts” refute the findings of the report.

“Our research clearly shows the multiple and repeated incidences of radical anti-Israel and antisemitic behavior among SJP members within the CUNY system,” a Canary Mission representative, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Algemeiner.

Members of SJP, however, told CUNY investigators that they felt “victimized on the internet” after Canary Mission exposed their postings. The watchdog told The Algemeiner that though it acknowledges the existence of legitimate criticism of Israel, “Both SJP and the boycott Israel movement have a clear agenda to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state — something that goes beyond reasonable criticism and blurs the lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The real victims are the many pro-Israel and Jewish students subject to the systematic harassment and abuse by SJP members within the CUNY system.” 

CUNY’s investigation comes six months after a ZOA letter to CUNY Chancellor James Milliken claimed that his schools’ SJP chapters are responsible for creating “a hostile campus environment” for Jewish students. The university hired outside attorneys to investigate the claims, conducting more than 60 interviews with people connected to the pro-Israel and anti-Israel campus community.

Investigators focused on four specific CUNY campuses — Hunter College, the College of Staten Island, Brooklyn College and John Jay College — “where allegations of antisemitism have been raised,” the report said. 

For example, the report cites a November 2015 rally organized by SJP at Hunter College, during which protesters shouted “Long live the intifada,” “There is only one solution: Intifada, revolution,” “Zionists out of CUNY” and “Death to Jews.” While investigators admitted in the report that “undeniable” threatening, antisemitic behavior occurred — including assault — they were unable to identify the perpetrators.  

Despite having found repeated cases of antisemitism and antisemitic anti-Zionism at CUNY, investigators concluded, “Much of what we have reported is protected speech” and behavior. And, though investigators confirmed antisemitic cases in which “Zionist” and “Jew” were used interchangeably during campus protests, they warned that those who call for a boycott of Israel “should not be tarred as antisemitic.”

CUNY, as a public university, “is limited in the ways it can respond to hate speech,” the report said, adding that administrators “must continue” to speak out against such rhetoric.  

“The picture that has emerged is not one of unchecked antisemitism, far from it,” investigators wrote. “But it is hardly perfect.”

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