CUNY and the Warfare of Academic Antisemitism
When the City University of New York (CUNY) faculty union — the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) — passed its June 10 resolution, so-called, “in support of the Palestinian people,” it was the most prominent New York expression of a hate campaign against Israel that is sweeping the world of American education.
In truth, rather than being in support of anything, the resolution is an undisguised and false attack on Israel. It does little to address a Palestinian population besieged in one territory by a genocidal theocracy, and beleaguered in the other by a facade of democratic governance. It focuses instead on demonizing the Jewish nation, and it does so by denying the very roots of Jewish identity. It is thus fundamentally antisemitic.
This hate campaign is the product of two longstanding and confluent intellectual developments: reformulated Marxist political ideology and culturally revisionist scholarly theorizing. Such transformative ideas are nothing new in politics or scholarly life. After all, Marx himself was writing 170 years ago. But once again, Jews are found to be the problem, and these smart people don’t find this a curious happenstance.
The May conflict between Israel and Hamas has now served to bring to a critical mass the efforts of a decades-long Arab resistance to the existence of a Jewish state, which took on a focalizing label with the emergence of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
With both strategic and cynical shrewdness, Palestinian BDS advocates and supportive American far-left “social justice” proponents have assiduously worked to identify their two causes with each other. Jews have been identified as Europeans with “white privilege,” and Palestinians as both indigenous and people of color who have been socially marginalized and politically oppressed. Israel’s alliances with the US are thus said to implicate white, settler-colonial Israel with American racism. People of color and other empathetic Americans who genuinely desire universal social justice are then told that “the Palestinian struggle is our struggle.” As a tactical matter, proponents of such thinking, as do all perpetrators of big lies, rely on the short memories and low information of those whose passions they manipulate.
This is now the cause spreading across academia. In California, for instance, new ethnic studies curricula, at both the college and K-12 levels, have been hotly debated — significantly over their marginalization of the historic, liberal Civil Rights movement (including omission of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and villainizing treatment of Zionism. With the most extreme version defeated and revised for California’s K-12, its proponents, The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute now peddle their indoctrination to individual school boards, labeling Jewish groups that fought back “right wing demagogues and lobbyists.”
At universities, typical now is this statement by the “Gender Studies Departments In Solidarity With Palestinian Feminist Collective,” signed by over 50 departments, including at Berkeley, NYU, and Rutgers. It includes the same antisemitic “settler colonial” denials of incontrovertible Jewish history, the same misrepresentations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the repeated and embarrassing, grossly unscholarly political simplifications.
All of the above is to be found in the CUNY PSC resolution, which is so blatantly dishonest as to start its account of events of the Hamas-Israel war on May 15, 2021, three days after Hamas fired 1,000 untargeted rockets into Israel, killing eight people.
But the malice doesn’t end there.
In order to coherently label Israel as a settler colonial state, resolution supporters must deny Jews their history and their indigeneity to the land of Israel. Palestinians, in the resolution, are awarded the honorific of “indigenous.” Jews, in contrast — for whose over two-millennial presence in those ancient lands the enormous historical, archeological, cultural, and even genetic evidence is indisputable — are cast as invasive outsiders. Yet, the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989, and the United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, both actually offer identifying characteristics of indigenous peoples that apply to Jews as completely as to any people on earth. But not for resolution and BDS supporters.
What we see in such conceptual perversions is not “criticism of Israel,” but rather an attack on Jewish identity. There is a word for that, but these malign actors, who masquerade as advocates of peace and justice but whose practices will serve only to perpetuate conflict, would deny to Jews their words as well. The ILO and UN did not explicitly define indigeneity, and allowed for “self-identification,” because they would not impose their admittedly imprecise concepts on indigenous peoples. No such qualms for PSC BDS supporters, however, who presume to separate good Jews from bad, determine what Jewish is, and define for Jews, by redefining the resolution’s antisemitism away, the language of Jews’ ancient vilification.
In response to this racist, ideologically determined abandonment of scholarly responsibility by its faculty union, CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez has so far remained disengaged, responding to correspondence with generic “all lives matter” style messages that address antisemitism only in conjunction with sweeping condemnation of other bigotries.
New York City has the second largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel only. It has the largest population of Jews of any city in the world, more even than Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The city’s university of name, with its storied life-liberating history of Jewish scholarship and learning, cannot be allowed to become a breeding ground of anti-Zionist demonization and antisemitic hostility.
Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously observed that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” But to invert Clausewitz, politics may also serve as a continuation of war by other means. BDS, which seeks the end of Israel, and resolutions that seek to advance it, such as that passed by the PSC, are campaigns in that war. They must be opposed and the stain on the PSC removed, as was the stain on the United Nations when it voted in 1991 to revoke its notorious resolution 3379, which resolved that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Nothing less will do.
A. Jay Adler, author, most recently, of the poetry collection “Waiting for Word,” teaches English at Queens College, CUNY and was among the first to resign in protest from the Professional Staff Congress.