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August 22, 2022 11:20 am
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What’s the Matter With SUNY New Paltz?

avatar by Linzee Zalta

Opinion

The Old Main at SUNY New Paltz in New Paltz, New York. Photo: crz4mets2 via Wikimedia Commons

In mid-December 2021, two SUNY New Paltz students, Cassie Blotner and Ofek Preis, were dismissed from New Paltz Accountability (NPA), a sexual assault awareness group that Blotner co-founded. Their crime? Sharing notable Israeli influencer Hen Mazzig’s Instagram post supporting the state of Israel and its right to exist.

Put simply, Blotner and Preis endorsed the idea of Zionism, the notion that the Jewish people have a right to a modern state in their indigenous homeland. The overwhelming majority of American Jews support this view.

After a series of increasingly shameful and dangerous actions taken by their fellow students and school administrators, on August 18, 2022, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, in collaboration with Jewish on Campus, filed a Title VI case against SUNY New Paltz for not taking action against the ostracization and harassment of Blotner and Preis by students at the school. The backlash to that simple Instagram post had gone as far as death threats, making Cassie and Ofek feel isolated and fearful.

In 2019, the Trump administration extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act and updated its description of discrimination to include being “based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Zionism can be protected under this new description, as its philosophical origins go far beyond the limiting notion of its being a strictly religious phenomenon. Therefore, dismissing Blotner and Preis from NPA due to their identity as Zionists is considered discrimination.

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So, I ask my alma mater, SUNY New Paltz, what is next?

Preis and Blotner advocated for themselves, but were ignored when the university refused to investigate.

The university released a statement of inclusivity that supposedly opposed antisemitism, but the school did not fight for Blotner and Preis. As a result, SUNY New Paltz put these women in an impossible position, asking them to either abandon their proud Jewish identity, or be forced to abandon their advocacy for survivors of sexual trauma.

In addition to the Title VI extension, universities should also be applying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism on their campuses.

The IHRA definition is a non-legally binding guideline on how to identify antisemitism — especially the modern manifestations of history’s oldest form of hatred. Critics of the IHRA definition argue that it infringes on their freedom of speech, especially regarding the examples of antisemitic sentiments against Israel. But the IHRA definition makes it clear that criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic. It is only when Israel is unfairly criticized or held to double standards, or its right to exist is questioned, that it becomes antisemitism. Those who support the IHRA definition argue that in order to understand what we are fighting, we must define it. That’s why countless international bodies, countries, colleges, and organizations have adopted the definition.

I am a proud Jewish and Zionist New Paltz alum who has been greatly saddened by what has happened at my school. The only way that the campus community can begin to address the recent surge of antisemitic hatred and institutional inaction is by proactively taking measures to better the campus climate, such as adopting the IHRA definition and fighting for Jewish students as they fight for all other minorities.

Adopting the IHRA definition would serve as a statement to all students that SUNY New Paltz is an institution that takes its pledge to “create a community built on the values of inclusion, diversity, and equity while fostering a community grounded in injustice, civility, and respect” seriously. It’s literally the least that the university can do.

Linzee Zalta is a 2021 graduate of SUNY New Paltz, holding her bachelors degree in Sociology.

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