Friday, September 29th | 14 Tishri 5784

June 5, 2023 12:17 pm

A Message From CUNY Faculty: Stop Antisemitism on Campus

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avatar by The CUNY Alliance for Inclusion


CUNY School of Law in New York City. Photo: Evulaj90 / Wikimedia Commons.

The CUNY Alliance For Inclusion (CAFI) is a diverse group of scholars and educators throughout CUNY who defend Israel’s right to exist and are committed to working for a vibrant and collegial academic community free of bias and intimidation. CAFI was formed in response to the singular hostility towards Israel expressed in counterfactual and regressive public statements. We appreciate that the administration has recognized that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But the problem is so deeply entrenched at CUNY — as evidenced in the repeated exploitation of commencement addresses at the CUNY School of Law to demonize Israel and by the faculty letter supporting the latest address — that only a comprehensive plan to fight antisemitism at CUNY will make a difference. 

Dear Chancellor Matos Rodríguez,

We are The CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI), a faculty organization formed in June 2021 to combat antisemitism and the singular demonization of Israel within CUNY, and to defend the principles of academic freedom and unfettered intellectual exchange.

Since our founding, we have written to you (see, for example, here and here) to express our concerns about hostility toward Jewish members of our campus community and the threat to inclusiveness and academic integrity posed by those who seek to demonize and delegitimize Israel and to ostracize, silence, and demoralize its supporters.

We write to you now to again express our dismay that the CUNY Law School’s commencement speech by the student representing her class, attacked the core values of the City University. We are disheartened that the class representative chose to denigrate, demean, and degrade Jews instead of inspiring and celebrating her classmates as they reached an important milestone in their lives.

This inflammatory tirade was highly disturbing and unfitting for a commencement. It is regrettable that Ms. [Fatima] Mohammed’s address spoiled the experience for so many. However, we do not write to find fault only with this graduating law student. She, like other students at CUNY Law, are educated in an intolerant atmosphere which is supported by the faculty at the law school and throughout CUNY, including the Delegate Assembly of the faculty union, whose only condemnation of a foreign state is of Israel for defending itself.

We are appalled to learn that faculty members and administrators applauded this commencement speech. The toleration of antisemitism by faculty is part of a disturbing pattern at the CUNY School of Law, which is the only law school in the country where the faculty has embraced a discriminatory academic boycott of Israel.

Is it any wonder that for the second year in a row a student’s commencement speech cast Israel as the source of evil in the world using rhetoric that crossed the line from legitimate criticism into historic antisemitism?

We appreciate your statement condemning “hate speech” at the CUNY School of Law, which you released on May 30. This alarming incident brings home the urgent need for moral clarity and a system-wide action plan to counter the abandonment by many within CUNY of civility and minimal academic standards when it comes to Israel. This feeds antisemitism and degrades the university.

Standing up to the hate will take extraordinary courage, because so many within CUNY succumb to the pull of an ideology that measures virtue by the depths of antipathy towards Israel. But the choice cannot be starker — either CUNY lives up to its promise to provide an outstanding education to students who aspire to build a better life for themselves and their communities, or CUNY continues its race towards the bottom by forging a new generation mired in hate.

The reasons that resolutions by faculty and commencement addresses are hate speech must be spelled out. It is that they are a steeped in the big lie that has been launched against the Jewish people from time immemorial. The big lie has found new adherents because many people want to believe it. The lie must be spelled out for what it is. For CUNY to thrive, it must stand for love, not hate, and for openness and intellectual vitality, not exclusion and academic boycotts. The university must sponsor sustained, organized, civil, academic discussion open to all students and faculty. This would help provide a balanced respectful education that would promote effective leadership and activism for students.

We are pleased that steps are being taken in the right direction. For example, we are encouraged that CUNY is participating in Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative. In addition, the seed-funding by the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) of an Antisemitism Education Initiative at CUNY is bringing valuable educational programming to our campuses. AEN is a national educational organization which, like CAFI, educates campuses about antisemitism and promotes the academy’s values.

We are glad that several CUNY diversity officials are participating in the yearlong professional development opportunity offered by the AEN. But we register our dismay that essential discussions of antisemitism at CUNY are not being promoted. At the recent DEI Conference on the “Illusion of Inclusion,” antisemitism awareness was limited to a single one-hour symposium by our group from among several submissions, and even that was protested by those claiming to be fighting for social justice. It is also disheartening that the DEI CUNY University-Wide Discrimination and Retaliation Reporting Portal reaches for cognitive dissonance rather than clarity by linking to a document that declares that uniquely applying a double standard to Israel is not antisemitism.

We urge you to adopt a bold and comprehensive system-wide action plan that delineates measurable benchmarks and involves key CUNY stakeholders in its development and implementation. In this regard, we call upon you to include students and faculty in the new Jewish Advisory Council.

We look forward to your reply and hope to have the opportunity to meet with you so that we can further discuss these challenges.


The CUNY Alliance for Inclusion

To contact the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion, please write to:

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