CUNY Professors’ Union Issues Statement Blasting Israel

CUNY Graduate Center at 365 Fifth Avenue. (Bohao Zhao)

The union that represents roughly 30,000 faculty and staff members at the City University of New York and it branches released a statement harshly critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinians.

The statement, which was released by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) in response to the 11 days of violence between Israel and Gaza, did not mention Hamas or the rockets being fired into Israeli civilian areas. Instead, the statement condemned “the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel.”

The statement described Israel as a “settler colonial state” and connected the “the Palestinian struggle for self-determination to the struggles of indigenous people and people of color in the United States.”

The union said it would be exploring support for BDS (the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) during the upcoming fall semester.

The statement “condemns racism in all forms, including antisemitism, and recognizes that criticisms of Israel, a diverse nation-state, are not inherently antisemitic.” There have been multiple accusations that CUNY schools have ignored and otherwise enabled antisemitic statements and groups to flourish on its campuses, many stemming from anti-Israel groups and events.

A cursory overview of PSC’s past statements found only one other example of the union pledging support to a cause overseas, a statement of support for striking Indian college students.

When Hamodia inquired if the statement was a unanimous reflection of the political views of staff, and if the union was willing to acknowledge violence perpetuated by Hamas terror, a representative for the union said in a statement, “We are opposed to all forms of racism, including antisemitism, and we condemn the displacement, occupation, and violence perpetrated by the Israeli state against Palestinians. The resolution adopted by the delegates will facilitate discussion among our members of initiatives and campaigns that seek to influence the United States policy of support for Israel.”

The union representative also did not answer Hamodia’s question as to whether they had received pushback from staff and students of CUNY, many of whom are Jewish.

In response to the PSC statement, Jeffery Lax, an Orthodox professor at City University of New York’s (CUNY) Kingsborough Community College, resigned from the union in an open letter, which was published on social media.

Lax noted he had filed a complaint of discrimination against the school and it was found to be substantiated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February of 2021, that there was consistent “religious discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment taken against observant Jews and Zionist Jews, including me.”

The union, he said, “has not taken any corrective action, whatsoever….The resolution can claim, self-proclaim itself as not antisemitic all it wants, but that does not make it so.”

Lax said that several countries, including Germany and Canada, have labeled BDS as antisemitic, and that the union utilized certain tropes about Israel being uniquely guilty of crimes that the State Department and International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance have condemned as antisemitic stereotypes.

“Outrageously, the PSC resolution utters not a word about Hamas missile attacks…if that is not borne of antisemitism, I don’t know what is,” he wrote. “Moreover, the resolution insists that it is not antisemitic to single out Israel for human rights violations while not holding other countries to the same standards.”

“After 16 years, I am truly saddened and devastated to see what has become of my union,” Lax concluded his letter. “That you would allow it to double and triple down on its [antisemitism], even after it has been found liable for widespread antisemitism against a number of its own Jewish members (including me), is demoralizing. With great disappointment, I can no longer be a part of it.”

Lax did not respond to a request for comment.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who represents the 45th District in Brooklyn, retweeted Lax’s statement and added, “CUNY’s faculty union passed a disgraceful, antisemitic resolution condemning Israel. Jewish union members are feeling silenced & marginalized. We can’t let the haters have the upper hand. Our voices must be louder than theirs.”

Councilman Kalman Yeger condemned the union’s statement. He told Hamodia, “Antisemitism in academia is an international scourge. New York City’s educators aligning themselves with the blood-libeling antisemites is not just hurtful and disappointing, it is also incredibly dangerous. Jewish New Yorkers really need to think hard whether our children are safe on CUNY campuses; both in terms of whether their minds can be entrusted to being educated by these antisemites, and whether they will be physically safe from harm on CUNY campuses.”

A spokesperson for CUNY did not respond to a request for comment.

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