Dozens of CUNY Staff Quit Union After Anti-Israel Statement

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

At least 50 professors have resigned or indicated they would soon resign from the university system’s union in protest of the union’s statement on Israel, a declaration that has been condemned as one-sided and antisemitic.

Though the union provided news outlets with the 50 figure, in an interview with Hamodia, CUNY Professor Sidney Weg said he was confident, judging from the number of people in groups texting back and forth and email chains, there are many more professors and staff who have left or are considering leaving.

When he saw the resolution, Weg said, he “quickly sent an email to the president of the PSC, [telling him] I can’t be part of this leftist, radical organization that speaks lies throughout the membership.”

The president attempted to dissuade Weg, arguing the union was uniquely suited to work on his behalf for better conditions. Weg responded, “I don’t want to be represented by a leftist, radical, organization, and I ended the conversation there. That was it.”

Weg, who has been working for the CUNY system since 1969, is currently a professor of biology at the New York City College of Technology. He said he has worn a yarmulke the whole time and never encountered animosity from students,even those from backgrounds that are not especially friendly to Israel. He has had unpleasant experiences with administrators, whom he says have discriminated against him and others, and one department head’s discrimination prompted him to move from the CUNY branch he had previously been in to his current role at City Tech.

Overall, Weg says, it varies from CUNY branch to CUNY branch. “Queens College seems to be the only place where Jewish students aren’t hassled,” he said.

“They keep using that number, 50,” he said. “It’s really much more. … [The union] is only saying 50 because the union doesn’t want to show that it’s losing that many more members. … It’s got to be more than 50. There are more than 50 Jewish professors who are very pro-Israel. You saw what they wrote about Israel. It’s total lies.”

The union’s statement was issued last month in response to the 11 days of violence between Israel and Hamas. The statement didn’t mention Hamas or the rockets it fired into Israeli civilian areas, but condemned “the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel.”

The statement “condemns racism in all forms, including antisemitism, and recognizes that criticisms of Israel, a diverse nation-state, are not inherently antisemitic,” and also said the union would be exploring support for BDS (the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) during the upcoming fall semester.

CUNY has been accused by Jews and Israel supporters of ignoring antisemitism and otherwise enabling it to flourish on its campuses, including allowing antisemitic statements and anti-Israel groups and events.

PSC President James Davis alleged that the backlash to the union’s stance was being driven by outsiders who hoped to weaken the union. “We are in active dialogue with members who have expressed concern over the resolution. Some have decided to remain, some to resign, and some to take time to think it over,” Davis told the Post.

“Many members are absolutely sincere in their distress,” he added, “but we also know that a pressure campaign has been launched by people who were not PSC members in the first place and have been waiting eagerly, since the 2018 anti-union Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, for an opportunity to peel members away from the PSC.” (The landmark 2018 Supreme Court decision ruled that public-sector unions cannot compel union dues from employees who choose not to join the union.)

An open letter was published online condemning the CUNY Professors’ Union’s statement; it has garnered the signatures of more than 2,000 CUNY students, alumni, staff and faculty.

The letter, calling for “Mutual Respect and Engagement Towards a Just Middle East Peace and a CUNY Free of Harassment,” said that universities, which champion diversity of thought, should commit to civil discourse and engagement on complex issues, and said the PSC failed in that regard.

The letter read, “The one-sided ‘CUNY Community Statement of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’ seeks to shut down discussion by condemning Israel for defending itself.

“The inflammatory language of this statement creates a hostile environment at CUNY, particularly for Jewish students, many of whom have been threatened and harassed by activists who seek to delegitimize Israel. It is CUNY’s responsibility to ensure security and safety for all students.”

It rejected calls for BDS and urged “the CUNY community to engage in informed, respectful, and civil conversation on conflicts at home, in the Middle East, and around the world.”

The PSC’s statement was condemned by members of the union, members of the Jewish community, and local politicians. Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who represents the 45th District in Brooklyn, wrote on social media, “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 Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican who represents the 51st Council District of Staten Island, blasted PSC. Borelli, who taught at College of Staten Island from 2008 to 2020, had declined to be a paying member of the union when he was a CUNY employee.

“I did not contribute to their PAC,” he told Hamodia. “PSC has revealed itself to be continuously antisemitic. All students should feel welcome at CUNY, and unfortunately for PSC, this includes Jews.”

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