CUNY Announces Steps to Combat Campus Antisemitism

By Matis Glenn

From left: Queens College Hillel President Avi Koenig, Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal, Queens College President Frank H. Wu, CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, FCAS Executive Director Matthew E. Berger and JCRC-NY Executive Vice President & CEO Gideon Taylor.

The City University of New York and The Foundation to Combat Antisemitism hosted an event in Queens College Thursday, to discuss efforts to address growing antisemitism in city colleges.

CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, who came under fire last year for skipping a city council hearing in which CUNY students shared their harrowing experiences with antisemitism, attended the event, called “Paint the University Blue,” along with State Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, Hillel staff, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

A blue square image, to be worn as a pin and disseminated on social media, was introduced as a symbol of spreading awareness of antisemitism. FCAS has been promoting the use of the symbol on social media.

“We will not waver in our dedication to fighting antisemitism, and we want our Jewish students, faculty and staff to know they are valued and protected at our University,” Matos Rodríguez said at the event. “As we mark Jewish American Heritage Month, I call on our entire CUNY family to help us paint the University blue and stand up against intolerance. Today’s announcements are yet another way we are working to show that our University condemns antisemitism hatred in all its forms and will fight back.”

Matos Rodriguez announced that he was forming an Advisory Council on Jewish Life, a group of “prominent New York Jewish leaders,” including members of the Reform and Conservative New York Board of Rabbis that will first convene in June. Groups representing Orthodox Jews – which suffer the vast majority of antisemitic incidents nationwide – were not mentioned as candidates.

“All students have the right to feel safe and accepted  at our institutions of higher education no matter their race or religion,” Rosenthal wrote on social media following the event. “I applaud CUNY for announcing steps today to combat hate and bias across their campuses.”

“We are pleased that the City University of New York has adopted the Stand Up to Jewish Hate campaign to raise awareness and to empower its community to fight antisemitism,” FCAS Executive Director Matthew Berger said at the event. “Our hope is that Jewish students and community members across campuses will see the Blue Squares and know that they are welcome and supported, and that CUNY is committed to addressing antisemitism, all hate and all intolerance.”

City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R) who chaired last year’s hearing along with Councilmen Kalman Yeger (D) and Eric Dinowitz (D), was not invited to the event.

Last June’s seven-hour-long hearing featured testimonies from students and faculty decrying what they say is the increasingly hostile and intolerant culture in CUNY schools for Israeli and Jewish students, and a deep bias in the way faculty present Israel in relation with other countries when discussing human rights issues. Students shared stories of assault, threats from professors not to pass them if they don’t denounce Israel, among other forms of discrimination.

The hearing came shortly after a number of CUNY organizations denounced Israel, including the Professional Staff Conference – a union of 30,000 CUNY teachers and staff. While stopping short of adopting the full Boycott Divestment Sanctions agenda, the union declared that CUNY should have “discussions” to determine such a decision.

CUNY School of Law’s student and faculty associations have accepted BDS platforms in their entirety.

Matos Rodriguez has said repeatedly that under New York State law, CUNY is not allowed to adopt BDS.

Nerdeen Kiswani, a student at CUNY School of Law who repeatedly called for “death to Zionists” and publicly threatened to burn a Jewish student, was selected by the student body to deliver last year’s commencement speech at graduation.

Blue square pins and stickers were given to students with information about what antisemitism is and how to spread awareness about it, and it was announced that each of CUNY’s 24 campuses would receive antisemitism toolkits.

A CUNY spokesperson did not immediately return Hamodia’s questioning of if it will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism, and if delegitimization of Israel will be included in CUNY’s understanding of antisemitism.

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