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Opinion: Antisemitism at CUNY School of Law

Queens Daily Eagle

By Avi Posnick

June 17, 2022

THE CUNY SCHOOL OF LAW. PHOTO VIA CUNY

The CUNY School of Law has become increasingly hostile to Jewish students and faculty who do not pass an exacting litmus test on Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity. Those who fail this test face increasing animosity from fellow students and staff, and concerningly, apathy from the university administration. Multiple incidents in recent weeks and months have shown how far the CUNY School of Law must go to become a welcoming environment for all members of its community.


In May 2022, a CUNY School of Law commencement address was delivered by Nerdeen Kiswani, a graduate who has called for the destruction of Israel, expressed support for gun violence against Zionists and threatened to set a man’s IDF sweatshirt on fire. Within Our Lifetime, the organization founded by Kiswani, has sought to normalize terrorism against Israeli civilians through repeated calls to “globalize the Intifada” at its protests. The most recent “Intifada,” which lasted from 2000 until 2005, was a brutal campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks which resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and injuries in Israel.


During the commencement speech, Kiswani announced that the CUNY Law faculty voted to endorse a sweeping anti-Israel resolution brought forth by the CUNY Law Student Government Association in December 2021. Amongst other demands, the resolution seeks to end study abroad programs in Israel, terminate partnerships with Israeli academics and institutions and "cut all ties” with several Jewish organizations, including Hillel.


While CUNY students and faculty have organized and mobilized to oppose this bias and bigotry, the university administration has enabled or avoided meaningful action against it. In June 2021, the CUNY School of Law made a statement praising and defending Kiswani. The statement cited the social justice principles in CUNY Law’s mission, indicating that the university does not consider fighting against oppression and marginalization of Jewish students to be a priority.


Professor Felix Matos Rodríguez, chancellor of the whole CUNY system, distanced the university from the December 2021 anti-Israel resolution. He released a similar response to CUNY Law faculty members endorsing the resolution and Kiswani’s commencement address. However, he repeatedly framed concerns from the Jewish community as little more than tensions stemming from “opinions of a political nature” between people on “conflicting sides of polarizing issues.” He explained that CUNY Law commencement speakers are peer-selected and "the opinions they express are their own.”


While the opinions of CUNY students, faculty, and organizations are their own and their free speech rights must be protected, the university also has every right to condemn those who openly promote hatred and hostility. It may be legal to express support for violence or try to isolate communities on campus, but CUNY must not excuse, normalize, or reward such dangerous expressions of hate.


Chancellor Rodríguez highlighted the variety of campus organizations supporting “Asian American, Black, Christian, Jewish, Hispanic, LGBTQI+, and Muslim communities…that provide vital spaces for our students to develop and explore their identities and viewpoints as individuals and as members of a larger group.” What he failed to do was state the obvious: platforming those who spread hate and target prominent Jewish organizations on campus increases hostility towards Jewish students and is a violation of the university’s mission.


CUNY’s statements reflect, at best, a laissez-faire attitude towards antisemitism on campus and a woeful inability to balance protection of academic freedom with ensuring an inclusive learning environment for all students. The university administration has consistently failed to acknowledge the stark distinction between political criticism of Israel’s government and policies, and anti-Israel rhetoric that descends into bigotry against Jews. Calls for the annihilation of Israel, violence against people who support Israel’s existence and isolation of the most prominent campus Jewish groups are clear examples of hate, and it is shameful that CUNY has failed to recognize that reality.


CUNY is now facing consequences for this negligence. The NYC Council’s Higher Education Committee under chairman Eric Dinowitz is launching a probe investigating allegations of antisemitism in the CUNY system and Councilwoman Inna Vernikova pulled funding from CUNY Law. Council Member James F. Gennaro stated, "Let the record show that my office is severing all ties with CUNY Law School effective immediately. I will no longer entertain any funding requests from CUNY Law School, nor will my office be partnering with this institution for any future events or initiatives."


Jewish and Israeli students deserve the same protections against hate and intolerance as any other community at CUNY, and it should not be up to the City Council to ensure this happens. While CUNY has failed to live up to its mission thus far, we can only hope that the City Council’s investigation will be the wake up call that forces the university to finally take real action against antisemitism.


Avi Posnick is the Northeast Regional Director for StandWithUs, an international education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.


Read the full article here.

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