OpinionColumn

Look who’s in charge of protecting the Jews at CUNY

Adjunct faculty member Ilya Bratman formed a group called CUNY Alliance for Inclusion, meant to counter the university union’s antisemitic and anti-Zionist positions. It has not.

A group of pro-Israel and Jewish supporters gathered outside a New York City Council hearing on growing anti-Semitism at CUNY schools, particularly the law school, on June 30, 2022. Credit: #EndJewHatred.
A group of pro-Israel and Jewish supporters gathered outside a New York City Council hearing on growing anti-Semitism at CUNY schools, particularly the law school, on June 30, 2022. Credit: #EndJewHatred.
Simon Deng, an escaped jihad slave from South Sudan, is accompanied in Israel by Dr. Charles Jacobs (pictured), President of the American Anti-Slavery group.
Charles Jacobs
Charles Jacobs is co-founder of the Jewish Leadership Project.

In response to public outrage over the pervasive, systemic, years-long scandal of antisemitism at CUNY, the university formed its inaugural Advisory Council on Jewish Life. At first, Chancellor Matos Rodríguez refused the demands of Jewish faculty and student victims at CUNY to be represented on the council, stating, “… [T]he advisory council on Jewish life will be comprised of Jewish leaders in New York who are external to the university” [emphasis added].

But in late May or early June of 2023, secretly and behind the scenes, Rodríguez reversed himself and appointed Ilya Bratman to the council. Bratman is an adjunct faculty member at CUNY, as well as the executive director of Hillel at Baruch College and several other campuses. Bratman may be the most prominent Hillel director across the university. In some ways, this seemed to be a concession to the Jewish community under siege.

Still, several aspects of Bratman’s record suggest that the same CUNY administration that had for so long ignored the anti-Semitism on its campus—and which is under constant and considerable pressure by leftist and Islamist extremist stakeholders to deny that anti-Zionism is antisemitism—might not have been bending to Jewish interests at all and indeed might have had a quite different motive for this choice.

In 2021, after CUNY’s 30,000-member staff union, the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY (PSC-CUNY), adopted a vile anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist BDS resolution, Ilya Bratman formed a group called the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI) that purportedly would counter the union’s antisemitic and anti-Zionist positions.

But Bratman’s CAFI group failed, even to put up a good fight. While PSC-CUNY union delegates sponsored rallies under the slogan “#zionismOutOfCUNY,” CAFI never condemned its BDS activist president, James Davis, who lied to the New York City Council about his support of boycotts against Israel.

Neither did CAFI condemn the university’s appointment of former CAIR director and BDS activist Saly Abd Alla to oversee all discrimination, including antisemitism, across CUNY’s 25 campuses. Instead, Bratman joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) in negotiating a “discrimination portal” that included Saly Abd Alla as its head and listed the CAIR-endorsed Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA) on the page.

The JDA was created specifically as a counter to the core principle that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. CAIR is viewed by most mainstream Jewish organizations as an antisemitic organization. The FBI has connected CAIR to Hamas, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist group, and the bureau no longer works with CAIR because of its ties to terrorism and its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror funding case in U.S. history. Even the United Arab Emirates has designated CAIR itself as a terrorist organization. The Bratman-JCRC-approved portal has done nothing to combat antisemitism. It could be argued that it only enables it further.

Why so flaccid a response from CAFI? As it turns out, Bratman aligned CAFI with J Street. It sponsored an event with a J Street affiliate, Women Wage Peace. J Street is not known for defending Jews or Israel against anti-Semitism. Indeed, while proclaiming itself to be “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” J Street supports some forms of the anti-Israel BDS movement and is seen by much of the Jewish community as spending most of its time blaming Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians and thereby providing Israel’s foes with ammunition. J Street aims to replace AIPAC as the go-to Jewish policy center for those who seek to press Israel to make “concessions for peace.”

If you were a CUNY administrator looking for Jews who wanted “peace” with their adversaries on your campus, Jews who would be eager to make concessions, you could do worse than pivot quietly from your “all external” rule and install Ilya Bratman as the Jewish defender of CUNY’s Jews. It was known that Bratman was a close ally of the feckless New York JCRC, which also, shamelessly, made no objection to a CAIR operative and BDS activist becoming the chief diversity officer for all of CUNY. The JCRC has been criticized for working directly with Bratman to negotiate this very portal’s parameters.

Finally, there is this: On May 22, 2021, days after an unprovoked Hamas indiscriminately rained missiles over Israeli cities, killing civilians (including a 5-year-old child), the “Scholars of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies” issued a vile statement condemning Israel’s defensive response, calling “the Zionist movement” a “settler colonial paradigm” that has brought “real benefit to many Jews, but … unjust systems of Jewish supremacy, ethnonational segregation, discrimination, and violence against Palestinians.” The concept of “Jewish supremacy,” we might note, was adapted from material published by infamous neo-Nazi David Duke in 2003.

While vulgar and hateful language like this from known antisemites in academia is deeply painful to Jewish people, nowhere has the antisemitic vitriol been more pervasive or prevalent in recent years than at CUNY, dubbed by some as “America’s most anti-Semitic university.” Indeed, the aforementioned statement’s signatory list is replete with anti-Zionist/anti-Jewish scholars who consistently violate the tenets of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism with bigoted and discriminatory views of Israeli and Zionist Jews everywhere. (According to a Pew poll, eight-in-10 U.S. Jews say caring about Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them.)

Yet one name on the list of defamers raises puzzling questions: Ilya Bratman.

Maybe CUNY administrators discovered his name there and knew they’d found their man.

The selection of Bratman to represent CUNY’s Jews in the matter of antisemitism and anti-Zionism may be one of the greatest betrayals of the university’s Jewish community, which has been left defenseless by so many, including nearly everyone in CUNY’s administration.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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