newsSchools & Higher Education

CUNY removes IHRA Jew-hatred definition from bias reporting portal

The public school quietly excised the widely-used definition late last year, after initially pairing it with a fringe competing definition.

Shepard Hall, a Gothic revival masterpiece from 1907 designed by George Browne Post, at City College of New York, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Credit: John Penney/Shutterstock.
Shepard Hall, a Gothic revival masterpiece from 1907 designed by George Browne Post, at City College of New York, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Credit: John Penney/Shutterstock.

On Oct. 11, four days after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, the City University of New York’s portal for reporting discrimination and retaliation included both the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism and the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism in a list of external resources.

By Nov. 10, archived versions of the website show, CUNY excised both the IHRA and the Jerusalem definitions.

Forty-three countries have adopted the IHRA definition, which comes with 11 contemporary examples of Jew-hatred that include “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” per its website. 

The Jerusalem definition, which has not been adopted as widely, says that the IHRA definition “caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism.” It also says that “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state,” calling Israel “apartheid” and the boycott Israel movement are not antisemitic.

CUNY leaders had pushed the portal to report discrimination and retaliation as an important part of its efforts to combat rising hatred of Jews and Israel on its campus, but it faced criticism of adopting an “all-lives-matter” for initially linking the IHRA and more fringe Jerusalem definitions.

The United States and dozens of countries, and New York State, have adopted the IHRA definition, which labels the application of double standards of Israel and comparisons between Israel and Nazis as examples of antisemitism. 

During the same time that CUNY removed the two definitions, the university faced a state-ordered investigation for antisemitism at CUNY.

A CUNY spokesman told JNS that the university removed the IHRA definition when it launched a dedicated page for “combating antisemitism.” The latter page, which is first listed on a prominent web archive site on Oct. 31, contains neither mention of nor links to the IHRA and Jerusalem definitions. 

At first, there was no mention of IHRA on that new page, but at some point after Nov. 18 at the earliest, it came to “reaffirm” and link to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “2020 proclamation and the guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, identifying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as a vital resource.”

“This use of the IHRA definition at CUNY will not diminish or infringe upon any rights protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the NYS Constitution, and shall not be construed to conflict with local, federal or state law,” CUNY states.

In February 2023, a CUNY spokesman told JNS that the portal is part of the university’s “effort to address antisemitism.” With the IHRA and Jerusalem definitions removed, the portal now lists seven external resources: the city’s human rights commission and the latter’s “LGBTQ protections info card”; the state’s human-rights division, hate-crimes task force, guide to discrimination based on gender identity or expression and guide to racial discrimination; and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

It does not list any resources specifically about antisemitism.

Jeffrey Lax, chair of the business department at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College is co-founder of S.A.F.E. CUNY, which advocates for Zionist Jews across CUNY’s 25 campuses. Lax was one of four CUNY professors that the public university investigated—allegedly as retaliation for vigorously reporting antisemitism on campus. 

Lax and another professor have since been cleared.

He told JNS that CUNY’s chancellor and its chief diversity officer “should be immediately terminated” for removing the IHRA definition from the discrimination complaint portal.

Saly Abd Alla, CUNY’s chief diversity officer, referred JNS questions about the removal of the IHRA definition from CUNY’s portal to the university’s media relations office. (Abd Alla was a director at the Council on Islamic Relations, which has a long history of antisemitism, but has apparently deleted her LinkedIn profile.)

Sophia McGee, CUNY’s director of intercultural student engagement and dialogue, did not return repeated JNS requests for comment.

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