The City University of New York (CUNY) has a serious anti-Semitism problem. This is no secret. Reports of anti-Semitic incidents have been streaming out for years. What is particularly disturbing, however, is the role that has been played by CUNY faculty and particularly the administration.
This was most recently illustrated by the revelation that CUNY’s chief diversity officer, Saly Abd Alla, was assigned to investigate a complaint filed about anti-Semitism notwithstanding the fact that she was previously a “civil rights director” at the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization notorious for its anti-Semitic positions and anti-Semitic staff.
This is far from the only case in which CUNY administrators and faculty have demonstrated either their own bigotry or a distinct lack of concern for anti-Semitism. A complaint filed by the Brandeis Center to the U.S. Department of Education detailed how faculty and administrators at a program at CUNY’s Brooklyn College harassed and intimidated Jewish students.
This included a professor who told Jewish immigrants that they are “oppressors” and that Jewish students need to get their “whiteness” in check. Others told Jewish students to stay quiet and keep their heads down when confronted with anti-Jewish harassment.
How telling Jews to just hide lives up to CUNY’s diversity and inclusion statement and its commitment to ensure “genuine participative membership” remains a mystery.
Another complaint, filed by the American Center for Law & Justice, detailed numerous other instances of faculty and administrators behaving badly when it came to anti-Semitism.
Particularly notable is how they not only ignored Jewish concerns, but often added insult to injury. When a college official ejected Jewish students from an event for simply holding a fact sheet about Zionism, Brooklyn College refused to admit wrongdoing for over a year and then made baseless claims that the students had been “disruptive.”
Another incident involving swastikas in a campus bathroom at John Jay College saw the administration jump to denialism and claim it was “false and nothing more than unsubstantiated rumor” before later being forced to admit it did find the swastikas and even possessed photos of them.
The situation has gotten so bad that both the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have gotten involved. While the OCR investigation is ongoing, the EEOC has determined that there is reasonable cause to believe Jewish professors have been discriminated and retaliated against, and that CUNY and its Professional Staff Congress created a “hostile working environment” for observant Jews and Zionists.
Far from taking these concerns seriously, CUNY officials have rubbed them in the Jewish community’s face. Assigning Abd Alla as chief diversity officer to investigate such complaints, notwithstanding her past association with CAIR, is only one example.
At Kingsborough Community College (KCC), an advocate of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was recently appointed to its diversity, equity and inclusion search committee, which included not a single Jewish member. This came despite repeated inquiries to KCC President Claudia Schrader from the KCC professor who was the subject of the EEOC determination as to what steps were being taken to ensure the committee’s decisions would protect observant and Zionist Jews.
In a complaint filed by the Brandeis Center over anti-Semitism at the University of Vermont, for which the OCR just opened an investigation, attorneys Alyza Lewin and Denise Katz-Prober eloquently explained why harassment of Jews for their Zionism is unlawfully discriminatory: “Zionism is as integral to Judaism as observing the Jewish Sabbath or maintaining a kosher diet. Of course, not all Jews observe the Sabbath or keep kosher, but those who do clearly are expressing important components of their Jewish identity.”
“Similarly, not all Jews are Zionists,” they said. “But for many Jews, including many Jewish students at UVM, identifying with and expressing support for the Jewish homeland is also a sincere and deeply felt expression of their Jewish ethnic identity.”
“Harassing, marginalizing, demonizing and excluding these Jewish students on the basis of the Zionist component of their Jewish identity is just as unlawful and discriminatory as attacking a Jewish student for observing the Sabbath or keeping kosher,” they concluded.
At CUNY, the anti-Semitism is comprehensive. In addition to rampant “anti-Zionism,” such as blaming “the Zionist administration” for tuition costs, faculty groups have also engaged in discriminatory actions like intentionally holding meetings on the Jewish Sabbath in order to exclude observant Jews.
That CUNY’s “chief diversity officer” comes from an organization which is avowedly “anti-Zionist” (and which tells followers to “pay attention” to synagogues because the “polite Zionists” are “not your friends”) demonstrates that the anti-Semitic rot is not only deep, but institutional.
It also evidences the disturbing reality that, at least in this case, academia is not an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism. To the contrary, the CUNY system itself appears to be the problem.
David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).
This article was originally published by CAMERA.