April 13, 2024
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Criticism Leads CUNY to Establish Antisemitism Protocols

After being repeatedly called out by governing officials, professors, students and Jewish organizations for allowing antisemitism to proliferate on its campuses, the City University of New York (CUNY) is in the process of setting up a protocols to report incidents of antisemitism and bigotry and implement training of staff and students using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as one of its guides.

The university has also announced a partnership with Hillel International whereby seven of its 25 campuses will be among 12 colleges nationally to be included in the expansion of Hillel’s three-year-old Campus Climate Initiative, whose goal is to enable Jewish students to feel comfortable expressing their identity and values free of antisemitism, harassment or marginalization.

Among the other initiatives being undertaken by CUNY is formalizing the expansion of its student exchange programs and academic partnerships in Israel in collaboration with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

“We have remained vigilant and unequivocal in our intolerance of antisemitism, yet we know more needs to be done globally and locally to combat antisemitism and bigotry in all forms,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodréguez in a prepared statement. “I’m proud of our growing partnership with Hillel International and grateful that the organization selected our campuses for their Campus Climate Initiative, which works to end antisemitism and build safe learning environments in which all students can thrive, regardless of race or religion.”

The university expects to have the reporting portal in operation sometime in the next month, said university spokesperson Kathleen Lucadamo, adding specifics on how the $750,000 disbursed to campuses will be made available by the end of year.

Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, a member of the governing body’s higher education committee and its Jewish caucus, is among those who called out the university for allowing antisemitism to become “pervasive” and “ongoing for years.” She along with Ilya Bratman, executive director of Hillel at Baruch College in Manhattan, and a student met in July with Glenda Grace, CUNY senior vice chancellor for institutional affairs, strategic advancement and special counsel, to discuss the problem.

That followed a seven-hour hearing held June 30 by the council’s higher education committee where the university was lambasted for its lack of action in protecting Jews. During the hearing, a parade of students and staff told harrowing tales of being subject to antisemitic harassment by fellow students and faculty—in some cases opting to go virtual for their own safety—and of faculty resigning from the CUNY Professional Staff Union because of its anti-Israel stance as well as being forced out of the university itself.

A vocal critic of CUNY’s response to mounting antisemitic incidents and harassment of Jewish students and staff, Vernikov called the latest moves “monumental” since the university had previously failed to keep records of antisemitic incidents reported by students and faculty and its diversity and inclusion had failed to include Jews as a protected group.

Among the other initiatives the university is undertaking is incorporating antisemitism in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) university-wide and in campus-based trainings that don’t currently include it and expanding DEI training for staff, administrators and student leaders to help them understand and recognize the various forms of antisemitism, utilizing educational tools such as IHRA. IHRA is a non-legally binding resolution adopted in 2016 by 31 member countries, including the U.S., stating that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and cites several examples, including the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

The boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel has been a lightning rod for antisemitic incidents at CUNY, prompting the faculty union resignations and the formation of S.A.F.E. CUNY, whose mission is to call out hatred in academia and take action against it. The organization has supported pro-Zionist faculty members who have sued the faculty union for its pro-BDS and anti-Israel positions and who don’t want “their discriminators” representing them. In addition, S.A.F.E. CUNY has backed students at Brooklyn College who have brought Title VI action based on the university’s “horrific history of antisemitism and bullying of Jews.” Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any program or institution that receives federal funds.

It has also come out against the CUNY School of Law faculty for its passage of a pro-BDS resolution and sharply criticized allowing a pro-BDS activist who was banned from Instagram for hate speech against Jews, be its student speaker at its last graduation ceremony.

CUNY’s web page portal for reporting campus incidents will not only facilitate and standardize reporting of antisemitism and other bigotry but will also connect to individual campus reporting sites and be shared with the college president or dean, who will be required to report on these cases on a semi-annual basis and develop policy and training when appropriate.

In addition to the central reporting system, the new initiative instructs CUNY presidents and deans to share with their campus communities the CUNY Policy on Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination, including the names, titles and contact information of all appropriate resources at the college to ensure widespread recognition of acts believed to be antisemitic as well as the channels that are in place to report them both centrally and on each campus.

By Debra Rubin

 

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