May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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CUNY Campus Meeting Features Anti-Israel and Antisemitic Views

A meeting open to the City University of New York (CUNY) campus community that featured representatives of organizations with a wide range of causes, also included some professing antisemitic and anti-Israel views.

The Jewish Link was alerted to the virtual meeting by one of the attendees who shared, on condition of anonymity, their observations and a recording made of the more than 12-minute speech given by Nerdeen Kiswani, who had been sharply criticized for her antisemitic 2022 commencement address at CUNY School of Law.

In the meeting, Kiswani noted she is working to “dismantle the Zionist colonization and occupation of my homeland that I’m fighting to return to within my lifetime.”

She also defended this year’s law school commencement speaker, Fatima Mohammed, who also came under fire from politicians, CUNY’s chancellor and board of trustees and Jewish organizations for a speech that was almost entirely devoted to lambasting Zionists and Israel.

“There was a reason we came to this school and a reason Fatima was chosen,” she told the gathering. “She was elected by her class because they knew she would represent those ideals…Everyone knew she was president of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) just like they knew I was president of SJP the year before.”

Kiswani is founder and director of Within Our Lifetime, a New York City anti-Israel activist group that was banned from Instagram for violence-inciting hate speech, where she has glorified the Intifada.

The open meeting for the community, CUNY students, teachers and friends was advertised extensively on social media and drew about 50 participants, some of whom identified themselves as faculty or alumni. It appeared to be an event run in partnership with a number of CUNY-based organizations, including RAFA (Rank and File Action), CUNY4Palestine, CUNY4Abortion Rights, and Faculty First Responders. However, the source expressed concern that at least one event organizer is also a Professional Staff Congress (PSC) delegate adding, “Since the union has already demonstrated its anti-Zionist leanings, it’s concerning to see who their leadership is.”

The PSC has endorsed the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

New York is one of 35 states that requires its pension fund to divest from any company that participates in BDS, a movement considered antisemitic by most Jewish organizations and the State Department, and that has been overwhelmingly condemned by Congress.

Screenshots of the chat during a virtual community meeting to keep the “far-right” off CUNY campuses drew students, faculty, alumni teachers and friends, but featured some speakers and participants who espoused antisemitic and anti-Israel views.

RAFA describes itself on its website as “a group of militant rank & file activists at CUNY challenging the culture of austerity in higher education and demanding a more democratic fighting union.”

Faculty First Responders is a national group whose website said it responds to right-wing attacks in certain media, political organizations and from politicians, which result in online threats and harassment of faculty. It monitors the websites most responsible for generating the threats.

Kiswani accused Zionist organizations and donors of “making it their life’s work to go after us” and said their actions have inspired her and others “that the work we’re doing is crucial even if all we’re doing is just costing the Zionists millions of dollars on these things. It’s just better to take that away in that way than ending up as bullets in the chests of Palestinian children, which our tax dollars frequently do as we give millions of dollars to Israel everyday instead of putting them back in our schools like CUNY.”

Kiswani claimed CUNY is moving toward privatization and charged the university with acquiescing to “these Zionist organizations and donors” who want to cut funding every time Palestine is mentioned and who “created a false narrative” that Jewish students were unsafe at the graduation.

Additionally, during the meeting the source said the first four presenters discussed keeping what they considered the “far right” off-campus.

Among those speakers was Amal Thabateh, the Michael Ratner Justice Fellow at Palestine Legal, where she “challenges the censorship, surveillance and suppression of advocates for Palestinian liberation,” according to the organization’s website. She is a graduate of the CUNY School of Law. The source said she discussed the silencing of Palestinian voices and that pro-Israel groups are feigning or making up antisemitism accusations “to silence Palestinian advocates.”

The source countered those charges, stating, “We know that Fatima and others accused of antisemitism are absolutely guilty of anti-Jewish tropes and libels on their social media, and [through their] speech and actions, not to mention supporting terrorism or calling for intifada. And it’s quite disingenuous to assume that Jews just make up antisemitism accusations.”

Later during the question and answer period Kiswani was asked to define the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but she spent half of that almost six-minute answer, also provided to The Jewish Link, speaking about the Islamophobia she said has always been rampant at CUNY, which she claimed has been overlooked. She further claimed teachers basically called her a terrorist, and that “we’re constantly defending ourselves in order to just not to be fired or kicked out.”

Kiswani said antisemitism and anti-Zionism were “two very distinct things” and that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully in Palestine prior to the “settler colonial state that was established to colonize Palestine to create an ethno-state where…Jewish people have all the rights…That’s what Zionism is. Judaism is completely different from that. I’m not just against the practices of Israel but its very existence.”

The source said that as the event was ending, “Globalize the campus intifada” was typed into the chat and then liked by several participants including the PSC delegate. The presenter at the time, Conor ‘Coco’ Tomas Reed, read it and said, “Globalize the intifada. Absolutely. Those are some good closing words.”

On his website Reed describes himself as “an organizer of radical cultural movements at the City University of New York, and as the 2022-2023 Postdoctoral Fellow in Social Justice in Higher Education in the Public Lab at the CUNY Graduate Center.”

Another participant typed in the chat, “Yes. Hit those Zionist fascist Nazis where it HURTS! “

The program closed with the explanation that this was the first in what they hoped would be a summer series with several meetings devoted to combating the so-called “far-right,” according to the source.

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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