June 22, 2024
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CUNY Portal Created to Report Antisemitism May Instead Encourage It, Critics Say

The City University of New York (CUNY) has made a virtual portal available for reporting antisemitism and discrimination, but some feel it may actually encourage antisemitism by posting a link to the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA), which critics say contains misleading and false information about Israel.

S.A.F.E. CUNY (Students and Faculty for Equality), a non-partisan organization that advocates for Zionist Jews discriminated against by CUNY and its faculty staff union, criticized the portal in a tweet, noting the university “outrageously touted” it “as a major step towards addressing antisemitism.”

The JDA defends “opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism” and declares Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as “not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.”

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.

The inclusion of JDA “nauseatingly includes the widely rejected CAIR-endorsed Jerusalem Definition of Antisemitism,” according to the tweet. CAIR is the Council of American-Islamic Relations that critics have labeled as an antisemitic group. Also troubling to S.A.F.E. CUNY is that Saly Abd Alla, the former director of civil rights for CAIR in Minnesota, is listed on the page as CUNY’s top diversity officer, essentially overseeing the portal. Abd Alla also hosted a “diversity dialogue” Feb. 27 for university employees, which has also elicited condemnation.

Jeffrey Lax, a professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn for 19 years, is one of six professors in a federal case challenging New York’s Taylor Law, which forces them to be represented by the university’s Professional Staff Congress, because they believe the union is hostile toward Jews.

He said there was a great deal of misinformation being spread about the CUNY portal, which created a virtual means to collect discrimination complaints for all protected classes, a process that had previously been done manually.

“That’s perfectly fine but it is dishonest to tout that as somehow combating the well-documented and widespread antisemitism problem at CUNY,” he said. “There’s nothing unique for antisemitism, no separate section for reporting antisemitism. You can use it to report discrimination against Hispanics, to report discrimination against Native Americans.”

“Much worse than this, however, is that the portal page makes what we believe is a distinct effort to [systematically] enable antisemitism,” said Lax, linking the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition as an outside source to be used as a reference in guiding antisemitism investigations at CUNY and then including a link to the JDA.

IHRA has been adopted by more than 1,110 entities while JDA “has been adopted by zero entities,” pointed out Lax, and is only used by those with “an insidious antisemitic agenda,” which he accused CUNY of legitimizing.

In a prepared statement CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez said the university was committed to fighting hate and antisemitism.

“Our university refuses to tolerate discrimination, antisemitism, or hate of any kind, and we want every member of the CUNY community to feel welcomed and safe on our campuses,” he said. “We must lead by example. This new reporting portal is one action among many we’re taking as a community to combat antisemitism and all forms of hatred at CUNY.”

Requests for comment on the allegations were not returned by the university.

“The anti-discrimination portal doesn’t do anything new,” claimed Michael Goldstein, an administrator and adjunct business professor at Kingsborough, who has long been a target of antisemitic harassment.

Goldstein has been employed for 33 years by the university, 24 of those at Kingsborough, where his father once served as president. In recent years he has had nails placed in the tires of his car and seen hateful graffiti scrawled on a picture of his father.

“It’s like sending a member of the Ku Klux Klan to investigate racism,” he said of Abd Alla’s role.

The East Brunswick resident is also part of the federal case involving the union and said while more overt incidents have stopped, the harassment has continued.

“I receive letters in the mail at college,” he said. “I get more hate letters in the mail at home. There was a call to fire me two or three months ago by an antisemitic group.”

Goldstein said nothing was being done by the university to stem the antisemitism directed at him. He has been relegated to a smaller office.

“I come to work and get paid but they are trying to get rid of me,” he noted. “I have been here quite a while and have seen changes happen. They keep telling me I’m a racist. Because of antisemitic faculty at the college I am in crisis. Because I believe in Israel at CUNY I’m considered a Palestinian killer.”

Goldstein said over his many years at the school he has taught without receiving any complaints from students.

“I’ve had every ethnicity of students—Indian students, Arab students, Muslim students without a problem,” said Goldstein. “My father built this college and I’m seeing it destroyed. CUNY is losing all its Jews. One day there will be no Jews here and they will wonder what happened.”

Goldstein said he believed the portal will do little to counter the trend.

“The whole thing is a joke,” he said, adding the portal “is just another whitewash. They’re using an antisemitic definition of Judaism.”

“You can’t use a portal when you’re being chased down a hallway,” said Goldstein, who lamented the changes on campus that have sent Jewish enrollment plummeting.

“If my father could see this, he would be rolling in his grave,” said Goldstein.

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