June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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CUNY Union’s Anti-Israel Resolution Leads to Resignations

Pro-Israel students and faculty are steeling themselves for a fight when classes resume next month at the 25 campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY), in the aftermath of a resolution passed by its Professional Staff Congress (PSC) calling Israel “a settler colonial state.”

The resolution has prompted the resignation of more than 50 professors from the union, with many more expected, and has been condemned by staff, students, politicians and Jewish organizations as antisemitic.

“We are looking at and anticipating a very hostile environment at CUNY,” said Ilya Bratman, the executive director of Hillel at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Bratman is on the executive committee and helped organize a coalition of students, faculty, alumni and concerned community members to engage in “informed, respectful and civil conversation” on conflicts at home, in the Middle East and around the world.

The CUNY Community Statement Encouraging Mutual Respect and Engagement Towards a Just Middle East Peace and a CUNY Free of Harassment already has almost 3,000 signatures. It is available at CUNYstatement.com.

Bratman said that based on what Jewish campus leaders have seen online, the task facing students and Jewish professors will be rocky. He estimates there are between 15,000-18,000 Jewish students at CUNY.

“We recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people and we support Israel’s right to exist in peace and to protect its citizens,” read part of the counter-statement. “Denying Israel the right to defend itself from thousands of rockets launched by Hamas is to deny its right to exist. The one-sided ‘CUNY Community Statement of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’ seeks to shut down discussion by condemning Israel for defending itself.”

Jeffrey Lax, an Orthodox professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn for the last 17 years, became among the first professors to resign on June 18, eight days after the PSC vote.

“Quite frankly the resolution is disgusting,” Lax said in a phone interview with The Jewish Link, adding the resolution condemns “the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation and use of lethal force by Israel,” but fails to take into account the targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization.

Jay Adler, a longtime full-time professor of English at Queen College who now is adjunct, also resigned, calling the resolution “much more anti-Israel than in support of the Palestinian people,” and said it was “one of many things in the CUNY system that create a hostile atmosphere for Jews.

“This is just the latest and most pronounced,” continued Adler, who noted that calling Israel a colonial state is antisemitic because it “in effect delegitimizes Israel” by using language that implies that “if Jews were settlers or colonizers they are not indigenous to the land.

“That everyone is entitled to self-identity except Jews is part of the antisemitic nature of the movement” being supported by the PSC through this resolution, he told The Jewish Link in an interview.

However, in a statement to The Jewish Link, PSC President James Davis denied that its statement supported the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel and insisted that had been previously misreported.

“The resolution says the PSC will ‘facilitate discussions at the chapter level of the content of this resolution and consider PSC support of the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions’,” said Davis, an English professor at Brooklyn College. “There is no predetermined outcome of those discussions and no guarantee they will happen at every chapter. This will be a very small part of the union’s activity, which is focused on protecting our members’ health and safety during the return to in-person operations and supporting our dedicated faculty and staff in providing a great education to CUNY students.”

He said the PSC has a “strong and stable membership base because our union has a long history of successfully fighting to improve the working conditions of our members and tenaciously advocating for accessible, quality public higher education and social justice and against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism.”

Davis stressed the resolution criticizes the policies of Israel, not the Jewish people, adding, “Conflating criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism is disrespectful to the Jewish members of the PSC who supported the resolution or have their own criticisms of Israel.”

He said the PSC reaches out to every member who resigns to listen to their objection and that some members who object to this resolution have chosen to stay because they realize leaving the union“ diminishes our collective influence,” and surrenders their vote and ability to shape PSC policy.

Bratman countered that the PSC statement only increased tensions around the already volatile atmosphere surrounding the Middle East, placing Jewish students and staff in an untenable position. However, his group’s statement seeks to lower those tensions.

“The [countering] statement seeks to show how unfortunate the effort to demonize Israel is,” he told The Jewish Link, with the goal being to highlight “how unbelievably biased and unfair the [PSC] resolution is along with some of the statements that have been made by faculty members.

“By trying to peddle this ideology, it is very clear to us that the union’s mission is not the improvement of conditions and creating benefits for our staff,” said Bratman, but instead “it’s trying to resolve the Palestinian crisis” and “destroy one nation” by accusing it of “apartheid and genocide” while ignoring such human rights abuses as Syria’s slaughter of 400,000 of its citizens and China’s imprisoning its Muslim Uighurs in detention camps.

The PSC resolution also cited reports from Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem accusing Israel of apartheid, and calls for discussions on the union potentially endorsing the BDS movement.

It comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the CUNY Student Senate in April rejecting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in favor of one put forward by CUNY Students for Justice in Palestine, CUNY Law Student Government and the Jewish Law Students Association, which is aligned with the Jewish Voice for Peace, which is considered anti-Israel by much of the organized Jewish community.

Lax, the grandson of Holocaust survivors whose great-grandparents and other relatives were murdered by the Nazis, was incensed by union officials’ denial that the resolution was anti-Jewish. “How dare they tell me what is antisemitic,” he said, pointing out the contradictory nature of the resolution calling Israel “a diverse nation-state” and one that practices apartheid.

“It is literally not possible to be both,” said Lax. “Saying Israel is an apartheid state is an antisemitic trope. Are Jews allowed in Gaza? What would happen to a Jew if he came into Gaza?”

He also noted the resolution calls on the Biden administration to end military aid to Israel, which “is divesting from Israel” and is in violation of anti-BDS orders and resolutions, including those of New York State.

Among the politicians who have criticized PSC is state Sen. Anna Kaplan, a Long Island Democrat who in a statement called its resolution “blatantly antisemitic” and voiced support for members who have resigned. She called Davis and the PSC members downplaying other members’ concerns “a knife in the back,” saying, “Their grievances are legitimate, and to disregard them in such a way speaks volumes about the climate of antisemitism that exists in this organization.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, a nonpartisan pro-Israel organization dedicated to combating antisemitism, especially on college campuses, sharply criticized the PSC in a statement to The Jewish Link, calling its resolution “shameful,” “one sided” and “inaccurate.”

Rothstein said: “Whitewashing over 4,000 rockets and missiles launched into Israeli civilian communities by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas reveals an utter lack of academic integrity. To minimize or ignore Hamas’ murder and attempted murder of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel, as well as their abuse of Palestinians living in Gaza, is reprehensible. CUNY’s administration should strongly condemn misleading statements that attempt to justify terrorism and antisemitism and urge PSC to rescind its resolution. CUNY’s administration has a responsibility to ensure university staff are creating a learning environment free from antisemitism, bias and misinformation.”

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