June 17, 2024
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Israel Accused of ‘Settler Colonialism,’ ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in College Exhibit

A pro-Palestinian display mounted earlier this month at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), which accuses Israel of “occupying” Palestinian land and “ethnic cleansing” has touched off a storm of controversy.

The exhibit, located outside the college office of the vice president of student affairs in a long corridor between buildings that is a frequent hangout for students, came as somewhat of a surprise, said Avraham Goldstein, an assistant professor of mathematics. Until now he said the college has had minimal problems with the antisemitic boycott divestment sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel that has wracked many of the campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY).

The exhibit, “Visual Timeline of Occupied Palestinian Land,” was brought to Goldstein’s attention by Jenna Hirsch, a colleague and associate professor of mathematics at the college. He is a board member of S.A.F.E. (Students and Faculty for Equality) CUNY, a group of 300 pro-Zionist professors, staff and students.

S.A.F.E. CUNY launched an investigation, learning that the exhibit was funded by the college’s Social Justice and Equity Center, formed with money from the college’s President’s Fund for Excellence and Innovation.

The display accused Israel of “settler colonialism” and “military occupation,” and also featured such allegations as the removal of indigenous plants to put in “European invasive species.”

Included was a QR code linking to information on Students for Justice in Palestine and Within Our Lifetime, whose website states: “We uphold the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland in all of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This requires that we stand against the entirety of the Zionist settler-colonial project and for the national liberation of all of Palestine so that those in exile can return to live in freedom and dignity.”

The expression “from the river to the sea” has been used by terrorist organizations and is widely understood to mean a call for a Palestinian state that would encompass the entirety of Israel, implying there would be no more Jewish state.

The President’s Fund was formed through a $30 million donation in December 2020 from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott—the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos. When she announced the gift, Scott cited her desire to support organizations and institutions that advocate for initiatives that include addressing food insecurity, equity, race and inclusion, economic mobility and support for Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities.

“She donated this money to promote equality and diversity and fight against racism,” said Goldstein, who said efforts are being made to contact Scott. “She seems like a genuinely good person, and we want her to know this is how the college is using her money.”

After S.A.F.E CUNY sent out photos and tweets of the exhibit and after receiving numerous complaints from students and staff, the college removed any information about the exhibit from its website, said Goldstein.

It also issued an apology last week that read: “We offer our deepest and sincerest apologies to anyone who was offended and felt unsafe. We are moving forward now with renewed commitment to our mission, and we will raise the bar for ourselves, and be more deliberate in making our campus a safe and welcoming setting.”

However, the college is also screening the film “Farha” on March 31 as part of its Palestinian Solidarity Series. Students will be given one credit if they attend. The film is set in 1948 and depicts the Palestinian diaspora through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl. The Jordanian film has been criticized by Israeli and Jewish groups for its depiction of Israeli soldiers murdering a Palestinian family, including shooting a baby, during the War of Independence.

Among the events in the series was a March 7 lecture, “Let’s Talk Palestine,” by Palestinian activist Maryam Shuaib, creator and owner of the website that supports globalizing the Intifada.

Goldstein and Hirsch wrote an email March 21 to College President Anthony Munroe and members of the Social Justice and Equity Center asking, in line with other series it has sponsored such as the Palestinian one, to present another on the indigenous rights of the Jewish people and Zionism. They requested the programming include an informational display next to the office of the vice president for student affairs covering the historical events of the indigenous Jewish people in their historic homeland; a film that the professors will select covering expulsions of Jews from the towns and cities in the Holy Land; and a lecture from Goldstein, a rabbi and a Jewish rights activist, regarding the massacres and expulsions of Jews from their historic homelands in the 20th century.

Hirsch and Goldstein stipulated the programming should run between Yom HaShoah on April 17 through early May in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month. They also questioned whether a stipend would be available for the activities.

“Like other programs you have offered, this program on indigenous Jewish identity aligns with BMCC’s diversity and inclusiveness competency and should therefore be offered for credit,” read the email, which Goldstein provided to The Jewish Link. There has been no response as of March 27.

However, Goldstein said soon after the email, comments were posted accusing him of being anti-Muslim and racist on the Rate My Professor website. “They said I said things about Arabs that were horrible,” he remarked. “In 10 years I’ve gotten maybe two comments on Rate My Professor. Here I got two in one day.”

Goldstein wrote to Rate My Professor, which flagged the comments, which are now under review.

By Debra Rubin

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