Anit-Zionist Slogans Dominate City University of New York Student Protest, Administration Looks Other Way

“Zionists out of CUNY! Zionists out of CUNY,” shouted protesters who gathered at Hunter College in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon, ostensibly to fight for free tuition and other benefits.

“Intifada! Intifada! Long live the Intifada,” they chanted, as a group of Jewish students waved Israeli flags.

A Hunter College representative, who had not been made aware of the demonstration — calls for which on social media were blatantly antisemitic — responded Thursday evening: “The rally just took place. There were less than 50 students and it was totally focused on tuition. There was no claim of antisemitism.”

The protest outside of Hunter College, part of the nation-wide Million Student March set for November 12, was advertised on Facebook by “NYC Students for Justice in Palestine” and other affiliate groups, using antisemitic slurs to attribute the financial plight of students in the City University of New York system to its “Zionist administration [that] invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology … through Zionist content of education… [aiming] to produce the next generation of professional Zionists.”

StandWithUs Northeast Region Director Shahar Azani told The Algemeiner on Friday morning that the Hunter event “is another example of the hijacking of various social causes by the anti-Israel movement. It contaminates the atmosphere on campus; poisons relationships between different groups; and keeps people further apart, thus distancing any hope for change. No student should feel marginalized or threatened while attending school. It is up to us to instill those values to the younger generation and to stand up to those who refuse to adhere to them. If we are unable to do so at our schools, one wonders what the point is of school at all.”

Responding to a query by The Algemeiner on Thursday morning, prior to the rally, CUNY vice chancellor for student affairs Frank Sanchez responded:

At the City University of New York, we cherish the freedom of students to express their views, consistent with the protections provided by the First Amendment. Student freedom in this regard is an essential attribute of a great University where the independent search for truth is held in the highest esteem. With such freedom, however, comes an abiding responsibility. This responsibility includes respect for the rights of others inside and out of CUNY and for the University’s obligation to maintain a safe environment for all members of its community. Students should also be cognizant of the efforts of a few to distract attention from important issues in higher education such as learning, access and quality by invoking discriminatory language reeking of thinly veiled bigotry, prejudice, antisemitism or other behavior inconsistent with our educational mission. We can help assure such recognition by the high premium we place on dialogue and discussion at CUNY and by the expression of our own views while respecting the rights of those with whom we may disagree. At the end of the day, CUNY will retain its status as a great institution of higher education where valuable knowledge is both transmitted and created and our sense of community is affirmed and strengthened.

Jewish organizations and CUNY alumni are concerned by the university’s lack of reaction to use on the part of its students of classical antisemitic messages and modern anti-Zionist libels, both on social media and on the premises on one of its colleges.

Calling the event and the university’s response to it “an outrage,” Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, a graduate of the CUNY system who served as a trustee for 15 years, forwarded The Algemeiner a copy of an email he sent to CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson to complain:

I am cautioning you and strongly urging that you have [CUNY Chancellor James B.] Milliken make a statement of condemnation of this virulent anti-Semitism. The blanket, meaningless omnibus statement about “free speech” is itself abhorrent, as we would not tolerate these activities against any other ethnic or minority group.

Failure to do so will have economic consequences for several of our schools’ foundations. I have received many angry e-mails, which I would be pleased to share with you. If these “pareve” responses from CUNY central continue, we must all remember that by far and away – that Zionists pay the bills in the donor category – and they’ll take a hike.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement condemning “Students for Justice in Palestine’s anti-Semitic exploitation of the Million Student March in the strongest terms.”

ADL New York Regional Director Evan R. Bernstein said,“By implicitly linking ‘  to the very real financial challenges that students face, SJP has invoked a classic anti-Semitic stereotype which blames Jews for the financial woes of others. Rhetoric like this is thinly veiled anti-Semitism and fosters an environment of hostility.”

ADL noted that other anti-Israel student groups around the country have been using the march to condemn Israel and call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), citing similar messages at Temple University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of leading Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner that he considers it “a good thing that CUNY has a stated policy that includes antisemitism as being inconsistent with its educational mission.”

However, he added, “Such inflammatory rhetoric that demeans and demonizes Zionism and Zionists and that attempts to link a vile extremist anti-Israel agenda to real-time economic and social issues relating to CUNY and the city of New York demands a more explicit condemnation from CUNY and from the political leadership of the city. Our community should join with fair-minded union leaders and other people of faith to see to it that this new lexicon of anti-Israel/Jewish hate is rejected by all New Yorkers.”

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor research institute, released a statement slamming the “continued abuse of US academic platforms and student activity by anti-Israel groups and NGOs should trouble all those interested in liberal values and quality education.”

“This is yet another example of antisemitic speech aimed at American Jewish students, delivered under the guise of criticizing Israel and its supporters,” Steinberg said.