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CUNY Diversity Forum Draws Criticism Over Host Saly Abd Alla

It’s a master class in “gaslighting.”

A former director of what critics call an antisemitic group that bashes Israel is hosting CUNY’s first “Diversity Dialogue” for employees at the public university system, which has been beset with allegations of antisemitism.

Saly Abd Alla, who once worked as the civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, will host Monday’s discussion. It is expected to be an “in depth dive” about diversity, equity and inclusion programming. Todd Craig, an English professor at Medgar Evers College, is the presenter.

The role of Abd Alla, who is CUNY’s chief diversity officer, as moderator of the forum drew immediate condemnation after a tweet from Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (S.A.F.E. CUNY), which was founded to fight antisemitism.

Jeffrey Lax, a Kingsborough Community College professor and a founder of the group, called the university’s recent history of antisemitism “a well-documented but unaddressed cancer” and said having Abd Alla host the “event feels like we have now reached stage 4 of the cancer.”

Abd Alla’s had been overseeing a discrimination complaint tied to Lax until he objected and it was assigned to outside counsel.

“Was David Duke or Farrakhan not available @ChancellorCUNY? This is gaslighting at its finest,” tweeted the New York City-based group StopAntisemtism.

Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, said the group gave CUNY a failing grade in its 2022 report on campus antisemitism “partially because they do not include Jews in their DEI efforts.”

The group called for Abd Alla’s removal from her role.

Monday’s diversity discussion is as part of Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez’ “Campus Climate Support Initiative.” The series is expected to address “sensitive and important topics such as confronting anti-Semitism, fighting gender-based discrimination….and combating anti-Muslim hatred, among others.”

CUNY on Friday said the program would be a webinar instead of in person “due to the significant interest in attending this program virtually.”

City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, a Republican from Brooklyn, said she was glad to see CUNY addressing discrimination and antisemitism.

“But we must also be assured that in any discussions about antisemitism, the Jewish students and community are represented by experts who are familiar with all forms of antisemitism, including but not limited to anti-Zionism,” she said.

CUNY was accused of being a “pervasively hostile environment for Jewish students” in a civil rights complaint filed in July with the  US Department of Education.

The state Division of Human Rights is investigating whether whether the School of Law discriminated against Jews when its faculty council passed a resolution supporting the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

The university said last fall it would spend $1 million to tackle antisemitism including an online portal to track hate crimes.

“Our University recently dispersed $600,000 to 24 campuses for work to combat hate and central offices will utilize $150,000 to support its campus climate work, including monthly discussions and conversations on issues pertaining to discrimination,” said CUNY spokesman Joseph Tirella.

“The attacks against Central’s highly qualified chief diversity officer, who is hosting the first of these HR-led dialogues for our employees, are another example of how critical it is to have more dialogue to combat bias and misinformation.”

Abd Alla did not immediately return a request for comment.