A 12-page report released Thursday claims that New York’s City University of New York (CUNY) has become the most systemically antisemitic United States school in just the past two years.
The report, compiled by Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY), an NGO that describes itself as an alliance of CUNY students or scholars, alleges that there are alarming levels of deep-rooted, systemic antisemitism at the highest levels of CUNY “perpetuated through lies, coverups, retaliation campaigns, intimidation against whistleblowers, and corruption that has penetrated the deepest corners and the most senior leaders of the university.”
Jeffrey Lax, the Orthodox Jewish business department chair at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College and founder of SAFE CUNY, told The Jerusalem Post that the report took months to research, source, and uncover.
“We received many tips on our email tip line from incredible CUNY sources and this really helped us to expose what the report reveals,” Lax, who does not wear his yarmulke on campus, said.
“Shockingly, in a city of 1.7 million (20%) Jews, our report reveals that a years long campaign has in 2023 resulted in the total expungement of Jews from senior leadership positions at CUNY. After the retirements of Jennifer Raab and Senior Vice Chancellor Pamela Silverblatt, there are no longer any Jews among CUNYs top 80 senior leadership, including 0 of 25 campus presidents,” Lax continued. “In a city with a 20% Jewish population, it is unfathomable that the largest urban US university located in that city failed to employ any Jewish administrative leaders by happenstance,” the report says.
“CUNY’s three most powerful leaders –the chancellor, the 23,000 member union president, and the head of diversity– are all anti-Zionists, CAIR supporters, and/or BDS activists,” Lax said.
“At the highest levels,” he continued, “we have found that the university doesn’t merely misunderstand antisemitism; its leaders actively work to reject and detract from the very meaning of antisemitism as it is defined by the overwhelming majority of Jews. We find this to be at least one of the direct causes of much of the antisemitism that has infected campuses across the university.”
The CUNY system, America’s largest urban public university, has historically promoted ties with Jewish students.
CUNY, which has long been part of the city’s social fabric, has 25 colleges with around 260,000 students and close to 20,000 faculty.
The report says that CUNY was, for many years, “a proud choice and a safe haven for the many communities of New York City’s 1.7 million Jews. Jewish students, faculty, and administrators once packed CUNY’s hallways, offices, and classrooms. Through the end of the 20th century –and into the early 2000s– Jewish students at Yeshivas were regularly recruited for admission, and Jewish faculty and administrators were hired subject to the same criteria as any other applicant. Jewish representation at CUNY was almost everywhere and nearly always proportionate with the surrounding, dense Jewish populations across New York City.”
The landscape at CUNY began to change dramatically roughly a decade ago, according to the report, which states that “campuses started to sharply cut recruiting visits to New York City’s Jewish schools, and some eventually eliminated visits to these schools entirely – even those adjacent to their campuses. Advertising in Jewish media outlets was reduced or eliminated even on campuses with extremely dense surrounding Jewish.”
The report goes on to cite a 2022 report by the non-profit Jewish advocacy group, StopAntisemitism, which found evidence that CUNY did not include Jews as part of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
By March 2023, the total elimination of all Jews from the 80 campus president and senior leadership positions was complete.
While the report shies away from investigating or re-investigating the “relentless barrage of antisemitic incidents since at least 2015,” CUNY has made a slew of headlines in recent years for anti-Jewish occurrences.
Last year, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a Title VI complaint against CUNY, which has 25 college campuses across the five boroughs. It alleges that CUNY has ignored a sustained pattern of antisemitic activity.
Numerous antisemitic incidents dating as far back as 2013 are listed in the complaint. Among them are several instances of students carving swastikas on school property. In all of these cases, CUNY was aware of the incidents and did nothing to stop them nor the situation, the complaint claims.
Rafaella Gunz was a student at CUNY but left the institution due to what she described as a “toxic” antisemitic environment.
“There was just a big sort of like, icing out of me, a big culture of exclusion amongst the Jews that don’t full-heartedly endorse the Palestinian cause by any means necessary,” said Gunz, who noted that the anti-Zionist CUNY Law Jewish Law Students Association was of no help. “Basically, I was just not welcome in the community, despite the fact that I agree with them on, like, 99% of issues.”
CUNY Law School faculty adopted a BDS resolution on May 11 that had been originally introduced and passed by the student government in December. The resolution officially endorses BDS, and calls on the institution to divest from Israel, end all Israeli student exchanges, and cut ties with any groups that “repress Palestinian organizing.”
“CUNY’s persistent and longstanding practice of ignoring antisemitism has enabled it to foment the horrifying Jew-hate that we are all seeing now across its campuses,” said SAFE CUNY.
On May 27, the New York Post reported that New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov pulled $50,000 in funding for the CUNY Law School over the faculty’s support of a Boycott, Sanction and Divestment (BDS) movement resolution.
“I have pulled funding from the program and redirected it to Legal Services NYC,” Vernikov, who is a Ukrainian-born Jew, told the NY Post. “It seems as if antisemitism is the only politically acceptable form of racism which exists. We must stop handing out free passes to antisemites like candy.”
Other controversies at CUNY included having Nerdeen Kiswani, the founder of the anti-Israel group Within Our Lifetime (WOL), give the CUNY Law graduation commencement speech on May 12.
Kiswani has been under scrutiny in the past for threatening to light a person’s IDF sweatshirt on fire, as well as several controversial statements.
Gunz, a former classmate of Kiswani’s at CUNY Law, has said that Kiswani has been criticized “because she interrupts Holocaust memorial ceremonies and says that she hopes the last thing Zionists hear in their life is ‘pop pop.'”
In 2017, CUNY invited Linda Sarsour to deliver a commencement address to the school of public health despite nearly 9,000 petition signatures imploring the university not to honor Sarsour’s long history of antisemitic comments. Sarsour has sympathized with terror against Israeli Jews, is a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, and has stated that “Israel was built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else.”
In October 2022, CUNY announced a series of measures to combat antisemitism on its campuses, including a partnership with Hillel, an online portal to report discrimination, and $750,000 for programming to combat hate.
“We have remained vigilant and unequivocal in our intolerance of antisemitism, yet we know more needs to be done globally and locally to combat antisemitism and bigotry in all forms,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, who has not released a statement on the new report.
Lax called on CUNY to formally adopt the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism, which has been embraced by over 1,000 entities, including the UN SecretaryGeneral and more than 30 US states.
“As a first step in protecting Jewish students, staff, and faculty members, S.AFA CUNY urges CUNY and the PSC-CUNY faculty union to formally adopt the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism as the university’s and the union’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) definition of antisemitism, and to incorporate the definition within CUNY’s discrimination policies and procedures,” he told the Post.