A complaint that a pro-Palestinian group has created a climate of fear for Jewish students on City University campuses demands full investigation by Chancellor James Milliken.
Students for Justice in Palestine has become a vocal presence in at least four colleges — Hunter, Brooklyn, John Jay and Staten Island. Its protests have included anti-Semitic rhetoric and, in one case, the shutdown of a faculty council meeting.
Reporting that SJP’s actions have created a hostile, sometimes fearful, atmosphere for some Jewish students, the Zionist Organization of America has called on the CUNY administration to determine, among other things, whether to revoke SJP’s status as a student organization.
Most fundamentally, SJP urges the destruction of Israel and calls for intifada, or violent resistance, against Israel.
The group also advocates for free tuition and cancellation of student debt, while mixing those message with attacks on CUNY’s leadership as a “Zionist administration” that propagates “settler-colonial ideology through Zionist content of education.”
The closure of a Brooklyn College faculty council meeting by SJP members involved anti-Semitic rhetoric, according to the ZOA complaint. Clearly referring to Jews, the protesters demanded “Zionists off campus” and called the chairman of the meeting, who wore a yarmulke, a “Zionist pig.”(Presumably meaning: classroom offerings on Israel-Palestinian issues do not sufficiently toe the SJP propaganda line.)
At Hunter College, according to ZOA, demonstrators yelled, “Jews out of CUNY,” “Jews are racist sons of bitches” and “We should drag the Zionists down the street!” Some Jewish students reported that SJP protestors destroyed their signs. One said that a protester had pulled an Israeli flag from her shoulder.
The Staten Island campus has seen the painting of swastikas, and Muslim students have withdrawn, out of fear, from associating with Jews, ZOA reported. Its complaint added:
“Some students cover up their Star-of-David necklaces when they walk by members of the SJP, afraid they may be targeted.”
ZOA’s letter to Milliken recites many more such incidents, cumulatively indicating that, by trashing civil debate, SJP is making some Jews uncomfortable on CUNY campuses and closing the university’s doors to others.
As loathsome as the SJP message is, and as vile as its rhetoric is, the First Amendment grants its members the right to speak, even vilely, even if they make listeners uncomfortable.
At the same time, Milliken is obligated to take action — including expulsion — when anyone obstructs CUNY proceedings, squelches the speech of others, verbally harasses individual students or issues targeted threats. Vandalism, such as painting swastikas, is grounds for arrest.
Milliken’s office says that he has begun an inquiry. While that process plays out, he and campus leaders must see there’s strong evidence that a blossoming nightmare is making CUNY enemy territory for some Jewish students. Over and over, administrators must aggressively condemn SJP’s rhetoric as the hate speech that it is.
This article was published by the NY Daily News and may be found here.