ZOA to CUNY Leaders: Exercise Moral Leadership and Publicly Condemn CUNY’s Anti-Israel Boycott Resolution

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) today called on James B. Milliken, the Chancellor of The City of New York (CUNY), and the CUNY Board of Trustees to issue a statement to the CUNY community, publicly condemning a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which is under consideration by the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC), the student government at CUNY’s graduate school.  The DSC is scheduled to vote on the resolution late this afternoon, minimizing the likelihood that Sabbath-observant Jews will be able to attend and express their views and concerns.

The resolution endorses a boycott of Israeli colleges and universities “for as long as the Israeli state continues to violate Palestinian rights under international law.”  In addition, the resolution “supports the efforts of Students for Justice in Palestine at CUNY,” whose hateful, divisive and anti-Semitic conduct has created a hostile and intimidating learning environment for Jewish students on at least four CUNY campuses.  In a 14-page letter sent in February to Chancellor Milliken and the CUNY Board of Trustees, the ZOA described the SJP’s harassing, threatening and marginalizing conduct, which CUNY to that point had failed to effectively address.  The ZOA’s letter triggered an independent investigation into anti-Semitism at CUNY, as well as calls from local and state lawmakers that CUNY leaders finally take the necessary steps to remedy the problem, and a demand from 35 Democratic and Republican public officials in New York, pressing for the SJP’s immediate suspension from all CUNY campuses.

In addition to infringing on free expression and the free exchange of ideas, the proposed academic boycott at CUNY is anti-Semitic.

Academic boycotts like the one pending at CUNY violate the free exchange of ideas, and have been opposed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) since 2005.  The AAUP especially opposes “selective academic boycotts” such as the one under consideration at CUNY, which “entail an ideological litmus test.”  Explaining its opposition to selective academic boycotts, the AAUP stated that “we cannot endorse the abuse of political or religious views as a test of eligibility for participation in the academic community.”

In addition to infringing on free expression and the free exchange of ideas, the proposed academic boycott at CUNY is anti-Semitic.  Hannah Rosenthal, then the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, made it clear in 2011 that “when academics from Israel are boycotted – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism.”  In 2007, hundreds of college and university chancellors and presidents across the country publicly endorsed a statement (published in The New York Times and entitled “Boycott Israeli Universities?  Boycott Ours, Too!”), which condemned the decision by the union representing British academics to promote a boycott of Israeli educational institutions.

Matthew Goldstein, then the Chancellor of CUNY, was among the signers of this statement.  In 2013, CUNY’s Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly issued a statement addressing the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli universities, noting that “[t]he free exchange of ideas is at the heart of the academic enterprise.  Any effort to impede that flow is antithetical to the values that universities hold most dear.”   

In light of the serious allegations of anti-Semitism now plaguing CUNY, it is disheartening to say the least that Chancellor Milliken has failed to issue a statement to the CUNY community condemning the DSC’s current effort to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Last Monday, after the Jewish Daily Forward reported on the upcoming boycott vote at CUNY, Chancellor Milliken submitted a letter to the editor of the Forward, in which he stated, “At the end of the day, a decision on this matter is the province of the CUNY Board of Trustees.  Other CUNY leaders and I have consistently and publicly opposed a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. “ 

A letter to the editor of a Jewish newspaper is not enough.  The Chancellor and the Board of Trustees must exercise moral leadership.  They should issue a public statement to the entire CUNY community prior to today’s vote by the DSC, making it clear that:

  • the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees oppose the DSC’s anti-Israel boycott resolution;
  • CUNY will continue to welcome and embrace Israeli scholars and universities; and
  • CUNY stands in solidarity with its colleagues at Israeli institutions of higher learning against the DSC’s politically biased and anti-Semitic initiative, which threatens the principles of academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas that CUNY cherishes and is committed to protecting. 

Morton A. Klein, ZOA’s National President, urged the Chancellor to speak out immediately and denounce the CUNY resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, stating:  “If the Chancellor fails to speak out before today’s vote by CUNY’s graduate school student government, then he will yet again have missed a crucial opportunity to show that anti-Semitism, including the unwarranted singling out of Israel for condemnation and punishment, will not be tolerated at CUNY.”

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