The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) today strongly criticized the report prepared by attorneys Barbara Jones and Paul Shechtman who were engaged to conduct an independent investigation of allegations of anti-Semitism on the campuses of The City University of New York (CUNY). The investigation was triggered by a February 22, 2016 14-page letter from the ZOA to CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken and the CUNY Board of Trustees, which described numerous incidents of anti-Semitism on four CUNY campuses and urged CUNY officials to take specific steps to remedy the problem. The attorneys’ report – dated August 29, 2016, but released by the Chancellor just hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath on September 9, 2016 – not only failed in its mission; it almost surely will encourage more anti-Semitism at CUNY and on campuses around the country.
Investigation Confirmed Numerous Anti-Semitic Incidents at CUNY
The investigators confirmed that CUNY has been plagued by many vicious anti-Semitic incidents, a sampling of which includes:
- At a rally at CUNY’s Hunter College, organized by the so-called “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP), protestors chanted “Jews out of CUNY” and “Death to Jews,” and repeatedly chanted “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution!” Calling for an intifada is a call to murder Jews.
- Protestors cursed at and threatened Jews at the Hunter rally, with comments such as “Is that all you can do, come along, take for your people, Jewish people, come along, you racist sons of bitches”; “Go back home, and get the fuck out of my country”; and “We should drag the Zionists down the street.”
- At CUNY’s Brooklyn College, a student’s mother was harassed by an SJP member simply because she was cleaning offensive anti-Israel chalkings off the sidewalk which were illegally drawn there in the first place. A Jewish student who did not endorse the SJP’s positions was repeatedly harassed by an SJP member who sent her alarming messages, including “I hope you don’t walk alone on campus.” Another Jewish student was threatened by an SJP student simply because she refused an anti-Israel flyer. Members of the Israel Club were called “dirty Jews” and similar expletives.
- In the classroom, a Brooklyn College professor called Israelis “assassins” and “baby killers,” another made disparaging comments when Jewish students had to miss class for a religious holiday, and yet another skipped over the Holocaust in a history class, dismissively telling his students, “You all know this story.”
- At CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the SJP threatened the Muslim Student Association (MSA) for co-hosting an event with Hillel, even though the event was about the New York Police Department and had nothing to do with Israel or the Middle East conflict. The threats worked; fearful, the MSA dropped its sponsorship. Last year, a student with an Israeli flag patch on his backpack was called a Zionist pig and had a water bottle thrown at his head.
- At CUNY’s College of Staten Island, a Jewish student carrying a sign to promote harmony on campus was told by another student that “I wouldn’t hug a Jew.” When an anti-Israel student disrupted another student’s class presentation on women in the Israel Defense Forces, shouting that Israeli soldiers were “killers,” the professor did not intervene. Both a Hillel student and the Executive Director of Hillel were bullied and harassed on Facebook.
Investigation Confirmed that CUNY Students Feel Harassed, Threatened and Unsafe
The investigators acknowledge that these and other anti-Semitic incidents caused students to feel harassed, threatened, and unsafe, and made some fearful of openly identifying as Jewish on campus. Nevertheless, the investigators ignored that evidence and justified the incidents as protected speech which they claim CUNY cannot punish – even though CUNY’s own written rules prohibit such conduct and authorize sanctions for it. The rules affirm the right of students to advocate their positions without fear of physical or verbal abuse from others who have “conflicting points of view,” and they prohibit “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers mental or physical health.”
The First Amendment Does Not Preclude Punishing Hate Speech Offensive to African Americans and Women – Only Jews
The investigators never explain why CUNY cannot punish hate speech against Jews, when – as the ZOA described in its letter last February to CUNY officials – university leaders on other campuses have punished students and student groups for similar hateful and offensive speech directed against African Americans and women:
- At the University of Oklahoma last year, after members of a fraternity were caught on video chanting the “n” word and referring to lynching, the university president immediately expelled two fraternity leaders, disciplined over 20 other students, and shut down the entire fraternity, even though the entire fraternity had not been involved in the incident, because the hate speech created a hostile learning environment for others.
- At Yale University, after fraternity members chanted in a campus quad, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and other revolting messages, the fraternity was suspended for five years and individual students were punished for violating university rules relating to “harassment, coercion or intimidation” and “imperiling the integrity and values of the University community.”
- At the University of California, San Diego, after a fraternity held an off-campus party and invited students to dress as stereotypes of African-Americans, the chancellor showed leadership by immediately publicly condemning the fraternity’s actions – even though the offending actions occurred off campus. Then, when a noose was found hanging in the library, the university suspended the student responsible – even though she herself was a minority, she publicly apologized, she explained that the act was a mindless mistake and not racially motivated, and the act was not aimed at individual students or other members of the campus community. Significantly, those remedial actions were not enough for the government. Both the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education initiated an investigation into complaints of racial harassment, which resulted in the university entering into a voluntary agreement to undertake systemic changes.
Yet at CUNY, when students call for Jews out of CUNY and death to Jews, when they call for the murder of Jews with chants for an intifada or a terror war against Jews, when they blame Jews for high tuition and other CUNY problems, when they threaten Jews for refusing to support the SJP’s hateful agenda, and when they threaten other students simply for working with Jews on campus, the investigators claim that such speech is protected and not punishable.
The conclusion is outrageous. Speech that harasses, threatens and causes fear in students is not protected speech and should be punished.
Recommendations Should Have Been Made
The investigators should have recommended that the SJP be banned from the campus for its responsibility in creating a hostile campus environment for Jewish students, in violation of CUNY rules and the law. At a minimum, the investigators should have recommended that the SJP be placed on strict, supervised probation (as was the consequence for the SJP at Northeastern University), to include monthly meetings with CUNY officials, and mandatory training and education for the group and its leaders on contemporary forms of anti-Semitism – including when it is expressed as anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism – and its harmful impact on Jewish students and others. In addition, the group should have been required to retain a new faculty advisor at the College of Student Island, whom even the investigators criticized as having spoken thoughtlessly and unwisely. The SJP, like all student groups, requires intelligent and judicious guidance.
In addition, the investigators should have made the following recommendations:
- That there be mandatory training and education about anti-Semitism for all CUNY students, administrators and faculty, so that there would be greater understanding of the breadth of the problem and how anti-Semitism may be expressed.
- That administrators more forcefully condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, whenever it occurs, including by specifically describing what the perpetrators said and did, and by naming and condemning the perpetrators.
- That administrators work harder to identify the violators of CUNY’s rules and punish wrongdoers for their misconduct, so that the CUNY community will finally know that the administration takes anti-Semitism seriously and will do its best to combat it.
Students and Faculty Fear Coming Forward to Report Anti-Semitism
The investigators simply furnished their “observations” and noted that some anti-Semitic incidents went unreported, with no consideration given as to the possible reasons why. Students are understandably afraid of negative consequences if they speak up. And they believe – with good reason – that reporting will not accomplish anything because CUNY will not pursue the report and hold wrongdoers accountable. When this investigation was instituted, several Jewish faculty members informed the ZOA that they would not come forward to report their problems and concerns about anti-Semitism at CUNY, fearful of the possible consequences of doing so. Students share this concern, but there was no acknowledgment of that fact by the investigators.
Denying the Jewish State’s Right to Exist is Anti-Semitic
Anti-Israel groups such as SJP falsely claim that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic. In fact, the U.S. State Department recognizes that denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, and denying Israel’s right to exist, is anti-Semitism. In 2004, the Catholic Church issued a statement condemning anti-Zionism as “a manifestation of anti-Semitism.” And almost 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. publicly stated, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
The Investigators’ Insulting Comparison of Hillel to SJP
Also troubling was the investigators’ comparison of the SJP’s anti-normalization policy – i.e., its refusal to have anything to do with Jewish or pro-Israel groups – to Hillel’s policy of not sponsoring speakers or programs that deny Israel’s right to exist, that demonize or delegitimize Israel or hold Israel to a double standard, or that support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The comparison of SJP’s conduct to Hillel’s is absurd and insulting. For understandable and legitimate reasons, Hillel – like every other student group – will not sponsor speakers or programs that contradict its mission. No one has suggested that the SJP should be forced to sponsor speakers or programs that contradict its mission. What is and must be challenged is SJP’s strategy of ostracizing Jewish students and student groups, and threatening students and student groups for dialoguing and working with Jewish students. Ostracizing any student or student group based on their race, religion and ethnicity, among other protected categories, is repulsive, discriminatory, and against CUNY’s principles and values. This is not conduct that Hillel or any other Jewish or pro-Israel campus group would engage in or support. It was unfair and offensive for the investigators to have made this unjustifiable comparison.
The Investigators Ignored SJP’s Connections to Groups and Individuals Supporting Terrorism
The investigators failed to examine whether the SJP is funded and supported by groups or individuals with ties to terrorism, which the ZOA had specifically requested in its letter last February to CUNY officials. Had they included that as part of their investigation, the conclusions would be frightening. At a congressional briefing last April, former U.S. Treasury Department terrorism analyst Jonathan Schanzer disclosed alarming Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist group calling for the murder of Jews) connections to the organizations that fund, coordinate, aid and abet anti-Israel and BDS activities by SJP. Schanzer documented that at least seven officials of American “charities” that were implicated in funneling money to Hamas now lead and support an organization called American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which Schanzer described as “arguably the most important sponsor and organizer for SJP. . . . AMP provides speakers, training, printed materials, a so-called ‘Apartheid Wall,’ and grants to SJP activists. AMP even has a campus coordinator on staff whose job is to work directly with SJP and other pro-BDS campus groups across the country.”
Some SJP members are not even students. For example, the SJP member responsible for forcing four Jewish students to leave an anti-Israel BDS event at Brooklyn College in 2013 was not a student at Brooklyn College or at any other CUNY campus.
In criticizing the CUNY investigative report, Morton A. Klein, ZOA National President, Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, and Zach Stern, Managing Director of ZOA Campus, stated: “Although this report acknowledged anti-Semitism at CUNY, no consequences were suggested, no recommendations were made, and no one was held accountable. The investigators claim that the hateful and threatening speech was protected under the First Amendment. This report truly let down the many Jewish students and others who had the courage to come forward. There is nothing in this report that will diminish anti-Semitism on the CUNY campuses. In fact, the report will embolden students and student groups like the SJP to continue to harass, threaten, and intimidate Jewish and pro-Israel students, because they know that their actions have been justified, tolerated and defended by this CUNY report. And CUNY administrators now know that they can use the First Amendment as a convenient shield even when Jewish students feel threatened and fear for their safety.”