On Friday, Jewish members of the New York City Council spoke out against a resolution set to be voted on by the student government at CUNY’s graduate school that would endorse a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions. The members denounced the resolution for sending a message of intolerance, arguing a boycott would run counter to the notion of a free exchange of ideas. The student government is set to vote on the resolution today.
“A vote to exclude the people of Israel from the academic and cultural life of CUNY represents the ugliest form of prejudice. The exclusive targeting of democratic Israel–while no similar action is taken against the world’s myriad despotic regimes–is outrageous and indefensible. In stifling dialogue and cultural interchange, this action will be a blow to those who seek peace and reconciliation, and a boon for those peddling hatred and bigotry,” said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the City Council Jewish Caucus.
“What sort of message does a boycott of Israeli academic institutions send about CUNY to our students and other New Yorkers? This is hardly the kind of academic freedom that should be expected from a public university serving an extremely diverse city where we are trying to foster an inclusive and tolerant environment. This is an example of thinly-veiled anti-Semitism masquerading as social activism. As a former educator, I am appalled that the student government of the CUNY Graduate School would choose to limit the free exchange of ideas between academics and academic institutions, regardless of what nation they happen to call home,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.
“I condemn the CUNY’s Graduate School’s student government for considering this anti-Semitic resolution. I urge them to completely and totally reject the endorsement of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen.
“Today’s vote by CUNY’s student government is just the latest in a series of troubling incidents of anti-Semitism on city campuses. We’ve seen swastikas and hate messages, we’ve seen Jewish students bullied and assaulted because of their faith, we’ve seen an administration that is indifferent to the harassment of its Jewish students, and with this vote we are now seeing the elected representatives of the student body turn their backs as well. This is unacceptable. I call on CUNY’s leadership, faculty, and student body to take immediate action to protect Jewish students and faculty on campus,” said Council Member David Greenfield.
“These graduate students know surprisingly little about the long history of anti-Semitism directed at strangling Jewish economic and intellectual life. I recommend they read a book on Kristallnacht and its perpetrators, in whose footsteps they are so eagerly following. The resolution completely ignores the immense violence perpetrated against Israel and its people by Hamas, while endorsing Students for Justice in Palestine, an anti-Semitic organization that has been responsible for the harassment and abuse of Jewish students on several CUNY campuses. I’m deeply disturbed by its passage, and I urge Chancellor Milliken and the entire CUNY community to emphatically reject this intellectually dishonest and anti-Semitic action,” said Council Member Rory Lancman.
“Instead of aiming for discussion rooted in mutual respect, the authors of this resolution have opted for complete disengagement, which does both them and the entire CUNY system an incredible disservice,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “This boycott targeting Israeli professors and academics does not advance the cause of learning and should be wholly rejected.”
“So much for the exercise of academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas in these institutions of higher learning. This is simply another BDS, thinly veiled anti-Semitic action cloaked in false trappings of sympathy for a populace whose leadership is committed to the violent destruction of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole, said Council Member Karen Koslowitz.
“I am shocked and disturbed that a student organization at a university whose roots go back 170 years would pass a resolution attempting to bar Israeli professors from even visiting CUNY. A free exchange of ideas is at the core of CUNY’s mission, and any whittling away of this cherished ideal is quite alarming,” said Council Member Barry Grodenchik.
“In the current state of polarization and violence in the Middle East, we need — more than ever — to listen to one another and try to understand each other’s point of view. Israeli professors do not represent the Israeli government, but rather the Israeli people, and that exchange is essential if we ever want to mend our fractured global community. I join Jewish Caucus Chair Mark Levine in opposing the CUNY Graduate School resolution banning Israeli professors,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.
“How many resolutions have the CUNY Graduate School student government issued in opposition to autocratic governments all over the world, yet democratic Israel is the subject of their attention? How does eliminating the opportunities for Israeli academics to share their ideas with the City University in New York in a free exchange lead to peace between Israel and Palestinians?,” said Council Member Alan Maisel.
“This resolution goes far beyond what is appropriate for an academic institution, and sets a dangerous precedent that only serves to promote intolerance. I strongly condemn this boycott, which is tantamount to sacrificing educational independence in order to make a political statement. In the field of academia, Israel has contributed vastly to the technology, medical, and research worlds. To deprive CUNY Graduate School students the opportunity to learn from the institutions that produced this work is irresponsible, deplorable, and at its core, discriminatory,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch.
The New York City Council Jewish Caucus has been vocal in its opposition to recent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents at CUNY. Last month, the Caucus penned a letter to Chancellor James Milliken urging CUNY to “implement proactive, system-wide policies that will cultivate a civil academic environment.” Days after the letter was sent, Jewish Caucus members challenged Chancellor Milliken at a Higher Education Committee budget hearing to follow through on CUNY’s assurances to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic activity on campus.