Op-Ed | CUNY must take action on antisemitism on its campuses


The City University of New York, once a place where Jewish leaders, scientists, and artists sought to receive their education, has become unrecognizable in the face of rampant antisemitism. CUNY’s twenty-five campuses across New York City have become breeding grounds for bigotry and intolerance, alienating Jewish alumni and jeopardizing the safety of current students. We have had enough, and we are fighting back. Alums for Campus Fairness, America’s unified alumni voice countering antisemitism on college and university campuses, is launching a new advertising campaign, spending six figures to bring public awareness to the shameful state of affairs at CUNY. Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez must acknowledge the hostile climate for Jews and take real action to stop it.

Our campaign comes in response to a spate of recent incidents across the CUNY campuses. At CUNY Law School, the Student Government Association passed a resolution to ban Hillel and other mainstream Jewish institutions. For the school’s official graduation ceremony, they chose a commencement speaker who praised axe-wielding terrorists who murdered three Jewish civilians and called to “globalize the intifada” and eradicate the State of Israel. Elsewhere, a CUNY student group issued a statement pledging to create programs to challenge and critique Jews so that they may “unlearn” Zionism and their Jewish identity. Sadly, it’s not just the students. CUNY Faculty endorsed the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, which singles out Israeli Jews for economic warfare.

CUNY has so far refused to do anything to defend its Jewish community. In fact, the university has made things worse. CUNY hired Saly Abd Alla, a former high ranking official from the Council on American Islamic Relations, as Chief Diversity Officer. CAIR openly embraces BDS and its leaders make overtly antisemitic speeches. The organization is designated as a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates. Placing a former CAIR leader in charge of investigating antisemitism is the equivalent of putting the proverbial fox in charge of guarding the hen house. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez even dodged a New York City Council hearing specifically called to address antisemitism in the university system.

While there have been recent murmurs of potential action by CUNY administrators to rights these longstanding wrongs, they cannot hide behind private letters to elected officials promising change. Instead, they must publicly announce their proposal and fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, which the likes of Stanford, UCLA, and many other world-class educational institutions have already done.

Alumni and students have had enough. That’s why we launched our new initiative highlighting institutional failures by CUNY and its leadership. We are making a significant investment in both print and digital media advertisements, including full-page ads in local media outlets. We also launched a new petition urging the chancellor to take action to protect Jewish students and faculty. We will be organizing grassroots mobilization efforts throughout the fall semester.

CUNY is a public university system reliant on city and state tax dollars and should be treated as any other public institution. Just as we expect our elected officials to treat all their constituents equally, we demand zero tolerance for hatred and discrimination on public university campuses. Jews have long been part of CUNY’s rich history. Our community’s achievements are inextricably intertwined with those of the university, the city, and the state. Thankfully our community has fantastic representatives and champions in the New York City Council, including Bronx Councilman Eric Dinowitz and Brooklyn Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who can hold CUNY leadership accountable.

CUNY must become a safe and inclusive space for Jewish students and alumni once again. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez must apologize and take meaningful steps to correct the sorry state of affairs on his campuses. It’s time to end antisemitism at CUNY and recreate an environment where all students, regardless of sex, race, religion, or national origin are able to study and grow without fear.