Campus anti-Semitism is a growing national problem and frighteningly, it has infected the City University of New York (CUNY), historically a haven for Jews and other minorities seeking an excellent, affordable college education. We work closely with students and others at CUNY and implore the leadership there to finally fix the problem before the verbal violence escalates to physical violence.
At recent CUNY rallies, a group that calls itself Students for Justice in Palestine condemned “the Zionist administration” at CUNY for hosting Birthright programs and study-abroad programs in “occupied Palestine,” meaning Israel. SJP demonstrators screamed insults at Jewish students, calling them “racists,” “white supremacists,” “Nazis,” and “supporters of genocide.” They chanted, “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” — in effect, calling for murder and violence against Jews. They shouted invectives like “Jews out of CUNY” and “Jews are racist sons of bitches!” One Jewish student was screamed at by SJP members to “get the f—- out of my country!” Another heard someone yell, “We should drag the Zionists down the street!” Zionists, of course, means Jews.
Even CUNY staff were aghast. One described one of the rallies as “absolutely horrifying,” stating, “I have never witnessed anything like this before.”
Recently, the Zionist Organization of America sent a 14-page letter to CUNY’s chancellor, James Milliken, the board of trustees and public officials, describing the horrors, anguish and outright fear that Jewish students have been enduring, largely at the hands of the SJP. As a result of this group’s incitement, its promotion of vicious lies about Jews and Israel, and its resolve to isolate, ostracize and demonize Jewish students, some are now afraid to wear yarmulkes, Stars of David, and pro-Israel shirts, afraid to walk in certain areas of their campus, and afraid to take classes at times when the SJP is holding its hateful demonstrations.
As horrifying as the SJP’s actions are, just as appalling is the weak and insensitive administrative response to the Jew-hatred and intimidation of Jewish students. Other than to issue statements defending SJP’s freedom of speech and encouraging respect for the rights of others, the leadership has never publicly condemned the SJP for promoting hatred, bigotry and even violence against Jews, nor has it held the SJP accountable under CUNY’s own rules and policies.
CUNY’s rules and policies demand that free speech be exercised without disrespecting the members of CUNY’s diverse community. They prohibit the kind of conduct that the SJP routinely engages in — harassment and intimidation, interfering with free speech rights and inciting physical violence. Yet CUNY has never so much as suggested that the SJP should be removed as a registered student group —which provides it with funding and other benefits — even though the SJP violates the rules that every other student group is required to abide by.
Based on ZOA’s work on campuses nationally, we know that promoting vicious and hateful lies against Jews and the Jewish state can escalate to actual physical violence. We saw that a few years ago at the University of California, Irvine, a campus that was described by a Jewish student leader as “a hotbed for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism.” Signs, speeches and programs that regularly demonized Jews, “Zionists” and Israel led to physical threats and violence against Jewish students. One student wearing a shirt that read, “Everybody loves a Jewish boy,” had a rock thrown at him, barely missing his head.
Likewise, at a recent SJP anti-Israel rally at UC Berkeley, the SJP leader took the microphone and began chanting, “Intifada, intifada, we support the intifada!” riling up the crowd and encouraging them to join in.
Within minutes, a Jewish student holding a pro-Israel sign was physically assaulted. In 2010, during the SJP’s “Apartheid Week,” a Jewish student was rammed from behind with a loaded shopping cart by an SJP leader. The Jewish student, who required medical attention, had simply been holding a sign that read, “Israel Wants Peace.”
God forbid, it could get worse.
As the distinguished historian Paul Johnson warned in his book, A History of the Jews: “One of the principal lessons of Jewish history has been that repeated verbal slanders are sooner or later followed by violent physical deeds. Time and again over the centuries, anti-Semitic writings created their own fearful momentum which climaxed in an effusion of Jewish blood.”
When will CUNY and other university leaders finally learn this lesson? Will they wait until there is more serious physical violence? In the exercise of moral leadership as educators, it’s time for CUNY to take the strong steps it would and should surely take if blacks, Muslims or gays were being targeted. They must publicly condemn the SJP, the perpetrators of the anti-Semitism, by name, so that the SJP will be sent the message that they are a disgrace to CUNY and society’s values. And, since the SJP refuses to comply with the rules and policies that apply to every student group, they must throw the SJP off every CUNY campus.
Susan B. Tuchman is the director of the Center for Law and Justice at the Zionist Organization of America; Zach Stern is the managing director of the ZOA’s campus department; and Morton A. Klein is the organization’s national president.