Back on December 2, CUNY Law Student Government Association (LSGA) passed a resolution that “proudly and unapologetically” endorsed the BDS movement against Israel and condemned pro-Israel student groups on campus. Subsequently, Chancellor Matos Rodríguez of the City University of New York (CUNY) rejected the declaration. “These organizations speak for themselves and the opinions or positions they express are entirely theirs and do not represent the views of CUNY or the majority of the 300,000 members of our community,” expressed Rodriguez. “I am focused on elevating dialogue and building bridges between people and groups of different backgrounds whose beliefs and divergent experiences and histories sometimes place them at odds. Now, more than ever, I believe it is incumbent on all of us, especially those of us in higher education, to promote tolerance and civic engagement, and to commit ourselves to coming together, hard as it may often seem, to forge mutual understanding as members of this widely diverse University community.”
The adoption had called on CUNY to cut all ties with companies that “aid in or profit from Israeli colonization, occupation and war crimes.” The horrific wording held CUNY law school’s association with Israeli academic institutions “directly complicit” in unproven war crimes committed by Israel against their Palestinians neighbors. The motion criticized student organizations including Hillel, CAMERA, StandWithUs, Bulldogs for Israel, Israel Independence Day Committee, United 4 Israel, Israel Student Association, and Students Supporting Israel at City College of New York for providing “surveillance, intimidation, harassment of Palestine solidarity activists on campuses.”
“To be clear, CUNY cannot participate in or support BDS activities and is required to divest public funds from any companies that do,” said Rodriguez. “The resolution also states that CUNY and the CUNY School of Law are complicit in censoring Palestinian solidarity organizations and in committing war crimes against the Palestinian people, a characterization we completely reject. It also calls on the university to end all academic exchange programs with Israel, which is contrary to a university’s core mission to expose students personally and academically to a world that can be vastly different to their own, particularly through international exchange programs.”
“Now more than ever, I believe it is incumbent on all of us, especially those of us in higher education, to promote tolerance and civic engagement, and to commit ourselves to coming together, hard as it may often seem, to forge mutual understanding as members of this widely diverse university community,” offered the chancellor.
The Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), under the leadership of its president Michael Nussbaum and executive director Mayer Waxman, strongly condemned the anti-Israel resolution. “The vilely offensive resolution is full of misinformation and false accusations. QJCC is embarrassed and saddened that such a naive and hateful missive should emanate from students in a place of higher learning in our borough,” read their statement.
“QJCC thanks and supports CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodriguez and his response statement which lays out CUNY’s organizational position. The Chancellor’s point that the resolution ‘…also calls on the University to end all academic exchange programs with Israel which is contrary to a university’s core mission to expose students personally and academically to a world that can be vastly different to their own, particularly through international exchange programs,’ is particularly poignant, universal relevant – and highlights the repugnance of the student government’s untoward document.”
The QJCC went further and called on Presidents of the CUNY schools in Queens to confirm their support of the Chancellor’s statement and/or to individually condemn the student action. “Silence can be mistaken for acquiescence. QJCC calls on all people of good will to oppose and repudiate this and other such vile attacks.”
Rodriguez’s response was welcomed by CUNY Alliance for Inclusion, a group of faculty members, for standing up to the hatred, and by the Anti-Defamation League NY/NJ, the Jewish Community Relations Council-NY, StandWithUs, and the UJA Federation of New York, as well as Hillel chapters at Baruch College, Brooklyn College, the College of Staten Island, Hunter College, and Queens College.
After being “deeply concerned” by the decree, the groups thanked Rodriguez for making it clear that the measure did not represent the opinions of the university.
“We also laud the Chancellor for rejecting both BDS and a call to end academic exchange programs with Israel,” the joint statement clarified. “He also emphasizes that a pluralistic, diverse and accepting CUNY is the priority of the administration and the university’s bedrock value.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein