Following the international uproar stemming from the Queens College Megaphone Maniac, local legislators stood up for the values of the Jewish community with a strong presence. On Tuesday morning, September 20, a steady stream of elected officials lined the corner of Melbourne Avenue and Kissena Boulevard, just outside of the Queens College Student Union building in Kew Gardens Hills, to decry anti-Semitism and introduce legislation that aims to identify and track hate on college campuses statewide. The bill, sponsored by local Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, is a valiant effort to recognize Queens College’s 4,000 Jewish students – the eighth largest Jewish campus population in the nation and the largely religious neighborhood that the college calls home.
The newly introduced legislation (S. 9552), as detailed by Rosenthal, hopes to improve the reporting and investigating of hate crimes on college campuses that receive state funding. New York’s current statute has not been updated in nearly two decades and does not reflect significant advancements in technology. This legislation will update the current law by requiring all colleges to report bias crimes on their websites and that it be reported in a separate, clearly designated category of crime. Currently, the law talks about college catalogues and student handbooks, which are obsolete. This new legislation requires colleges to post campus crime statistics on their websites and requires colleges to inform incoming students about hate crime prevention measures. Moreover, it will require campuses to train security personnel in bias-related incidents and providing assistance to victims of such hate crimes, and each college will have to adopt and implement a plan providing for the investigation of a hate crime or violent felony offense occurring on the grounds of such institution.
“New York continues to see a dangerous rise in hate crimes, including triple-digit increases of anti-Semitic attacks. Sadly, college campuses are not the exception to the growing recurrence of these heinous attacks,” said Rosenthal. He hopes the bill will shed light on the frequency of hate-related attacks by requiring public disclosure of offenses motivated by bigotry that occurs on college campuses. “We must not allow for hate to continue to spread, particularly at places of higher education.”
“We must make sure New York’s diverse college campuses are safe spaces for students of all races, ethnicities, and creeds,” stated Senate Bill Sponsor Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Rabbi Shaul and Tzipah Wertheimer celebrated 18 years of service as local shluchim serving at Chabad on Campus of Queens College. The rabbi related, “Queens College students are wonderful. Campus, like the borough, is truly diverse. Student life is vibrant, Jewish life is dynamic and active. Students can craft deep, meaningful friendships and relationships that endure. Anti-Semitism erodes the fabric of American society and humanity, and with the international rise in anti-Semitism, there is a lot more to be done to make sure that every Jewish student and supporters of the Jewish community continue to feel comfortable on campus.”
Eli Burstyn, a student of Rabbi Wertheimer’s, spoke about how common anti-Semitism is on campus. “Last semester, a CUNY professor spoke of racism being about the privilege of power, thus all white people were inherently racist and have white privilege, including Jewish people.” Burstyn and his classmates argued this theory for the rest of the class and then saw his grades plummet for no reason, as well as three other peers, and an unexcused absence appear on his record simply for standing up for himself and his beliefs.
Fellow lawmakers and community advocates were in lockstep with the bill sponsors and spoke out for these students who were muted by their educator. Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, who represents the college site, added, “With alarming rates of hate on college campuses, students need to feel safe and be able to attend class without worrying about racism, xenophobia, and of course anti-Semitism.”
New York City Council Member Lynn Schulman, the only Jewish representative from Queens on the Council, offered, “Hate crimes are shockingly sky high. My office receives calls about anti-Semitism daily.” Schulman, like her mother, are CUNY graduates who never faced the issues of the students of today, and champions holding the college leaders accountable. Schulman pledged to go to CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and ensure that things are held accountable from the top down. The chancellor notably missed repeated meetings with City Council members to address other instances of anti-Semitism.
“We know that hate happens on campuses. First, we must acknowledge that the hate exists; it must be reported in a way that people can see it,” articulated State Senator John Liu, who explained that when he was a college student, together with his peers, he forced college representatives to acknowledge an instance of hate and demanded it be reported.
State Senator Leroy Comrie, who is poised to take over the area in question, said, “College campuses should be places that cultivate learning and tolerance for all; when there is a potential threat to the efficacy of that through a hate crime or other heinous act on a campus, students, faculty, staff, and parents should be able to easily access that information. Our educational spaces should be safe for everyone who attends or visits them, and preventive, precautionary, and protective measures are more important than ever.” Comrie, who was the sole legislator to assist in reporting the QC megaphone maniac and having the aggressor handled – while on vacation – took note of the Queens community, Jay Hershenson, Vice President for Communications and Marketing and Senior Advisor to the President of Queens College, and Assistant Vice President Jeffrey Rosenstock, who oversees External and Governmental Relations for Queens College, for making sure that the campus was informed immediately and for the 107th police precinct’s positive response. Comrie noted that the matter has yet to be fully stemmed, as the individual still appears intermittently to spew hate.
Assemblyman David Weprin joined the bill as a co-sponsor, noting that Queens College has both one of the largest populations of Jews and Asians and that “advertising, tracking, and preventing hate crimes” is of utmost importance as statistics continue to climb.
Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Jewish liaison to Congress Member Grace Meng, stated, “Hate affects every part of our society. This legislation will rattle some cages and ring some bells to address the issues of hate head-on.”
A representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Center spoke of the unity amongst legislators that must be broadcast so those perpetrating hate will see how we will not tolerate its ugly head. The representative noted how a former intern had sent over the hate-filled videos for review. “It is a tragic sign of the times that such legislation is necessary. Earlier this year, CUNY was unable to provide the number of anti-Semitic attacks that had occurred on their campuses. We cannot help solve a situation until we know the extent of the problem. Jews on campus deserve the same protections afforded to other minorities, and this legislation is an important step in that direction.”
Avi Posnik, Northeast director for StandWithUs, related, “Although Jews make up just two percent of the population in New York, we make up 60 percent of the reported hate crimes therein. Queens College is not immune to hate.”
Gideon Taylor, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, released a written statement: “It’s truly unfortunate that a climate of fear pervades so many college campuses.”
Also represented were Rabbi Mayer Waxman, Executive Director, QJCC; Sorolle Idels, Chairperson of the Queens Jewish Alliance; Alan Sherman, co-president of the Mid-Queens Community Council; Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of Chazaq; Yaakov Serle, co-publisher of the Queens Jewish Link and the Bukharian Jewish Link; and the Asian American Federation, amongst others.
The event is viewable on our publication’s YouTube channel: youtu.be/1FJXv9TMxT0.
By Shabsie Saphirstein