CUNY chancellor dodges students’ accusations of anti-semitism at university

Students and professors at City University of New York (CUNY) schools testified that they have been targeted because of their Jewish faith. Witnesses told city lawmakers that the campuses of CUNY and are ripe with anti-Semitism and hate.

Despite the serious allegations, CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, did not bother to show up for hearing last Thursday, which was organized by the City Council Committee on Higher Education.

Brooklyn Councilwoman Inna Vernikov called out the chancellor’s absence saying, “Last night, in a very cowardly fashion, the chancellor said he won’t appear. Instead, he sent a lawyer to represent him. What a sham, what an insult to the Jewish community of New York.”

The Ukranian-born Jew, who is the ranking Republican on the Council’s Education Committee added, “When it comes to Jews, do Jewish lives matter?!”

The chancellor, who rakes in over $670,000 annually in taxpayer-funded income, missed out on hearing the nightmare of hate that students and professors at city universities are trapped in.

Eric Dinowitz, a Bronx Councilman, chairman of the higher education committee and head of the Council’s Jewish Caucus, said he was “deeply disappointed” that the chancellor failed to attend. He said that Rodriguez’s absence, as well as other CUNY officials testifying remotely “doesn’t fill me with hope.”

Dinowitz read some of the slurs that Jewish students who testified anonymously found on CUNY campuses including, “We need Hitler again,” calls to murder of Jews, “jokes about Jews in ovens” and finding a Star of David smeared in feces.

Council Republican Minority Leader Joe Borelli said that Chancellor Rodriguez testified before the Council on CUNY’s budget request “begging for money from City Hall” but was MIA “when it comes to discussing the very serious and pervasive nature of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses.”

Rafaella Gunz, a former student at CUNY School of Law said she transferred to Yeshiva University because, “I feared for my physical and emotional well being,” after she claimed she was was targeted by other students for her Jewish and pro-Israel beliefs.

Baruch College student Joshua Greenberg claimed he was assaulted for being a “Jewish, disabled student.” He stated, “It’s completely unacceptable what’s going on at Baruch College.”

A professor at Kingsborough Community College Michael Goldstein said, “it is horrible for Jews at CUNY,” and claimed that anti-Semites vandalized a photo on campus of his father, Leonard Goldstein, the former longtime president of Kingsborough.

Tzvia Waranker, another student at CUNY, said a co-ed “told me that all Jews are rich, control the world, Israelis kill babies, Jewish women are greedy and clingy.” She added, “I don’t think CUNY understands what antisemitism is and how it impacts the students.”

Antisemitism watchdog and Jewish advocacy group AMHCA testified that it has recorded over than 150 anti-Semitic incidents on 11 CUNY campuses since 2015. Over 60 of those incidents directly targeted Jewish students for harm, including bullying, suppression of movement and demonization.

AHCA Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said that many of the anti-Semitic incidents on CUNY campuses have been related to Israel, and those incidents have more than doubled over the last year.

Witnesses testified overwhelmingly that the growing anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state has contributed to hatred against those who support Israel.

Zachary Beeri, a graduate of CUNY, said other campus clubs would refuse to interact with the Jewish campus group Hillel because of the organization’s support of Israel. He said, “In my personal interactions with members of Students for Justice in Palestine, they openly did not regard Hillel as representative of the Jewish community on campus.”

CUNY law school’s student government and faculty council have both passed resolutions endorsing the BDS movement. Two weeks ago, Vernikov yanked $50,000 in funding from the CUNY School of Law  after its faculty council endorsed a resolution supporting the BDS movement.

Vernikov asked CUNY officials, who attended remotely, how Jewish students could possibly feel welcome on campuses when their own professors approved resolutions “that promote discrimination against them.”

In one heated exchange, Glenda Grace, Senior Vice Chancellor For Institutional Affairs, Strategic Advancement and Special Counsel, was questioned by Vernikov about the BDS movement targeting Israel.

Vernikov asked Grace if she would denounce the BDS movement and she struggled to answer with a yes or no. Grace, visibly agitated, finally replied, “We don’t believe in it. We think it’s wrong. We can’t engage in it. That to me is denouncing, but if that’s not denouncing to you, we disagree.”

Top representatives from CUNY testified remotely that they did not have data on the number of anti-Jewish incidents on its campuses but admitted that the system does not have sensitivity training about anti-Semitism.

Councilwoman Vernikov told The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI, “We saw was an empty chair, the chancellor… last minute canceled, and didn’t have the guts to show up. And you know what, after the hearing, I understand why he didn’t show up. He would’ve been embarrassed. He wouldn’t have had the answers to my questions.”

She added, “The administrators who did show up… they showed up to make sure that the chancellor avoids answering the questions… what we saw was that they don’t understand what anti-Semitism is.”

Vernikov continued, “They haven’t dealt with it at all. They don’t understand the harmful effects and implications of the hateful groups on campuses… they haven’t done a thing about it and they just came to really cover up. And I think it’s an embarrassment. I think that right now…it’s a PR crisis for them at this point.”

“If this was about any other ethnic minority, about any other group that’s being discriminated against, the chancellor would never dare not show up. He would never get away with it,” Vernikov added. “But when it comes to Jews, Jewish lives do not matter. Nobody’s being held accountable. They’re just hoping this will go away.”

Testimony was not limited to students and faculty of CUNY. Other New York City based universities are having the same problems with anti-Semitism.

Former NYU student Adela Cojab Moadeb said the college became “very unsafe for Jewish students,” and added that pro-Palestinian supporters “equated Zionism with Nazism” and burned the Israeli flag. Cojab Moadeb filed a federal civil rights complaint against NYU that resulted in a settlement in 2020.

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