In a conversation with the Jerusalem Post, an End Jew Hatred activist explains why fighting antisemitism at CUNY is imperative to the struggle against antisemitism nationwide.
The protest came in the wake of a series of incidents deemed as antisemitic by many observers including the university’s opening of investigations into four Jewish professors who raised the issue of antisemitism on campus to university leadership and the university’s platforming of anti-Israel commencement speaker Fatima Mohammad.
Mohammad used her platform to accuse Israel of settler colonialism, indiscriminately murdering Palestinians, encouraging lynch mobs, expelling Palestinians, committing an ongoing “Nakba” against Palestinians, and more.
Mohammad additionally encouraged a fight against Zionism around the world.
In response to a perceived ongoing state of antisemitism at the university, Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY) released a 12-page report in March slamming CUNY as the most systemically antisemitic university in the United States.
Speaking with the Jerusalem Post, attorney Gerard Filitti noted, "There is absolutely systemic antisemitism at CUNY and the administration has done nothing to address it. And this is why we were there to protest."
Filitti is senior counsel at the Lawfare project, one of the organizations that founded the End Jew Hatred Movement.
Filitti went on to add that there had been a brazen lack of action on behalf of university leadership in regard to combating antisemitism, even while local individuals and bodies were attempting to engage the university in such efforts.
The protest at CUNY took place outside the chancellor's office on New York’s E 42nd Street. Filitti estimates at least 150 people showed up to the rally to make their voices heard.
The Lawfare Project senior counsel went on to highlight what he saw as a spread of antisemitism across campuses nationwide.
“Seeing the failure of an administration to take any meaningful action to condemn or stop Jew hatred, gives license to other schools to do the same thing,” he explained. “When you have a system that allows Jew-hatred to fester and allows it to become systemic, it's open season on Jews at all college campuses.”
Filitti added that End Jew Hatred had learned that the experience for many Jewish students at CUNY was one where they had to hide their Jewishness and stifle their speech.
A sobering lesson from history
In March, the founder of SAFE CUNY, Jeffrey Lax told the Jerusalem Post that there were no Jews among CUNY’s top 80 senior leadership including out of all 25 campus presidents.
In response to this, Filitti cites a historical precedent.
“We saw this in the 1930s in Europe where we were, we were subjected to being systemically eliminated from academia, from medicine, from learned professions,” he said. “The concern here is that when CUNY doesn't make any efforts to include Jews in administrative positions in a city that's 20%+ Jewish it sends a message that CUNY does not want Jews to be at CUNY.” He goes on to draw the sharp distinction between this state of affairs and a time when Jews were represented at the schools and indeed Holocaust survivors and their children attended the school.
Attending the protest were several New York political figures who voiced support for the rally.
“Why is it that hate is tolerated against Jews?” Republican state senator Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick asked. “If it was against any other group, there would be backlash, there would be an outcry, there would be immediate change.” She went on to demand CUNY change how it deals with reports of antisemitism. Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick is herself, Roman Catholic according to ballotpedia.org.
Republican state senator Jack Martins added, “We’ve brought this problem up time and time again. And the mistakes continue. A mistake done once is a mistake, done twice, three, four times, that’s a choice.”
“They’ve made a choice to target Jewish students at CUNY, and it ends today,” Martins went on to assert. “There is no place for antisemitism and hate anywhere, certainly not at our universities. It's time we held them accountable.”
“We are at a unique time in history. A time in history when we are focused more on minority rights and civil rights than ever before. And now is the time for a civil rights movement of the Jewish people and that is what we are,” Filitti said. “It's not about organizations and egos. It's not about funding. It's about people having the courage to stand up for themselves, and we're seeing that more and more under the End Jew Hatred banner and we are so proud of everyone that joins us.”