Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred, and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.
As if further confirmation were needed to designate the CUNY system as an egregious purveyor of anti-Israel activism—often replete with anti-Semitic expression—the university is being made to answer for its failure to protect Jewish students and faculty with a new Title VI complaint filed on July 19th by The American Center for Law and Justice.
The complaint, sent to Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, contended that “CUNY has become a hotbed for discrimination and antisemitism” and demanded an investigation into “the discriminatory exclusion and harassment that takes place in the CUNY system, and the administration’s failure to do anything concrete to address the issue . . . in what appears to be a systemic and intentional refusal to confront antisemitism and protect the rights of Jewish students and faculty.”
The lawsuit documents anti-Israel, anti-Semitic incidents as far back as 2013 and includes the latest examples of CUNY’s systemic animosity to Israel, Zionism, and, seemingly, Jews. “Just a day after the faculty endorsed BDS,” in 2022, the complaint read, “CUNY Law honored graduation speaker Nerdeen Kiswani—the very same woman who has, among other things openly condoned violence against and the killing of Zionists . . ; glorified intifada and called for its globalization; honored leaders of a terrorist group; and called for ‘Zionist professors’ and ‘Zionist students’ to be removed from CUNY campuses.”
Ms. Kiswani, the founder of Within Our Lifetime and a co-founder of the New York City branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), was a virulent enemy of Zionism and Israel during her years at CUNY and had a long record of toxic activism. Not to be outdone by the regular enemies of the Jewish state, the latest assault on Zionism and Israel—and CUNY’s supporters of them—comes from an unlikely and unfortunate source: Jewish CUNY students and faculty.
In July, the group, which unambiguously calls itself Not In Our Name: Anti-Zionist Jewish Coalition at CUNY, issued a statement which committed the signers of their document to Palestinian solidarity, support for the BDS campaign, and a denunciation of Israel and Jewish self-determination, including their breathtakingly audacious demand that their fellow students “unlearn Zionism.”
This type of language coming from the traditional campus enemies of the Jewish state is unsurprising; coming from students and faculty who identify as Jews, however, is troubling, especially since their statement is riddled with the factually inaccurate, Marxist language of apartheid, oppression, colonialism, and the purported “genocide” of Palestinians being committed by Israel. But central to this odious exercise in virtue signaling was the request to CUNY’s Jewish community to “Create networks and programs within the CUNY Jewish population to question, critique, and unlearn Zionism so they may form their own Jewish identity [emphasis added].”
The statement employs the disingenuous “as a Jew” strategy which suggests that an attack on the Jewish state has more credibility and significance coming from Jews themselves. In fact, these misguided activists use Judaism as a reference point for their support of the Palestinians, claiming that “As people who have undergone repeated state-sanctioned pogroms, ethnic cleansings, and genocide, we work to prevent a world that imposes that onto others.”
But the rhetoric and vitriol which animates the language of this statement reflect exactly the ideology of SJP and other anti-Israel groups who use lies, distortions of history and fact, and meaningless Marxist language in an attempt to vilify and weaken Israel and elevate the Palestinian cause. While they are very eager to denounce the alleged genocide of the Palestinians at the hand of a sadistic and brutal Israel (even though no such genocide exists, given that the half million or so Palestinians from 1948 have now mushroomed to some 7 million), the demands they make in their letter would most certainly result in the deaths of thousands of Israeli Jews were all of them fulfilled.
While they are comfortably ensconced on a safe campus in America, these moral defectives are perfectly happy to commit Israel to an apocalyptic, dystopian future in which Jewish statehood and, indeed, lives are subject to the whims of a hostile Arab influx of Palestinians exercising their so-called “right of return.” This language vastly exceeds any reasonable or rational diplomatic solution, well beyond the agreements reached in the Oslo Accords or any negotiations since. They are both hallucinatory and lethal, demonstrating that these woke Jews speaking on behalf of the ever-aggrieved Palestinians seem to have absolutely no concern for Jewish sovereignty or Jewish lives and are perfectly willing to destroy both in the name of Palestinian self-determination.
“Palestinian voices are at the core of our coalition,” the statement reads, “and we stand to uphold their demands for global liberation, resistance by any means necessary, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the return of all land prior to 1948, and ending the occupation [emphasis added].” These intellectually-flawed activists rattle off this vile list of demands, principles which in their minds are “not [sic] negotiable,” and reveal the absolute absence of reason on the part of these activists who are suggesting here, not the creation of “two states living side by side in peace”—the notion which reasonable people on both sides can and do generally support—but the inevitable and catastrophic end of Israel as the world’s only Jewish state and the Middle East’s only democracy.
Consider what is being called for here: “global liberation” and “resistance by any means necessary” as a means of attaining Palestinian statehood is the reckless and careless euphemism for terrorism against Israel—the murder of Jews—to achieve the goal of creating another Arab state. For anyone to call for the continued use of terrorism to achieve diplomatic goals is ordinarily a signal that they are irrational and that their notion that Palestinians have a right and obligation to murder Israelis is both legally and morally flawed; for university-educated Jews to excuse and encourage terror against fellow Jews in Israel as a tactic for achieving Palestinian statehood is not only immoral but grotesque.
The demand for the “right of return” here is another tactic used by those who seek the destruction of the Jewish state, since it asserts the mistaken legal claim that those Arabs who left or were expelled from what became Israel in 1948 and 1967 have a enshrined legal right to return to their country.
Putting aside the fact that the Geneva Convention by which this “right” is asserted refers to citizens of a country who were forced to leave have a right to return, not to non-citizens (which the Palestinian Arabs were and are), and ignoring the fact that only about 40,000 original Palestinian refugees who might be entitled to exercise this right are even still alive, supporters of the right of return are demanding that all of some seven million refugees be allowed to return to what is now Israel, something that would demographically destroy the Jewish state’s identity and culture with a flood of new residents marinated in hatred for and with a visceral loathing of Israel and Jews.
But the CUNY statement goes even further, demanding “the return of all land prior to 1948,” meaning all of present-day Israel, not just the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. This perverse wish, of course, mirrors the oft-heard chant of “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” meaning the factitious state of Palestine will be liberated from those pesky Jews at last and the indigenous Palestinians can reclaim their lands and purge them completely of Jews.
Consider how outrageous this murderous demand is. It proposes that a functioning, Western-style state with a burgeoning economy and offering human and civil rights—even to its non-Jewish citizens—in a way not present anywhere else in the Middle East should be destroyed, extirpated, including if necessary, with the murder of its Jewish citizens, so that a new Palestinian state can be built on the ruins of Israel, and that this somehow represents social justice, rationality, equity, morality, or diplomatic exigency. Only on campuses peppered with woke, seemingly tolerant social justice warriors could such demands even be uttered, let alone acted on with the belief that they could or would ever be successfully implemented.
These irrational scolds even attack anyone at CUNY who might support what they, in their ignorance of history and fact, refer to as the “illegitimate state of Israel.” “We vehemently stand against the Zionist movement within CUNY,” these woke Jews proclaim, “that aims to criminalize and demonize Palestinian students and workers,” suggesting, falsely, that when anti-Israel activists spew hatred and anti-Semitic invective against fellow students and faculty and pro-Israel individuals answer back in a defense of the Jewish state, pro-Palestinians are somehow victimized. For these activists, Zionism itself is a grotesque and brutal political ideology rather than what it actually is and represents: Jewish self-determination.
“We define Zionism as a 125-year-old political ideology built with inspiration from European colonialism, ethnic nationalism, and white supremacy since its conception [emphasis added],” the perverse statement reads, carelessly tossing out more false allegations and even trying to equate Zionism with white supremacy, a false equivalence in line with the idea that Israel is a racist enterprise in which “white” Jews oppress and subjugate “brown” Arabs.
Further, using the tired and false language of oppression and victimhood, the statement claims that Zionism “is an ideology that continues to justify and normalize acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing upon the people of Palestine and targets Palestinians and their allies globally. All of which is backed by United States imperialism.”
The diatribe ends by asking its signers to pledge to “question, critique, and unlearn Zionism so they may form their own Jewish identity,” “hosting anti-Zionist Jewish professionals to come speak on CUNY campuses,” to “wholeheartedly endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of the settler colonial and apartheid state Israel,” and even to work “against the IHRA working “definition” of antisemitism as it is a ploy to demonize anti-zionist [sic] and Palestinian freedom of speech . . . .”
There is another, more psychologically interesting aspect to a group of “as a Jew” anti-Zionists proclaiming total solidarity with the Palestinian cause at the expense of the Jewish state, an topic that insightful Ruth Wisse, Harvard professor emerita, dealt with in her book If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews.
Rather than confront the lies and distortions promulgated by anti-Israel activists over its alleged racism, apartheid, settlements, and lack of a just solution to the so-called occupation, anti-Israel liberal Jews completely accept the spurious new narrative of Israel being the sole villain, and, in fact, often abet it with their own condemnations of the Jewish state.
For Wisse, this behavior could “more accurately be described as the desire to disassociate oneself from a people under attack by advertising one’s own goodness,” a psychological pattern that has manifested itself conspicuously on campuses and seems to be at play in the current instance with Not In Our Name: Anti-Zionist Jewish Coalition at CUNY. So worried are members of this group that by tolerating Zionism and defending Israel’s right to exist in peace they will somehow be seen as complicit in defending Israel, they would rather disavow any and all support of Israel completely, something that might tarnish their liberal credentials.
Unfortunately, it is easy on university campuses, even for Jews, to demonize Israel and even call for its destruction, and certainly it requires no bravery in academia, where moral narcissists console each other in an echo chamber of good intentions and virtue-signaling, willing to sacrifice academic integrity, actual reasoned debate, and the safety and viability of the Jewish state in the process.