CUNY’s failed portal

Forget Jewish lives, it’s ‘all lives matter’


Plagued by charges some of its administrators embrace Jew- and Israel-haters, the City University of New York — the nation’s largest urban university — says it is fixing the problem. But critics say it is antisemitic business as usual at the public school.

Responding to demands for an easier way to report antisemitic assaults and intimidation across CUNY’s 25 campuses, CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez unveiled an online portal that critics say is an “all lives matter” response to Jew hatred.

Rather than focusing on Jew hatred, which is a specific and growing problem, the portal encourages the reporting of 24 categories of discrimination and hate — including race, color, national origin and “childbirth,” “religion” and “creed.”

The portal is “wildly unimpressive … very subpar and unacceptable,” said Avi D. Gordon, executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), a national group founded at Vassar College.

Rodríguez last week called the new portal one of many actions CUNY is taking communally to “combat antisemitism and all forms of hatred at CUNY.”

“Our university refuses to tolerate discrimination, antisemitism or hate of any kind,” he wrote. “We want every member of the CUNY community to feel welcomed and safe on our campuses.”

Brooklyn councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who last year attacked CUNY over the tolerance of antisemitism on its campuses, said  she “looks forward to further tackling this issue until everyone feels safe at CUNY, including Jews.”

Critics have also complained about the portal’s list of nine “external resources.”

The first is the mainstream, widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism (which the United States and 39 other countries accept) — but another “resource” is the more fringe Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism which seeks to “protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine” and views boycott, divestment and sanctions movements as “commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states.”

“In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic,” the Jerusalem Declaration concludes.

CUNY’s resource list includes links to the city’s human rights commission LGBTQ protections info card, the state’s guide to gender identity- or expression-based discrimination, and the state’s racial discrimination guide.

That CUNY has adopted an “all hate matters” approach raised eyebrows, but its juxtaposition of the competing definitions of antisemitism — with the Jerusalem Declaration critiquing the IHRA — was more surprising, since CUNY has refused to officially adopt the IHRA definition.

Last year, Rodríguez dodged taking a stand on the IHRA, claiming to be seeking further guidance from Governor Kathy Hochul’s office. On June 12, the governor issued a proclamation calling the IHRA working definition “a vital resource in the struggle against antisemitism.”

CUNY has committed to use the IHRA definition only as one of a suite of “educational tools” to train diversity, equity and inclusion staff, administrators and student leaders, to help them “understand and recognize the various forms of antisemitism.” It did not state what other educational tools it would use for that purpose.

Critics have long held that those who fail to define antisemitism cannot combat it efficiently.

When the Jerusalem Declaration states that the BDS movement is not necessarily antisemitic, its use of phrases like “in and of itself,” “in and of themselves” and “on the face of it” overemphasizes defining what is not antisemitic, whereas what antisemitism is ought to be at the core of a definition of antisemitism, critics say.

They add that among the signatories of the Jerusalem Declaration are individuals accused of antisemitism.

In Moment magazine, Ira N. Forman, former US special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, wrote that the Jerusalem Declaration is “considerably longer” than the IHRA one and what it calls a lack of clarity in the IHRA working definition is actually a strength, since the latter leaves some degree of interpretation open.

Very few people believe in and have adopted the Jerusalem Declaration, according to Gordon. “It’s placating to the extreme and to the other side,” he said.

Critics say that the university has given cover to and accommodates antisemitism originating on the political left, which has largely been responsible for the documented Jew hatred at CUNY.

In a written response to several questions from JNS, a CUNY spokesman provided a written statement that said the portal is part of the university’s “effort to address antisemitism.”

“To better inform these ongoing efforts, we have incorporated a list of educational tools as reference points,” it added.

Asked which of the competing definitions of antisemitism those filling out the form ought to use, the CUNY spokesman said, “You have our statement.”