New York Governor Announces Review of Anti-Semitism Policies at State Public Universities

An independent party will review anti-Semitism policies at the City University of New York, the nation’s largest urban public university system, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday, as protests over the war between Israel and Hamas rock college campuses across the country. country.

Hochul, a Democrat, said the review will evaluate how the university system handles complaints of anti-Semitism and make recommendations on how administrators can better protect Jewish students and faculty. It will be led by Jonathan Lippman, former chief justice of New York’s highest court.

The governor made the announcement a day after visiting Cornell University to promise that state police would investigate online posts threatening violence against Jewish students at the private Ivy League school in upstate New York.

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Kathy Hochul speaks at the State Capitol in New York

This photo shows New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the State Capitol on February 1, 2023, in Albany, New York. ((News21USA Photo/Hans Pennink, File))

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The state’s review, however, will be aimed specifically at the City University of New York, which has long been a hotbed of student activism in support of Palestinian human rights and against Israeli policies toward Gaza and the West Bank. busy.

Some activists expressed concern that the review could curb legitimate free speech rights and make people hesitant to express political opinions.

“I worry that this is just another smokescreen to silence or undermine pro-Palestinian activism at a time when it is needed most,” said Nerdeen Kiswani, former leader of the university group Students for Justice in Palestine.

Hochul said the investigation will include an evaluation of anti-Semitism on the system’s campuses, how schools investigate complaints of anti-Semitism and discrimination, and will make recommendations on how to respect free speech rights while protecting people from discrimination. and antisemitism.

“We will confront the anti-Semitism we have seen on university campuses. The problem did not begin in the weeks after the October 7 attacks,” Hochul said, referring to Hamas’s bloody incursion into Israel. “It has been growing on several campuses and has been observed most intensely at the City University of New York.”

A report based on the review is expected next spring.

Political tensions over the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict have long been high at City University of New York schools, which include 25 campuses and nearly a quarter-million students.

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On October 13, a pro-Israel member of the New York City Council was arrested after bringing a gun to a student demonstration in support of Palestinians outside Brooklyn College, which is part of the CUNY system.

Some Jewish students have complained that heated rhetoric at protests questioning Israel’s right to exist has been anti-Semitic. Pro-Palestinian students have responded that they have been wrongly accused of hate speech.

Last spring, there was a media furor over a commencement speech given by a City University of New York Law School graduate student, in which she condemned Zionism and accused Israel of throwing “bullets and bombs on the faithful, murdering the old, young, even attacking funerals and cemeteries, as it encourages lynch mobs to attack Palestinian homes and businesses.

Lippman said in a written statement that as a judge and attorney, his focus “has always been, first and foremost, fairness and equal justice.”

“That same sense of justice and freedom from intimidation for Jewish students and all other members of the CUNY academic community will be at the center of my review,” he said.

The City University of New York issued a statement saying it would cooperate with the review.

“As an institution of higher education and one of the most diverse universities in the country, CUNY has taken many steps to combat hate, discrimination and intolerance in all their forms, important work that we continue every day,” the statement reads . “We will cooperate with Judge Lippman’s review as we work to build on the progress we have made.”

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In 2016, after the Zionist Organization of America filed complaints of anti-Semitism against a university group, Students for Justice in Palestine, CUNY’s chancellor convened a task force to investigate the complaints.

The final report ultimately cleared the group of several accusations, noting that it was a mistake to link their anti-Zionist stance with anti-Semitism. But the damage caused by the months-long investigation, which included repeated interviews with student activists, created a cloud of suspicion that “effectively stifled Palestinian activism on campus,” according to Kiswani.

Eric Horowitz, a third-year student at CUNY School of Law and a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Law Students Association, said he had not once encountered anti-Semitism during his seven years within the law system. CUNY.

But as he joined other anti-Zionist Jews in calling for a ceasefire in Israel, he said he had experienced a torrent of personal threats and violent reactions from pro-Israel groups.

“This is the kind of reaction the governor’s actions are going to provoke,” Horowitz said. “There are elected officials who are threatened by displays of support for Palestine and who attack in careless and dangerous ways.”

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