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In latest campus controversy, Jews debate whether CUNY Hunter is hostile environment

16 10 17
29.11.2021

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Is the social work school at Hunter College coddling antisemitism, or is it part of an institution that’s deeply committed to protecting Jews from prejudice?

That question has come to the fore after a pro-Israel organization filed a federal complaint alleging a “pervasively hostile campus climate for Jewish students” at the New York City school and its Silberman School of Social Work, in particular.

And, as is often the case, the answer depends on whom you ask.

The complaint made on behalf of students by the California-based StandWithUs, filed last week with the federal Department of Education, was made under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs. It paints a dire picture of the way Jewish students are treated at the school.

The StandWithUs complaint lists a series of alleged antisemitic incidents that it says the administration has not responded to adequately, including a disruptive anti-Israel protest during a Zoom class in May. According to the complaint, the alleged incidents have the effect of “leaving Jewish students with the clear impression that they are not equal members of the Silberman/Hunter campus community, and [are] therefore unable to participate fully in campus life.”

The complaint comes during a year when the CUNY system as a whole became embroiled in allegations of antisemitism. In April, the student government engaged in a heated debate over how to define antisemitism. In June, the faculty union passed a resolution calling Israel a “settler-colonial” state, and condemned it exclusively for its conflict with Hamas in Gaza in May. At least 50 professors resigned from the union in protest.

But speaking to The Jewish Week, Jewish stakeholders on campus, including the Hillel, have praised the Hunter administration’s work combating antisemitism — while they acknowledge tension and hostility over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A student leader told The Jewish Week that while she doesn’t feel targeted by overt antisemitism on campus, Jewish students often feel uncomfortable sharing their opinions on Israel for fear of drawing backlash, and that, at times, anti-Israel rhetoric does veer into antisemitism.

“As a Jewish person I’m not discriminated against,” said senior Jennie Reich Litzky, the Hillel student president, who is not a student in the social work school, and spoke for herself and not on behalf of Hillel. “I think there is definitely tension with the Israel-Palestine situation that makes it more difficult. But I feel like as a Jew, if I don’t share my political stance, I’m usually OK.”

Hunter, a campus on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that’s one branch of the City University of New York system, has approximately 23,000 students. According to Hillel, approximately 10 percent of them are Jewish.

Other Jewish organizations dispute StandWithUs’s characterization of Hunter, and say the school has gone above and beyond in defending Jewish students. Both the campus chapter of Hillel, the international Jewish student organization, and Hunter’s Jewish Studies Center, whose director has been a vocal opponent of anti-Israel activism, said they........

© The Times of Israel


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