A pro-Israel group claims that Hunter College is “pervasive hostile” to Jewish students. Jews on campus disagree.
(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – Does Hunter College’s School of Social Work pamper anti-Semitism, or part of an institution deeply committed to protecting Jews from prejudice?
This issue came to the fore after a pro-Israel organization filed a federal complaint alleging a “pervasive campus climate for Jewish students” at the New York City school and its Silberman School of Social Work. , specifically.
And, as is often the case, the answer depends on who you ask.
The complaint filed on behalf of the students by California-based StandWithUs, filed last week with the federal Department of Education, was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in curricula funded by the federal government. He paints a dire picture of how Jewish students are treated at school.
The StandWithUs complaint lists a series of alleged anti-Semitic incidents to which the administration has failed to adequately respond, including a disruptive anti-Israel protest during a Zoom course 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 fully participate in campus life.
The complaint comes in a year where the CUNY system as a whole has become embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism. In April, the student government engaged in a heated debate over the definition of anti-Semitism. In June, the teachers’ union passed a resolution calling Israel a “colon-colonial” state and condemned it exclusively for its conflict with Hamas in Gaza in May. At least 50 teachers quit the union in protest.
But speaking to The Jewish Week, Jewish stakeholders on campus, including Hillel, praised the Hunter administration’s work in combating anti-Semitism – while acknowledging the tensions and hostility over the israelo-Palestinian conflict. A student leader told The Jewish Week that while she does not feel targeted by the overt anti-Semitism on campus, Jewish students often feel uncomfortable sharing their views on Israel for fear of provoking criticism. negative reactions, and that sometimes anti-Israel rhetoric turns to anti-Semitism.
“As a Jewish person, I am not discriminated against,” said Jennie Reich Litzky, student president of Hillel, who is not a student at the school of social work, and spoke for her- even and not in Hillel’s name. “I think there are definitely tensions with the Israeli-Palestinian situation that make things more difficult. But I feel like a Jew, if I don’t share my political position I’m generally fine. “
Hunter, a campus on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that is a branch of the City University of New York system, has approximately 23,000 students. According to Hillel, about 10% of them are Jewish.
Other Jewish organizations dispute StandWithUs’ characterization of Hunter and say the school went beyond defending Jewish students. Hillel’s campus chapter, the international Jewish student organization, and Hunter’s Jewish Studies Center, whose director has been a vocal opponent of anti-Israel activism, said they didn’t know the complaint was coming. .
“I have deeply felt the support of the administration, which really, really understands how important this is at all levels,” said Leah Garrett, Jewish historian and director of the Center for Jewish Studies. She was one of the teachers who quit the CUNY union and wrote a column in July explaining the decision.
“I have never felt this kind of support from [another] the administration in terms of me being a strong public voice, fighting, in every way possible, anti-Semitism, ”she added.
The complaint is the latest in a series of similar filings under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that pro-Israel groups have submitted to the Education Ministry. The complaints allege anti-Semitism in schools across the country, including at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of California at Los Angeles. In 2019, President Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding “robust” enforcement of Jewish civil rights protection on campus.
StandWithUs’ complaint concerns a pro-Palestinian protest during a Zoom course on May 20, the day the most recent fighting in Israel and Gaza ended. According to the complaint and Fox News reports at the time, during a class at a social work school with about 200 participants, a group of students changed their name on screen to “Free Palestine: Decolonize.” and took turns reading a 20-minute article. long manifesto accusing Israel of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and, according to the complaint, genocide.
In the chat accompanying the Zoom class, a protester reportedly wrote: “The Holocaust was used as a tool. The fear of anti-Semitism, because the fear of “it could happen again” is used as a preventive measure to oppress and kill others. “
At least one professor is said to have participated in the demonstration. The professor in question was named by an anonymous student in the Fox News article, but not cited. The professor did not respond to a request for comment from Jewish Week.
The students and alumni named in the StandWithUs complaint also declined or did not respond to requests for comment, which were made directly by a reporter and through StandWithUs.
After the protest, according to the complaint, another professor defended the protesters. The complaint also states that although the school said it would investigate the incident, the complainant students were never contacted by the administration.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” said Carly F. Gammill, director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism. “The continued lack of a meaningful response from the administration has really been the reason this is happening now, obviously in light of the most recent incident in May.”
The school, along with the Hillel and the Jewish Studies Center, do not dispute that the May 20 protest took place, but tell a different story of the administration’s response. Hunter told The Jewish Week in a statement he had conducted an investigation after the incident, which “resulted in formal reprimands.” But the school did not want to say who was reprimanded, what those reprimands involved, or whether the Jewish students who complained were contacted by the administration.
In the wake of the May conflict between Israel and Gaza, which sparked an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States, members of the Hunter administration met with Jewish students to ensure they understood how to file complaints formalities for anti-Semitism. The directors also held a lengthy meeting with the Hillel board of directors and offered to strengthen security around the Hillel building.
In a statement to The Jewish Week, Hillel highlighted a condemnation of anti-Semitism by Hunter President Jennifer Raab, who is Jewish, which was posted on the Hunter College website six days after the protest. Raab said the school was “deeply troubled by the recent epidemic of anti-Semitic hate speech” and later added that “we can and must do our part to dispel hatred, especially in our own community, both online and online. anybody”.
“The administration was quite responsive when we explained that our students felt unsafe and intimidated online,” said Merav Fine Braun, executive director of Hillel, of reports of anti-Semitism on campuses at the following the May conflict. “They responded to each of the student complaints individually and as a group.
In a statement to The Jewish Week, the School of Social Work called the May 20 incident an exchange of “strong and sometimes passionate opposing views and feelings on the recent conflict in the Middle East” which has temporarily disturbed the class. The statement also said the school “takes any allegations of anti-Semitism very seriously” and has reviewed its “curriculum, curricula and school environment to ensure that it is free of anti-Semitism in all its forms.”
The School of Social Work also posted Raab’s statement on its own site. But the StandWithUs complaint criticizes the School of Social Work for failing to release its own public statement against anti-Semitism, as it did regarding anti-Black and anti-Asian racism. And Gammill said the fact that the students told StandWithUs they were unaware of the school’s investigation “speaks volumes about this administration’s lack of transparency.”
The complaint also lists a series of other alleged incidents, including two allegations in which faculty members suggested to Orthodox students that being Orthodox would hamper their ability to work with patients. A spokesperson for Hunter told The Jewish Week that the school was not aware of the allegations and would investigate.
Multiple allegations center on Students for Justice in Palestine, an anti-Zionist group. One element of the complaint, which made the news at the time, concerns a 2015 rally in Hunter co-hosted by SJP that included chants of “Zionists out of CUNY” and “Long live the Intifada.” A report on anti-Semitism commissioned by CUNY and published the following year said: “There is evidence that some members of the crowd shouted ‘Jews out of CUNY’ and ‘Death to the Jews’. Hunter and the CUNY leadership condemned the anti-Semitic remarks at the time. .
The Palestine Justice Students in Hunter did not respond to an email seeking comment.
A section of the complaint alleges that a professor publicly called a student “Rachel”, which is not her name, after the student said she could not eat non-kosher pizza at a event. The complaint adds that the incident “strangely recalled” a Nazi policy of renaming Jews with the names “Israel” and “Sarah”. Gammill said she stuck to this comparison as “explanatory information for anyone reading the complaint, certainly anyone who might investigate the complaint, to understand that context.”
Garrett, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies, said Hunter has supported her department in public efforts regarding anti-Semitism, including a series of monthly lectures that have often touched on the topic as well as an upcoming program in which fellows will study anti-Semitism and create programs. to fight it. In December 2020, an adjunct professor of Jewish studies spoke to social work professors about the history of anti-Semitism.
“I always feel fortunate to be in an institution that so deeply protects Jewish professors and Jewish students,” Garrett said. “Since I was hired almost four years ago, I have felt that it is really, really important to have a broad approach to anti-Semitism so that the students here feel safe. security.
Hillel’s student president Reich Litzky said she saw anti-Semitic speeches by Hunter students on social media. And while she understands that the school is limited in how it can control online spaces, she wants the administration to be more active on the issue and says it should take “some responsibility” to fight back. against online anti-Semitism among its students.
“I think the administration has been supportive,” she said. “I really think they recognize what’s going on. I don’t know if they are doing anything about it.