“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel
On November 12, 2015, sentiments similar to those expressed pre-WWII in Germany played out in the City University of New York’s Hunter College, with threats of physical attacks and harassment towards Jewish students abounding, pervasive propaganda about the Zionist agenda and attempts to link Zionism to global economic difficulties. Seemingly unrelated events are woven together to expose the current face of something very old: antisemitism.
Last Thursday, students of CUNY schools organized the “Million Student March,” a movement primarily dedicated to lowering the cost of higher education for students. In the midst of peaceful protest and social activism, a group known as The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) gathered under the auspices of the “Million Student March” at CUNY Hunter College. Under the guise of joining in the social action, SJP seemed innocuous enough. As its Facebook page states, “We believe that our mission as students living in a free Democracy is to promote the cause of justice and speak out against oppression.”
Instead, what took place was a pro-Palestinian convention targeting Jewish students on Hunter’s campus and concomitantly on all college campuses across the nation.
Soon enough, shortly after the rally began the real agenda of the night’s events was unveiled.
With flags of Palestine waving in the background, the crowd began shouting “F–k Zionism,” demanding “Zionists out of CUNY,” with further claims that they “are fighting Zionism in our administration.” The hate and rage came to a climax as the megaphone rang out: “Long Live the Intifada.” The speaker shouted, “There is only one solution,” with the crowd vigorously responding, “Intifada Revolution.”
Perhaps Hunter should have anticipated the escalation of the event, as the below Facebook statement was signed by every CUNY chapter of SJP prior to the rally: “On November 12th, students all across CUNY will rally to demand a freeze on tuition and new contracts! We must fight for funding for our university, and for CUNY to be accessible to working class communities in NYC as the public university system. The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education.
While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all people’s liberation.”
You are not alone if you are trying to wrap your mind around the connection between Zionism and the cost of college tuition. What is the connection? The hate synthesized in this language toward Jews is so vitriolic that there really need not be any connection between reality and the proclamations of the SJP.
The cost of higher education is a legitimate issue of financial importance to young adults, their parents and individuals who generally care for the welfare of our society. However, the SJP are cunningly using student concerns and frustrations over the rising cost of tuition as a way to implicate the “evil Zionist” as the cause of their plight. A quick look back at history, from Iranian manifestos to German propaganda, shows that there has been a long trend of blaming Jews for controlling the world’s money, media and having exorbitant amounts of power, which they use to plotted insidious endeavors.
Next, and most importantly, the SJP made calls to “intifada” as being the only solution. Ironically, as noted above, the SJP claims to be dedicated to a “free Democracy.”
However, democratic ideals allow for differing points of ideology without the threat of physical harm. Perhaps they overlooked that point. For those who do not know, an intifada is typically a word used in Israel as a call to pro-Palestine Islamic extremists to attack and kill “Zionists” (i.e. innocent civilians). In Israel, during an intifada, there is no discrimination between a soldier, civilian and child; all are open to being run over by cars, killed by stones or stabbed in the face.
In light of their calls for an intifada, what action will these SJP students take? Will attacks on Jewish students begin to take place on college campuses? How would one go about identifying Zionists on campus? According to what criteria do we differentiate a Jew from a Zionist? How shall Hunter answer their demand for “Zionists out of Hunter”? Shall they simply round up the Jews and expel them? There is no veil over this antisemitic slur. The protest was an expression of the poison and passion to hate Jews.
In an open letter to Hunter College donors, some if not many of whom are Jewish, Inna Vernikov, Esq., writes:
The First Amendment gives us the right to speak freely, redress the government, and peacefully assemble. The First Amendment does not however, allow government- funded institutions to create a forum for the incitement to imminent, lawless actions…. Furthermore, City University of New York has a comprehensive non-discrimination policy available to the public. That policy lists discrimination and harassment as prohibited conduct on campus… Harassment is defined as “a form of discrimination that consists of unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic…or creating an intimidating, hostile or abusive work or academic environment.”
How are we going to respond to the virulent face of antisemitism? Like in any conflict, there are two options: we can remain silent (flight) or we can protest (fight).
When I reached out to Hillel, the center of Jewish life on the Hunter campus, its response was to say, “We have no comment at this time. Thank you.” I received a polite, noncommittal email, instead of the unfettered support of the anchor for Jewish life on this college campus.
Hillel, this is my question to you: For how long will you remain silent? Just ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu how deafening silence can be.
On the other hand, here is a statement from UJA-Federation of New York on the antisemitic incident at Hunter College on November 12, 2015:
We strongly condemn the abhorrent hate speech and antisemitic rhetoric that punctuated a rally at Hunter College on Thursday night.
Students of all backgrounds deserve a campus experience that is free from intolerance and prejudice. We appreciate the swift condemnation issued by the CUNY and Hunter College administration, the Hunter College undergraduate student government, and the Hunter College senate. We urge all parties involved to disavow hateful language against other students and take appropriate measures to ensure this does not happen again.
We must stand by the students of Hunter College and let them know that they are not alone. We will not look away. We will not be silent. Antisemitism against any Jew is an act of antisemitism against all Jews. We must stand with Jewish students at Hunter College and across all college campuses.
We cannot make excuses that antisemitism is simply an unpleasant fact of life. If I do not step up to antisemitism, who will? Moreover, if I choose not to get involved, resting assured that someone else will, what does that say about me? We must take responsibility and show that we are strong and unafraid.
This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.