The Real Story: The New McCarthyism and Repression of Palestine Activism at CUNY



Today, Wednesday February 24, the New York Post released an article regarding a letter that the Zionist Organization of America wrote to Chancellor Milliken of the City University of New York and its Board of Trustees, accusing Students for Justice in Palestine of Anti-Semitism and demanding the suspension of SJP chapters across CUNY. The 14-page letter, in the name of creating a safe environment for Jewish students, claims to be “concerned” about a series of actions that supposedly were committed by members of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters around CUNY campuses.  This smear article comes as part of a larger offensive by the Zionist movement, both across campuses and worldwide, in the face of the victories of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the further popularization of the Palestinian cause.    

To contextualize this attack, we must note that there is a long history of repression towards SJPs all around CUNY campuses.  This repression has taken the form of unwanted excessive security at our events, sudden cancellations, and public letters from the CUNY administration denouncing our actions.  Students organizing with SJP have received repeated threats and harassment both on and off campus.  After organizing the Million Student March (MSM), SJPs and allies around CUNY faced backlash. A statement was released by Hunter President Raab shortly after the MSM, in which she condemned acts of “Anti-semitism,” but said nothing of a Hunter student at the MSM who was carrying a laptop showing videos of Syrian refugees and shouting that Muslims are taking over and  “de-purifying Europe;” at the march, this student was guarded by CUNY security. Nor was there any mention in Raab’s statement of the members of Students for Israel who, in their counter-protest, called a member of SJP a “self-hating Jew,” in response to his support for SJP.  At Hunter College, these types of anti-SJP and Islamophobic incidents have become almost routine, as we can see in this viral video from March 2015, showing a confrontation between a racist student and SJP during “Israeli Apartheid Week.”  While these incidents may seem isolated, the reality is that many acts of repression have taken a specifically organized political character, involving the leadership of the pro-Israel lobby on campus, as well as members of the faculty and administration. Most recently, in the Fall of 2015, the vice-president of the Hunter Zionist Alliance, and more revealingly, a member of the Zionist Organization of America, posing as a student sympathetic to Palestine, came to Hunter SJP meetings and, in classic agent provocateur form, attempted to goad members into violent action against Jews via text messages which, of course, went unanswered to by our members.  


In a similar incident, at Hunter College in Spring 2013, a paid Hillel staffer offensively suggested that Hillel should sponsor a “mock suicide bombing” in response to SJP’s “mock checkpoint” demonstration in the Hunter West Lobby.  At John Jay College, in February 2016, the faculty advisor to a student club threatened SJP that he would go to the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit if SJP refused to collaborate with Hillel on an event.  At the College of Staten Island, a member of Hillel pressured the administration to remove Muslim articles of faith from the interfaith prayer room, and began a petition to ban SJP from CUNY.  At Brooklyn College in the Fall of 2014, a member of the Israel club spit on an SJP member during a demonstration in support of the uprising in Ferguson.  Also at Brooklyn College, Mordechai Levy, a former member of the Jewish Defense League, a terrorist organization which counts one of our primary detractors Assemblyman Dov Hikind among its former members, distributed flyers comparing SJP to “Hamas on campus,” and told SJP he “had a surprise for them,” an especially terrifying threat given Levy’s involvement in the JDL’s execution via letter bomb of Arab community organizer, Alex Odeh in 1985.

Additionally, this sort of repression has not been limited to SJP, but extended to Muslim groups at CUNY.  The Zionist Organization of America president, Morton Klein, claimed in his statement that “Such bigotry would never be tolerated by CUNY if it were being directed against another ethnic, racial or other targeted group…CUNY should not be tolerating it when the bigotry is directed against Jews”– ignoring the blatant truth that while CUNY issued statements against SJP, condemning claims of anti-Semitism, that same administration has actively supported and defended Islamophobes on and off campus, and, most egregiously, allowed the NYPD to bring informants on campus.  The informants were tasked with entrapping members of the Muslim Student Association at multiple CUNY campuses, specifically in Queens College and Brooklyn college, where an infiltrator posing as a muslim convert joined both SJP and MSA for five years, leading to the entrapment and arrest of two Queens College students.  Similar situations played out at Hunter College and John Jay, where police officers, informants, and secondary informants infiltrated Muslim student groups in order to gather information and entrap students who they viewed as easy targets for manipulation.  The hypocrisy of Zionist organizations know few boundaries. On one hand, Zionist organizations push the administration to denounce “anti-semitism and bigotry” at campus rallies organized to call for the divestment from companies that maintain the occupation of Palestine; on the other hand, these organizations honor and invite advocates of the use of rape as a tool of war like Mordechai Kedar to campus, as Hunter Students for Israel, Hunter Hillel, the Zionist Organization of America, and United Jewish Appeal attempted to do on February 16th. The people who would claim that SJP creates an unsafe environment on campus are the exact same people who create the atmosphere of trauma for survivors of sexual violence, all while Hunter remains one of many schools under Title IX investigations for the mishandling of reports of sexual violence.  In short, while the CUNY administration trips over itself to support baseless accusations of anti-Semitism, when similar issues are raised by Muslims or women and their allies, CUNY turns a blind eye.

Repression of pro-Palestinian activists has also taken place off campus.  State senator Michael Gianaris recently introduced a new piece of anti-BDS legislation that aims to put any individual and organization that supports BDS on a blacklist. BDS is “a global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.” If passed, this bill would prohibit New York State from contracting with individuals and organizations that are engaged in the BDS movement. When confronted at John Jay College regarding this bill, Senator Gianaris evaded the questions by referring to Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, an irrelevant fact, and said that organizations that seek to undermine the US’s “greatest ally” should not receive any taxpayer money.Yet the state of Israel, one of the greatest human rights violators, receives 3 billion dollars a year from the US. He then stated that he does not care about the rights of people in other countries. He claims that in the US, “people can say whatever they want,” yet introduced a bill that would effectively prevent people from doing so without state-sanctioned punishment. However, we recognize this as an effort to hinder the growing effectiveness of Palestine solidarity organizing in the US. This has been accompanied with the rise of the McCarthyite naming and attempted blacklisting of activists through the website Canary Mission, which was created to “document people and groups that are promoting hatred of the USA, Israel and the Jewish people, particularly on college campuses in North America.”  Ultimately, it exists to demonize and “expose” pro-Palestinian activists with the explicit goal of damaging their professional and educational reputations.

But why go to such lengths to suppress a supposedly marginal movement in favor of Palestinian liberation? The answer lies in the same logic which ties tuition hikes and sexual violence to the oppression of the Palestinian people.  We live in the center of imperialism, the headquarters of worldwide oppression, the United States.  It is the same force, US world imperialism, that reinforces the occupation of Palestinian land, murders Black people in cold police violence, commits sexual violence against women in the Philippines, and deports families all across the United States on a daily basis .  Therefore, the imperialists understand, just as we do, that the only solution to these issues is a broad movement of revolutionary anti-imperialist forces from these different groups, seeking their overthrow.  They must suppress our movement because they know that, if left unfettered, it will grow into a mass upheaval that will not only end Zionism, but tear the US imperialist project from its roots worldwide and at home, planting in its place a world based on justice, peace, and solidarity.  This type of repression is particularly important in the University, where the ideology of the ruling class is shaped and reinforced to create the next generation of administrators of imperialism.  We seek to liberate CUNY for the people, building a University which teaches the real history of the oppressed people of New York City and the world, in order to prepare students not to maintain the world as it is, but to overthrow it.  The Zionist Organization of America, the CUNY Administration, the New York State Assembly, and the ruling classes in general, therefore, will do anything in order to stop us and keep our university and our people in chains.

CUNY is not a neutral ground in the struggle against imperialism. Controlled by the Board of Trustees, CUNY is an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) which serves to reproduce both ruling class ideologies and train students to enter each of the sectors of class society. Our struggle to liberate CUNY for the people is part and parcel of the broader anti-imperialist struggle, not just to improve the conditions of students but to rebuild CUNY to teach the real history of the oppressed people of New York City and the world, and to train students to organize their communities and serve the needs and interests of the people, in order to prepare students not to maintain the world as it is, but to overthrow it. 

In reference to the particular accusations made by this New York Post article and the mysterious 14 page letter sent to the CUNY Chancellor, we will not spend the effort to debunk each absurd individual claim, like the ridiculous idea that we, an anti-racist and anti-imperialist organization, would have anything to do with swastikas on campus.    We have already dealt with the claims of anti-Semitism at the Million Student March, and found them to be baseless propaganda on the part of pro-Israel forces.  Similarly, Brooklyn College faculty present at the Faculty Council meeting have already refuted the claims that anything anti-Semitic was shouted by protesters, a fact reaffirmed by Politico.  We realize that the examples cited by the New York Post are but a few of the many of the ZOA letter, and, if these absurd, vague, and unproven claims are among the strongest in the document, we eagerly  look forward to examining what other fantastical claims the ZOA was able to come up with in their full document.  In terms of the document itself, which is reported to call for the ban of SJP from CUNY campuses, we refer the CUNY Administration to Article XV, Section 15.2.a of the CUNY By-Laws which guarantees students the right to “form an organization, association, club or chapter by filing with the duly elected student government organization of the college or school at which they are enrolled or in attendance” as well as the explicit right to “free expression and association.”  We would like to make clear that any attempt on the part of the Administration to fulfill this ban on CUNY SJPs will be met with swift legal action.

We understand that the role of CUNY is to reproduce an oppressive ruling class ideology, and that is why it comes as no shock to us that CUNY would be so supportive in the defamation of SJP. CUNY administration, as well as CUNY public safety are not here to protect and serve the needs of anyone who tries to disseminate the white supremacist nature of our educational system. However, that should not intimidate us, instead it should make our forces stronger. New York City Students for Justice in Palestine encourages all students to join campus SJPs and be vocal and supportive about the repression SJPs,MSAs, and our allies face everywhere. For all those interested in joining our movement for the liberation of Palestine and all oppressed communities, visit NYC SJP’s Facebook page.

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