Lawmaker says she is holding NYC university accountable for anti-Semitism

New York Councilwoman Inna Vernikov told Campus Reform that the decision to revoke the funding was 'painful but not difficult.'

CUNY faculty recently endorsed a BDS resolution, while CUNY law students elected a commencement speaker with a history of making anti-Semitic remarks.

In response to the City of New York School of Law (CUNY Law) allegedly associating with or endorsing anti-Semitism on multiple occasions, New York Councilwoman Inna Vernikov withdrew $50,000 worth of funding from the university last month. 

Vernikov, a Republican from the 48th District, is the largest funder of CUNY Law’s School of Law Justice and Auxiliary Service program, according to Jewish Press.

While Vernikov told Jewish Press that she wanted to continue to fund the pro-bono legal program widely used by her constituents, CUNY’s growing association with, and endorsement of, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel acts caused her to change her mind.

Vernikov told Campus Reform that the decision to revoke the funding was “painful but not difficult.”

“Ultimately the pervasive and dangerous culture of hate, antisemitism and intimidation that has for years gone unchecked at CUNY left me with no choice,” Vernikov said. “The rhetoric stemming from campus BDS supporters, the lack of leadership and concern from CUNY over this issue was simply too deeply troubling to ignore.”

Campus Reform has reported on other anti-semitic incidents at CUNY in the past.

In June 2021, for example, Campus Reform covered the resignation of Jeffrey Lax, an Orthodox Jewish Professor at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College. 

[Related: Jewish students are fighting anti-Semitism at this university]

Lax resigned after his colleagues passed a resolution condemning Israel and planning to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (‘BDS’) movement.

Sixty other CUNY professors resigned after the anti-Israel resolution passed.

The resolution condemned “the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel” as well as “racism in all forms, including anti-Semitism, and recognizes that criticisms of Israel, a diverse nation-state, are not inherently anti-Semitic,” the Jewish Journal reported. 

In December of 2021, Lax posted a video to his YouTube channel detailing the repeated anti-Semitic attacks leveled against him and other Jewish and pro-Israel colleagues at CUNY.

Lax co-founded S.A.F.E. CUNY, a “vigilantly non-partisan” group that “advocates for Zionist Jews systemically discriminated against and excluded by CUNY and the PSC-CUNY faculty union.” 

S.A.F.E. CUNY released a statement in support of Councilwoman Vernikov for her “moral and courageous decision to withhold funding from the CUNY School of Law for its blatantly discriminatory, bigoted, and antisemitic adoption of BDS on its campus.”

Lax told Campus Reform that “CUNY has become a cesspool of antisemitism not just at CUNY Law but across a shocking number of campuses.”

Additionally, in Dec. 2021, CUNY Law Student Government Association passed a resolution demanding that the university system cut ties with Israel and become a part of the BDS movement.

“CUNY, including CUNY Law, is directly complicit in the ongoing apartheid, genocide, and war crimes perpetrated by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people,” the resolution states.

On May 12 of this year, the CUNY Law School faculty council endorsed the resolution, according to The New York Post.

[Related: Meet the professor who wanted Israel ‘to accept the terms of truce presented by Hamas’]

In response to this endorsement, NYC’s City Council was set to begin investigating claims of anti-Semitism in the CUNY system this week, but the meeting has been postponed as of June 7. 

As reported by Jewish Press, Councilwoman Vernikov expressed her distaste with the BDS movement, believing that it defames Israel by falsely alleging “human rights abuses.”

“This move is not only defamatory and antisemitic, but it is hypocritical in nature,” she told Jewish Press. “CUNY has never passed a resolution to boycott any other country in the world, as there are countries who actually commit atrocious human rights violations, including but not limited to genocide, rape, torture, and persecution.”

For this year’s graduation ceremony, CUNY Law’s student body elected a speaker with a history of radical anti-Semitic activism for their commencement speech.

On May 30, CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodriguez released a statement expressing that the speech was one of a “political nature,” and that it did not represent the views of the university.

In her decision to withdraw her funding to CUNY, Vernikov pointed to the correlation between anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence toward Jews.

“There is a direct link between antisemitic speech and violence that follows. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to allocate $50,000 to a program affiliated with ardent antisemites and haters of the State of Israel,” Vernikov said, according to Jewish Press.

Campus Reform reached out to Rafaella Gunz, Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, CUNY, and CUNY School of Law, while best efforts were made to contact Nerdeen Kiswani and CUNY Law Student Government Association. This article will be updated accordingly. 

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