REPORT: Systemic anti-Semitism at CUNY

Jeffery Lax of SAFE CUNY told Campus Reform, ‘We were starting to realize it’s not just that they’re tolerating anti-Semitism. It’s that they’re promoting it at the university from the highest levels.’

‘[W]hen you promote radicalism, of course, it's going to enter society, and of course it's going to [have an] impact, especially when there are high profile graduates,’ Lax stated.

Students and Faculty for Equality at the City University of New York (SAFE CUNY) recently published a detailed report on the systemic anti-Semitism in the country’s largest urban public university system.

SAFE CUNY is a support group for Jewish and Zionist faculty and students within the university system that responds to anti-Semitism on the school’s 25 campuses.

Co-founder of SAFE CUNY Jeffery Lax told Campus Reform that although his organization receives numerous tips on individual anti-Semitic incidents, the impetus behind this recent report was to document the depth of anti-Semitism within the university administration.

[RELATED: CUNY union President blames ‘white Christian nationalism’ for anti-Semitism on campus]

“We were starting to realize,” Lax explained, “it’s not just that they’re tolerating anti-Semitism. It’s that they’re promoting it at the university from the highest levels.”

Of primary interest in the report is Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez’s support of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has actively supported the terrorist organization Hamas.

The report also notes that Rodriguez’s support of CAIR includes not only his strong opposition to the comprehensive International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism but also the appointment of former CAIR Minnesota Director Saly Abd Alla to Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) at CUNY.

Abd Alla is also an active supporter of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Movement (BDS), which seeks the cultural and political isolation of Israel and is often used as a vehicle of ani-Semitism.

Campus Reform frequently covers incidents of anti-Semitism on campuses, but Lax contends that the anti-Semitism at CUNY is unique because it permeates from the administration downwards rather than from grassroots organizing.

“I’ve seen these things funded by anti-Semitic student groups. I’ve seen them funded by anti-Semitic faculty groups. I’ve never once seen it before funded by a government university that was paid directly from its city’s constituents, [from] taxpayer dollars,” Lax observed.

The Anti-Defamation League announced in March that reports of anti-Semitic incidents rose 36% in 2022, totaling 3,697 reported instances of harassment, vandalism, or assault.

Lax highlighted that colleges and universities have a critical role in the proliferation of anti-Semitism in the general culture because of their role in shaping the next generation of leaders.

“[W]hen you promote radicalism, of course, it’s going to enter society, and of course, it’s going to [have an] impact, especially when there are high profile graduates,” Lax said.

A CUNY spokesperson responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment by saying the report “is littered with factual inaccuracies and inflammatory accusations, is designed to malign our system, and ignores CUNY’s consistent and ongoing efforts to counter the violence, hate, antisemitism and racism that can creep into our campuses, our country and the world.”

The spokesperson further responded by saying that although the school finds the general rise in anti-Semitism “deeply alarming,” the system “has repeatedly and consistently denounced antisemitism and has taken a number of steps to combat it on our campuses.”

[RELATED: CUNY drops administrator with ties to Hamas from investigation into anti-Semitism]

Lax sees this statement as a “tacit admission” that CUNY is indeed systemically anti-Semitic.

“When they give you a generic boilerplate statement like that, it is to me a horrifying admission that they cannot refute even one fact in our report,” Lax retorted.

Lax stated that CUNY’s official response to the report, “gives [him] even greater confidence, not only in the accuracy of our report…but also in the systemic nature of their anti-Semitism. They’re not interested in refuting that it’s true. They’re interested in continuing to do it.”

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.