In a letter sent to the City Council Jewish Council, CUNY chancellor Milliken and the chair of the board of trustees, Benno Schmidt, stated, “As you know, The City University of New York has consistently and strongly condemned all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and we will continue to do so. We have been deeply concerned with some recent activities on CUNY campuses and we are committed to ensuring that none of our students are subjected to conduct that would interfere with their opportunity to exercise their rights, obtain an education and participate fully in the life of the University…. We take seriously our responsibility to promote and encourage tolerance and civility and to respond to allegations of prohibited harassment or intimidation so that all our students may enjoy an environment in which they can learn and thrive….”
The letter outlined steps CUNY was taking to find the right balance of ensuring freedom of speech and free association for its students while working toward an atmosphere of tolerance and civility on campus, and noted that federal judge Barbara Jones and former federal prosecutor Paul Shechtman have been hired “to review incidents and University responses and provide recommendations….” The letter also said CUNY would create a task force and has already created a working group.
Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor and board secretary, delineated the difference between the two: “The working group will look at current university policy related to freedom of speech and prohibited conduct and make recommendations; the task force will look, more broadly, at campus climate and recommend ways to ensure healthiest learning environment.”
But he would not state who would be in either group, or what time frame either is working with. Chancellor Milliken did not reply to an e-mail asking for that information and Michael Arena, CUNY’s director for communications and marketing, responded by e-mail to other questions but not this one.
“Milliken has used a delaying tactic to investigate,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Jewish Press. “What’s to investigate? Students for Justice in Palestine has rallies screaming horrific things at Jewish students, such as ‘Jews out of CUNY,’ ‘Let’s drag the Zionists through the streets,’ ‘The Jews are raising our tuition,’ ‘Long live the intifada,’ ‘Jews are fascists, racists, Nazis, Zionist pigs,’ ‘Jews get out of our –ing country.’
“If statements of this nature had been made against homosexuals, African Americans or Hispanics, Milliken would have removed SJP as a student-funded group immediately and condemned them by name. But he hasn’t condemned SJP.
“Jews are afraid to wear yarmulkes, Jewish stars, Israeli shirts. We can’t let that happen in the biggest Jewish city in America at a major public university that Jews helped build. He’s condemned anti-Semitism. Of course you condemn anti-Semitism, but so what? He’s got to call these people out by name and punish them. They must be held accountable.”
The ZOA letter urged Milliken and the CUNY board of trustees “to take the following remedial steps, to ensure that Jewish students are afforded the kind of learning environment that every student deserves – one that is physically and psychologically safe and conducive to learning: (1) publicly condemn the SJP and its hateful, divisive and anti-Semitic actions; (2) hold this group accountable for violation of CUNY rules and policies; (3) mandate that the SJP and all other student groups complete training on anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry; (4) investigate the SJP’s funding sources, to confirm that all funds are being lawfully obtained; and (5) publicly call for zero tolerance for anti-Semitism at CUNY and educate the CUNY community about the many forms that anti-Semitism takes today.”