The New York State Senate approved a resolution to cut $485 million in funds for the City University of New York system, saying it was to “send a message” that the colleges were not taking enough action in response to campus anti-Semitism.
Last week’s vote, following a two-hour debate, came despite objections from numerous state senators who questioned whether the allegations of anti-Semitism are accurate and whether cutting funds was an appropriate response.
The alleged anti-Semitism came to the Senate’s attention in late February, when the Zionist Organization of America sent CUNY Chancellor James Milliken a lengthy letter detailing Jewish students’ complaints of anti-Semitism and warning that they violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that federally funded universities ensure that Jewish students and others suffer no discrimination on campus.
Politico New York’s coverage of the March 14 vote suggested, however, that anti-Semitism might not have been the only reason the Senate favored the funding cut.
The resolution was accepting a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “shift $485 million in annual operating costs” from the state to New York City. Cuomo had not mentioned anti-Semitism in his proposal, according to Politico, instead explaining the move as in response to the city’s financial stability and efforts to make the system more efficient.
Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents Manhattan’s Upper East Side, argued against the resolution.
“The language in the resolution says that because CUNY has had a few anti-Semitic incidents, we should cut funding for higher education for 500,000 students in the City of New York,” she said, according to Politico New York. “None of us endorse anti-Semitism, racism … unfortunately we live in a society were those incidents occasionally happen everywhere.”
However, State Sen. Ken LaValle, who chairs the body’s committee on higher education, said the cost shift would “send a message” to CUNY’s administration, Politico reported.
CUNY Chancellor James Milliken responded to the resolution the next day. In a letter emailed to senators that was also signed by Board of Trustees chairman Benno Schmidt, he noted that the university "has strongly and consistently condemned all forms of bigotry and discrimination on our campuses." In the letter he outlined the steps the university was taking to investigate reports of recent incidents, pinpoint best practices to create a tolerant atmosphere on campus and review the university's policies on speech and expression.
At the City University of New York, Jewish students at four campuses — Brooklyn College, Hunter College, the College of Staten Island and John Jay College — have complained of being harassed, slurred and silenced by hostile pro-Palestinian students. On Feb. 16, students at Brooklyn College disrupted a faculty meeting to demand that “Zionists” leave campus and called one professor a “Zionist pig.”
At a panel discussion at Hunter held earlier this month as part of Israel Apartheid Week and International Women’s Day, Students for Justice in Palestine student leader Nerdeen Kiswani accused Israel of using “mass rapes of Palestinian women” as part of a campaign to “perpetrate genocide” on the Palestinian people.
“Israel is a state that is built on murder and mass rape of Palestinian women,” said Kiswani, a statement that neither the panel moderator nor any audience members questioned.
Mort Klein, the president of ZOA, praised the move to defund, the Forward reported.
However, according to The Jerusalem Post, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ leader, Malcolm Hoenlein, questioned the approach.
“There are other ways to address this,” Hoenlein told the Post on Monday. “Cutting the budget is, I think, an expression of the frustration on the part of some of the legislators about the history of the past few months.”
Jewish Week deputy managing editor Amy Sara Clark contributed reporting to this story.