Antisemitism policies at public city colleges in New York will be reviewed, the governor says

Protests about the war between Israel and Hamas have erupted on college campuses across the country

Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters at the state Capitol, July 1, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.Hans Pennink (AP)

An independent party will review antisemitism policies at the City University of New York, the nation’s largest urban public university system, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday, as protests about the war between Israel and Hamas erupt on college campuses across the country.

Hochul, a Democrat, said the review will assess how the college system handles antisemitism complaints and will make recommendations on how administrators can better protect Jewish students and faculty. It will be conducted by Jonathan Lippman, a former chief judge of New York’s highest court.

Political tensions over the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict have long run high at City University of New York schools, which include 25 campuses and almost a quarter-million students, with protests and rallies sometimes gaining widespread attention and leading to accusations of antisemitism.

“We will take on the antisemitism we have seen on college campuses,” Hochul said. “The problem didn’t begin with the weeks following the Oct. 7 attacks. It’s been growing on a number of campuses and seen most acutely in the City University of New York.”

Hochul said the investigation will include an assessment of antisemitism on the system’s campuses, how the schools investigate antisemitism and discrimination complaints, and will make recommendations on how to honor free speech rights while protecting people from discrimination and antisemitism.

A report based on the review is expected next spring. “As a Judge and lawyer, my focus has always been first and foremost on fairness and equal justice,” Lippman said in a written statement. “That same sense of fairness, and freedom from intimidation, for Jewish students and all others in CUNY’s academic community, will be at the center of my review.”

The City University of New York issued a statement saying that it would cooperate with the review. “As an institution of higher learning and one of the country’s most diverse universities, CUNY has taken many steps to combat hate, discrimination and intolerance in all forms, important work which we continue every day,” the statement reads. “We will cooperate with Judge Lippman’s review as we work to build on the progress we’ve made.”

Palestinian activism at CUNY has previously drawn concern from local leaders and Jewish groups. In 2016, after the Zionist Organization of America levied complaints of antisemitism against a campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine, CUNY’s chancellor convened a task force to investigate the claims.

The final report ultimately cleared the group of several allegations, noting it was wrong to link its anti-Zionist stance to antisemitism. But the damage inflicted by the monthslong investigation, which included repeated interviews with student activists, brought a cloud of suspicion that “effectively quelled Palestinian activism on campus,” according to Nerdeen Kiswani, a former leader of the group.

“I’m worried this is just another smokescreen to silence or undermine pro-Palestine activism during a time when it’s needed the most,” Kiswani added.

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