Dec. 8 incident – the latest of many examples of anti-Israelism/anti-Semitism at CUNY – typifies the sickness in American higher education.
Protestors disrupted a December 8 panel discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at City University of New York Graduate Center, in what has become the standard operating procedure for anti-Israel partisans.
The disruption highlights the academy’s corruption from a place of objective knowledge-seeking into one of subjective faith-protecting; the kind of place that would rather try Galileo for heresy than study or teach Copernican theories. More specifically, it’s but the most recent example in a now long line of anti-Semitic (masquerading as anti-Israel) incidents at CUNY.
Anti-Zionist protestors disrupted a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was held on Thursday night at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. https://t.co/3ufz9eLlJi
— Algemeiner (@Algemeiner) December 9, 2022
President of the CUNY Graduate Center Robin Garrell introduced the event, which was hosted by multiple academic departments across the CUNY system, and co-sponsored by the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences and a new faculty-spearheaded Antisemitism Education Initiative at CUNY. The protestors were apparently seated in the audience when they rose up en masse, came up in front of the podium, and began shrieking and handing out flyers accusing Israel of “occupation”, “censorship”, and “genocide”. After about fifteen minutes, members of the New York Police Department came into the room and escorted the disruptors out.
As the largest Zionist Jewish voice at CUNY, we're disappointed to have been excluded. We hope you'll invite us to participate in the future. pic.twitter.com/To5NBUqIxB
— SAFE CUNY ((Jewish Zionists)) (@SAFECUNY) December 8, 2022
The event was entitled, “A Conversation on the Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” It was meant to explore the transformation of Israel – once considered by the academy and progressive left to be a model for self-sacrifice and redemption – into a nation accused of heinous human rights abuses and of sustaining itself as an outdated remnant of thoroughly delegitimized colonial order.
Miriam Elman, executive director of Academic Engagement Network (AEN) and an event panelist, explained:
How that change took hold in the academy can be understood, at least in part, by the abused and misused vocabulary that is now baked-in to the study of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians in a majority of disciplines in the Humanities and softer Social Sciences. My panelists and I were going to discuss this flawed language and the ways that concepts and terms like apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, Zionism, have been unmoored from their historical understandings, as well as the negative impact it’s had on the campus climate for Jewish students, faculty, and staff.
Turns out the protestors, who then went on to orchestrate a full-blown disruption of our event with the goal of silencing us, perfectly proved our point! Their obnoxious and incendiary flyers, which they distributed to the attendees during the opening reception, did a great job of showcasing how the very words hurled by anti-Israel activists amount to a “crime” against language itself, even as they seek to demoralize and ostracize Jews on campus.
It’s clear that the groups that tried so hard to shut down the event haven’t the slightest interest in behaving in ways consistent with CUNY’s values or the student code of conduct. Even as they were being led out of the room by the police, the panel moderator – a CUNY professor who chairs the Judaic Studies Department at Brooklyn College, graciously invited them to stay to ask questions at the end, to which they responded, “we have no questions.” It’s disheartening to see college students who are so utterly disrespectful of their university’s mission.
Another panelist, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Asaf Romirowsky, echoed Elman’s comments about the sickness within the academy:
The attempt to shut down our panel conversation was yet another illustration of cancel culture coming from individuals who used banners of “Zionism out of CUNY,” accusing Israel of “occupation”, “censorship”, and “genocide”.
All of the above illustrates that, rather than seeking discourse and a free exchange of ideas – which is what actual debate means – the preference is to wear blinders and promote propaganda and ignorance. These all go against the entire framework of the Western university and should alarm everyone regarding the quality and type of education our institutions are promoting.
Positively, the event did go forward after protesters were removed and the faculty who organized the event should be commended for their commitment and courage to scholarship and academic integrity.
One of the things that is so sad about the disgraceful effort to shout down opposing views is the open support of this content moderation effort from CUNY assistant professor Diana B. Greenwald, who offered her “what-aboutist” rationalization for the attempted shutdown via Twitter.
Pro-Palestine protestors disrupt a panel hosted by the "CUNY Alliance for Inclusion" last night titled "Conversation on the Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" that did not include a single Palestinian scholar or scholar of Palestinian politics. pic.twitter.com/gKue9N4r6b
Since the video clip I shot on Thursday of pro-Palestine protestors at a CUNY event has been getting some attention and I have some new followers here as a result, here is what I hope captures my own, fairly comprehensive set of thoughts on the matter: 🧵
Stop excusing and whatabouting the disruption. Those scholars were entitled to present their perspective without disruption. There are many hundreds of "pro-Palestinian" events on campuses across the country that exclude Zionist perspectives, but they don't get disrupted. https://t.co/LajTd6EAvD
— William A. Jacobson (@wajacobson) December 11, 2022
Panelist Donna Robinson Divine, Professor of Jewish Studies at Smith College, reflected on her own previous experiences with the closing of the American academy’s mind:
Almost a decade ago, I listened to scholars at the annual American Historical Association conference accuse Israel of closing off access to the record of its genocide in the 1948 war. Since I am a firm believer that no question is too sacred to be investigated, I started to put together a panel of the heads of the major archives in Israel – State, Military and Zionist – to engage this very question. But when I asked the scholars who leveled the charge to join the discussion, they all refused citing their commitment to BDS. They preferred the narrative and were even willing to dismiss the possibility that they could collect the evidence to turn their charges into a real indictment.
For that reason, I was determined to interrogate the narrative and so I asked Miriam Elman and Asaf Romirowsky to help put together the special issue of Israel Studies called WORD CRIMES: Reclaiming the Language of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. Various groups at CUNY approached us to see if we would talk about the volume. The group interrupting us passed out flyers with wrong information about each of us, cherry picking statements we had made. For example, they described me as a revisionist historian. [Divine has a Ph.D. in political science and taught politics, not history.] They mentioned that I described Israel as a Zionist success. I did. But what they neglected to say was that I drew the criteria for the success of a political society from Rousseau’s Social Contract where he emphasizes demographic growth.
These kinds of protests degrade the academy by closing down discussions and debates devaluing knowledge and replacing analysis and research with catchy slogans. To believe that this helps Palestinians is delusional.
Sadly, the most surprising thing about the interruption is that police did remove the protestors and the event did go forward after just fifteen minutes of delay, instead of the event being canceled entirely as has become a common occurrence at university and pro-Israel events generally.
The event is but the latest in a long line of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist conduct at CUNY. Check out LIF’s previous coverage at:
- Another low for academia: Anti-Israel “Homonationalism and Pinkwashing” Conference at CUNY (2012)
- ALERT – CUNY Doctoral Student Council to vote on Israel academic boycott (2016)
- Conservative Jewish Prof Describes Sickening Anti-Semitism on Campus (2019)
- City University of NY Profs Sue, Alleging Their Union is ‘Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel’ (2022)
- Jewish Students/Faculty Complain to American Bar Ass’n that CUNY Law School Discriminates With Pervasive “Anti-Zionist” Anti-Semitism (2022)
- CUNY Prof Claims School is Investigating Him After Asking for Removal of BDS Supporter From DEI Search Committee (2022)
UPDATE: We received the following communication from Tanya Domi, Director, Media Relations, Office of Communications, CUNY Graduate Center:
The NYPD, nor the CUNY Public safety officers did not escort students out of the event, contrary to your reporting. The students left of their own volition, quietly. Thanks for your attention to this correction.
I’m not sure what the distinction is between NYPD or CUNY public safety officers “escorting” disruptive students out of the event, as Algemeiner reported, or disruptive students being “led” away by police, as Miriam Elman related; versus students ‘leaving quietly of their own volition after police show up,’ as CUNY insists. -JMDONATE
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