The City University of New York’s (CUNY) University Student Senate (USS) voted down a resolution endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism and another resolution supporting a watered-down definition of anti-Semitism after a five-hour debate.
The resolution with the watered-down definition of anti-Semitism, which was being pushed by the CUNY Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), defined anti-Semitism as “hostility, prejudice, vilification, discrimination or violence directed against Jews, as individuals, groups, or as a collective — because they are Jews. Its expression includes attributing to Jews, as a group, practices, characteristics or behaviors that are perceived as dangerous, harmful, frightening, or threatening to non-Jews.” It also claimed that “the equation of speech and activity opposing Israel and Zionism, and/or supporting Palestinians, as inherently antisemitic is a form of anti-Palestinian racism.”
Despite their resolution failing, JLSA celebrated the fact that the Student Senate voted down the other resolution supporting IHRA, tweeting that the Student Senate recognized “the harmful effects of equating antisemitism with anti-Zionism” and “taking a stand against the racist and Islamophobic ways that IHRA has been used to smear Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish students.”
CUNY USS REJECTS IHRA! We applaud the USS for recognizing the harmful effects of equating antisemitism with anti-Zionism.
— CUNY JLSA (@cunyjlsa) April 11, 2021
We commend @USSCUNY for taking a stand against the racist and Islamophobic ways that IHRA has been used to smear Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish students.
— CUNY JLSA (@cunyjlsa) April 11, 2021
IfNotNow, a leftist Jewish organization, similarly tweeted, “Congratulations to the students at CUNY who organized against the codification of the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism on their campus which would’ve curbed free speech, silenced Palestinians, and done nothing to make Jewish students any safer!”
Congratulations to the students at CUNY who organized against the codification of the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism on their campus which would’ve curbed free speech, silenced Palestinians, and done nothing to make Jewish students any safer! https://t.co/j8WOi750xV
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) April 12, 2021
Other Jewish groups had mixed reactions. “While it is extremely disappointing that CUNY USS voted against the IHRA definition of antisemitism, we are relieved that a definition that was crafted by members of Students for Justice in Palestine, to shield themselves from being criticized for promoting antisemitism, was also voted down,” StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement.
“We commend Jewish students for standing up to such malicious bigotry and for the petition they created online that garnered thousands of signatures in favor of the IHRA definition. CUNY USS can still do the right thing by supporting the majority of Jewish students and recognizing the IHRA definition, and we call on them to do so.”
Ilya Bratman, executive director of Hillel at Baruch College, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “While we are disappointed that the IHRA Definition was not adopted, we are relieved that the definition written by groups that do not represent the majority of the Jewish community was not adopted. We hope that next steps will include better dialogue amongst CUNY students as well as education across CUNY about antisemitism.”
Kenneth Marcus, who heads the Louis Brandeis Center and is a former professor at CUNY, said in a statement to the Journal, “As someone who cares about CUNY and spent three years teaching at what is now CUNY’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, it saddens me to see such profound misunderstandings disseminated among CUNY’s students and faculty. CUNY’s unique dedication to social justice advocacy should translate into strong support for the global campaign against contemporary anti-Semitism. In fact, what we’re seeing at CUNY and elsewhere is that the opposite is now increasingly the case: those who should be doing the most to oppose anti-Semitism are actually fighting on the wrong side. Instead of opposing the global resurgence of anti-Semitism, they are taking actions that will only encourage its spread.”
Marcus, who also worked for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights under the Bush and Trump administrations, added that even though the Student Senate rejected both resolutions, they are not being neutral. “The IHRA Working Definition is now the international standard for defining and combating anti-Semitism. In rejecting the IHRA definition, together with a risible alternative, CUNY’s student senate has allowed itself to be used by those who are intent on undermining the international campaign to combat Jew-hatred.”