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NYC City Councilwoman Revokes $50,000 in Funding for CUNY Law Following BDS Endorsement

[additional-authors]
May 31, 2022
CUNY Law School, Evulaj90/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Inna Vernikov, Elan715/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov announced that she is revoking $50,000 that had been allocated to the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School after faculty members endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The New York Post reported that on May 12, the faculty at CUNY Law voted to endorse a pro-BDS resolution that the Student Government Association passed in December urging CUNY to divest from any institutions that conduct business with Israel.

“It seems as if antisemitism is the only politically acceptable form of racism which exists,” Vernikov, a Republican who serves as the Minority Whip in the City Council, told the Post. “We must stop handing out free passes to anti-Semites like candy.” She added that “during a time when antisemitic hate crimes are up by 300%, it is incumbent upon our academic institutions to do everything in their power to protect their Jewish and pro-Israel students, not pass resolutions which directly place them in harm’s way.” The money, which had been slated for CUNY to provide pro bono services to those in need, will instead go toward the Legal Services NYC nonprofit.

Gerard Filitti, Senior Counsel for The Lawfare Project, lauded Vernikov’s action as “very significant,” telling the Post: “If other minorities were targeted with the bigotry that Jewish students and faculty face at CUNY, there would be a public outcry to demand accountability, consequences, and change. The Jewish community deserves no less.”

Former New York Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who heads the Americans Against Antisemitism watchdog, praised Vernikov during a May 31 segment of “The Dov Hikind Show” for doing “something real.” “How come everyone else is deaf and dumb, for God’s sake,” Hikind said. “Where are all the other elected officials? Where are all the other people who understand and know and speak against antisemitism but they do nothing, absolutely nothing?” Hikind added that “talk is cheap” and “action is what we need.”

CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodriguez issued a statement on May 30 saying that the university “does not support and to be clear cannot participate in BDS activities” under the state’s anti-BDS law and the resolution’s call to cease academic exchange programs with Israel “is contrary to a university’s core mission to introduce students to a world that can be vastly different from their own.”

Rodriguez’s statement also addressed the commencement speech given by Nerdeen Kiswani, who founded the organization “Within Our Lifetime” that holds rallies calling to “globalize the intifada,” according to The Jerusalem Post. “Student commencement speakers are selected by their fellow graduates to deliver remarks,” Rodriguez said. “They speak for themselves, not for the University, and the opinions they express are their own. We understand that opinions of a political nature can create tension when members of our community stand on conflicting sides of polarizing issues and causes that are undergirded by deeply held convictions. We believe the best way to counter the resulting discord is to expand upon the work we do across our campuses to encourage scholarship, dialogue, tolerance and civil engagement that fosters understanding and a way forward.”

CUNY Professor Jeffrey Lax argued in a May 29 Jerusalem Post op-ed that “CUNY administrators do not know what antisemitism is. At no level does CUNY policy even define antisemitism. How can a scourge be addressed when its nature, goals, and tactics are not understood?” He urged the university and the university’s professor’s union to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

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