Jewish Groups Criticize CUNY Chancellor for Not Appearing at NYC City Council Antisemitism Hearing

July 1, 2022
Felix Matos Rodriguez, Chancellor of The City University of New York (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images for QBFC)

Jewish groups are criticizing City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez for not appearing at the June 30 New York City Council hearing on antisemitism plaguing the university.

The hearing had initially been scheduled for June 8 but was postponed; the City Council had said at the time that the postponement was because the chancellor “had a scheduling conflict,” according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“Dear @ChancellorCUNY,” Students for Faculty and Equality (S.A.F.E.) CUNY tweeted, “if you cannot even bother to show up at an antisemitism probe into your own university, after it was postponed once to accommodate your schedule, you are unfit for this position and you must step down.”

StandWithUs similarly tweeted, “The #CUNY Chancellor will not be attending today’s NYC Council hearing on #antisemitism, which was rescheduled specifically to accommodate him. This no-show only reinforces the feeling of marginalization that Jewish students are experiencing.”

Stop Antisemitism also tweeted: “Jew hatred has infected CUNY at every level – for CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez (@ChancellorCUNY) to NOT show up to today’s hearing investigating this after he cancelled the first time shows his cruelty and true colors. Matos Rodríguez is not fit to hold this position!”

Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, also said in a statement: “It is appalling that the Chancellor of a major university system is so unconcerned about systemic bigotry targeting minority students, twice blowing off a government hearing on antisemitism. He cannot be trusted to uphold the civil rights of minority and marginalized students and faculty, including those in the Jewish community, and needs to go. His silence is precisely why Jew-hatred has flourished under his failed leadership of CUNY.”

A CUNY spokesperson said in a statement to the Journal about the matter: “Making sure everyone feels safe and protected at our campuses is a top priority at CUNY, which is arguably the nation’s most diverse university system and attracts people of all backgrounds and nationalities. CUNY leadership was pleased to testify today about the University’s ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism, violence, hate, racism and intolerance of any kind on our campuses, in our country and in the world. This is important but hard, never-ending work, and we are always learning new ways to improve our efforts. CUNY is committed to fostering an environment where all faculty, staff and students can work, teach and learn free from any form of discrimination.”

The Journal obtained transcripts from the hearing of various CUNY officials explaining the efforts they are taking to combat antisemitism on campus, including the creation of Faith Based Affinity Groups and the Interfaith Student Fellowship to help bring together students of various faith backgrounds and various programs over the past year discussing how to combat antisemitism. But S.A.F.E. CUNY told the Journal that the CUNY officials who attended the hearing “shockingly refused to answer repeated questions about whether Zionist Jews are protected CUNY discrimination policy.” “That tells you all you need to know about why CUNY has failed so miserably in addressing the problem,” the group said, “and it tells you why Chancellor Matos Rodriguez didn’t even bother to show up at the hearings at all. CUNY demonstrated today they have absolutely no interest in protecting Zionist Jews on their campuses or about making them feel safe.” It is the Journal’s understanding that the chancellors only testify at hearings on CUNY’s budget; subject experts and officials closer to the situation testify at other hearings.

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also testified at the hearing, stating that “on CUNY campuses, most of the acts targeting Jewish students for harassment have been Israel-related, and these acts have more than doubled over the last year” and that “many of the nearly 300 CUNY faculty who openly support Academic BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] have participated in student and faculty union BDS efforts, and just last month the CUNY Law Faculty formally adopted a resolution calling for Academic BDS.” “These faculty efforts not only directly limit the educational opportunities of all CUNY students, they add academic legitimacy to the anti-normalization efforts that seriously threaten the safety and well-being of Jewish and pro-Israel students on CUNY campuses,” Rossman-Benjamin said. She added: “Given the clear evidence that there is an increasing number of CUNY faculty who use their taxpayer funded positions to promote Academic BDS-compliant, anti-normalization efforts that directly and indirectly harm students, we strongly recommend CUNY immediately institute measures that prohibit faculty from using their positions and public funds for the purpose of political advocacy and activism, including the implementation of Academic BDS.”

Alyza D. Lewin, President of the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, testified as well. In her testimony, which was obtained by the Journal, she said: “On campuses today – Jewish students are being marginalized and excluded – particularly from progressive spaces. University administrators misunderstand what they are witnessing. They mistakenly think what is taking place is a political debate. It’s not. The reason antisemitism is increasing and not decreasing on campus is because university administrators are mis-diagnosing the problem. They are treating this as a speech issue rather than recognizing the marginalization, harassment and discrimination that is taking place.” Lewin also urged CUNY and other universities to “provide mandatory training for administrators, faculty and students to educate them, so that they become sensitive to this form of harassment and discrimination. They must recognize it, address it, and take steps to eliminate the hostile environment created by this form of harassment and discrimination.”

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