Students and staff at NY college pledge re-education programs for Jews to 'unlearn Zionism'

The letter has been criticised as a ‘throwback to Soviet re-education campaigns to un-Jew the Jews’


A group of students and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) have signed a pledge to establish programs to “unlearn Zionism” in a letter criticised as a “throwback to Soviet re-education."

In a manifesto-like open letter, signatories demand “resistance by any means necessary” for Palestinians, claim that Israel is engaged in “ethnic cleansing” and “funds Nazi militia groups”, and asserts that the widely-accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism “is a ploy to demonize anti-Zionist and Palestinian freedom of speech”.

The letter entitled “Not In Our Name” appears to have been written by students at the university who campaign against Israel and Zionism, and aim to pressure the university into supporting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement.

It labels Israel a “settler-colonial regime” that practices “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” against Palestinians.

It is claimed that the letter represents Jewish anti-Zionist students, faculty, and groups at CUNY, but it has also been signed by activist groups like the “League of Young Communists” and “Rank and File Action”, which are not Jewish groups.

The letter calls for “global liberation, resistance by any means necessary, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the return of all land prior to 1948”. It adds: “We commit to Palestinian liberation as defined by Palestinians.”

It simultaneously rejects Zionism, which is widely defined as “the movement for the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland”, and rejects the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which Jews around the world have adopted as the most appropriate definition, and has been adopted by thousands of institutions in numerous countries.

The letter goes on to allege that “the Zionist movement within CUNY aims to criminalize and demonize Palestinian students and workers”, and calls for the university to end its partnership with Hillel - the largest Jewish campus organisation in the world – claiming it is an “anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, Islamophobic, and anti-Palestinian organization”.

It adds that Israel “funds Nazi militia groups abroad, arms fascists oppressing liberation revolutionary groups, inspires fascist regimes and white supremacists globally, and oppresses Black and Brown Jews of Color within the settler colonial state of Israel.”

The signatories of the letter – which include staff, students, and alumni – pledged to “create networks and programs within the CUNY Jewish population to question, critique, and unlearn Zionism”.

This line has been widely criticised throughout the Jewish community. Blake Flayton, columnist at Jewish Journal, tweeted: “Throwbacks to Soviet re-education campaigns to un-Jew the Jews.”

Binyomin Gilbert of Campaign Against Antisemitism tweeted: “Nice of them, ‘educate the savages’”, and Jackson Richman of Mediaite wrote: “This is anti-Semitic. Period.”

Other pledges include endorsing BDS “without question”, opposing “all methods of normalization with Zionist entities and organizations”, and inviting anti-Zionist speakers to campus “to show young adult Jewish youth that Zionism is not the only way”.

The letter has gathered a total of 42 signatures – 32 individuals, four CUNY organisations, five non-CUNY individuals, and one non-CUNY organisation.

Of the four CUNY organisational signatories, three are not Jewish groups at all, despite the letter claiming to represent Jewish students, staff, and organisations. Two are left-wing activist groups, and “Rank and File Action” is a self-described “militant” campaign group.

One of the individual signatories is Stanley Cohen, an attorney who has defended Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and who has tweeted that Zionism is “a prime mover of anti-semitism".

CUNY antisemitism hearing

CUNY administrators clashed with New York City councilmembers at a hearing on 1 July, less than two weeks ago, called to examine the school's handling of antisemitic incidents across its 25 campuses.

According to Jewish Insider, Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez did not show up for the hearing, despite it having been moved multiple times to accommodate his schedule.

The school came under fire when CUNY's law school faculty and law student association voted to endorse BDS in May, charging the school with “complicity” in war crimes alleged to have been perpetrated by Israel, and called for ties to be cut between CUNY and Israeli institutions, as well a Jewish student groups on campus.

At the fractious hearing, Brooklyn Councilmember Inna Vernikov denounced what she labelled as Rodríguez’s “cowardly” decision not to appear for scrutiny, saying: “What a sham, what an insult to the Jewish community of New York."

“Him not showing up is actually perpetuating the antisemitism that we’re talking about here."

Jewish Insider reports that CUNY officials repeatedly dodged questions during the hearing, that they admitted to not logging antisemitic incidents on its campuses, and also said that students who draw a swastika on campus are not automatically expelled.

They also said that they do not use the internationally-accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism, saying: “We believe the definition of harassment and discrimination is clear in our nondiscrimination and equal opportunity policy.”

CUNY has been approached for comment on the letter and the New York City Council hearing on 1 July.

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