On November 12, 2015, New York City Students for Justice in Palestine (NYC SJP), along with students at around 100 universities across the United States, participated in the Million Students March to demand tuition-free public colleges, the cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. The NYC march was comprised of students from campuses across CUNY (including Baruch, BMCC, Brooklyn College, City College, CSI, Hunter, John Jay, and Queens College), and additionally demanded that CUNY divest from all private prison companies, Israeli companies, and companies that directly maintain the occupation of Palestine. These demands reflect a range of campaigns occurring across CUNY, including the CUNY Prison Divest (CPD) campaign which also aims to end all cooperation between CUNY and the New York Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
CUNY’s financial and ideological support for Zionism is inseparable from its cooperation with the NYPD and its investment in private prisons. Of the $275,200 that CUNY has invested into private prisons, $248,900 or over 90% is invested in G4S, a British multinational security company that provides security services for prisons in over one hundred countries worldwide, including both the United States and the settler-colonial state of Israel. G4S guards patrol Israeli military bases in Palestine and the company operates interrogation centers and provides equipment and services to the checkpoints surrounding the illegal Apartheid wall. The company clearly helps to facilitate the apartheid system and the siege on Gaza which has turned it into an open air prison. The NYPD and dozens of other police departments in the US have received “counter-terrorism” training from the Israeli Defense Forces. These Israeli-trained police, including the NYPD (who have an office in Jerusalem) are now found recruiting in CUNY campuses such as John Jay, Brooklyn College and Kingsborough Community College.
Nonetheless, following the rally, a slew of articles from several different media outlets came out falsely accusing the Million Student March in NYC of anti-Semitism due to the demand that CUNY divest from Israeli companies and companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine, in accordance with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. Though NYC SJP served a leading role in organizing the March, the New York Post accused us of “hijacking” it with “hate-mongering” rhetoric. From the beginning of the rally, several self-proclaimed Zionists, later identified as members of Zionist organizations such as StandWithUs and Hillel, attempted to divide the demand for divestment from Israel from the other demands of the campaign. Meanwhile the students who claimed to support all of the demands except divestment from Israel, such as a freeze on tuition hikes, were never involved in any organizing leading up to the demonstration, and their presence in the march was only to disrupt.
We categorically refute all claims of racism being thrown at the Million Student March and various chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. NYC SJP opposes anti-semitism and all forms of racism. If there were any anti-Semitic comments made at the rally we firmly condemn them, as we condemn all forms of racism, and had we discovered any expressions of anti-Semitism among protesters, we would have ejected them from the rally. Yet, when the Zionist students were asked to point out who made the anti-Semitic comments, we were met with silence. Instead all that can be heard are chants of “Zionism out of CUNY” towards several students holding signs proclaiming themselves as Zionists. The media quickly painted chants against Zionism and solidarity with the intifada as anti-Semitism. However, this in itself is inherently anti-Semitic because it associates the crimes of the state of Israel with the entirety of the Jewish people. A racist political ideology and an ethnic/religious group are not one in the same, and unlike the media, we actually make that distinction. Furthermore, expressing solidarity with the uprising of the Palestinian people proclaiming their self-determination is not indicative of anti-Semitism, nor is it an attack on the Jewish people. It is the core of Palestine solidarity organizations to stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle against colonialism and national oppression, and that is exactly what we mean when we chant “Long Live the Intifada”.
What is disconcerting is the fact that the media presented the rally as holistically anti-semitic with complete disregard to the blatant islamophobia and white supremacist comments that were actually made at the rally with documented video evidence. Similarly the administration of CUNY released several statements claiming that the expressions of solidarity with Palestine reeked of “thinly veiled bigotry” and expressed a stance only against anti-Semitism, with willful ignorance to islamophobic and hateful speech made by several counter-protesters. One Hunter student carried a laptop with footage of Syrian refugees, screaming that “Muslims are taking over,” that we were “animals,” claimed that “immigrants are de-purifying Europe”, and said threatening statements against Muslims. At the same time as wrongfully accusing the rally of anti-Semitism, CUNY police defended the islamophobic and anti-immigrant student, bringing not one, but two Public Safety officers as well as the head of Public Safety at Hunter, Joseph Foelsch, to allow the student to stand in the middle of the protest and continue to antagonize students.
In the statement released on November 12th, the CUNY administration, President Jennifer Raab, and the Undergraduate Student Government chose not to condemn the very real islamophobia and racism shown by several counter-protesters, and instead only addressed unfounded accusations of anti-semitism at the march without actually investigating the incident. At the rally, students from Students For Israel and Hillel called a Jewish member of SJP a “self-hating Jew” for voicing opposition to Israeli policies, an anti-Semitic phrase in itself. In past semesters, Hunter SJP and the Muslim Student Association have faced islamophobia, including the viral video of Jake Lang in the Hunter West lobby mocking Muslim women who wear the niqab. This is indicative of CUNY’s long history of not only ignoring, but perpetuating systemic racism, including islamophobia and Zionism. They have proven this by being an institution that hires war criminals like David Petraeus, allows the NYPD to infiltrate student spaces, and is deeply invested in both mass incarceration and the occupation of Palestine. Where was the outraged administration and USG when Muslims were being victimized? Where was the outraged administration when it came to light that there were undercover NYPD informants in Muslim Student Associations across CUNY? Instead of outrage there was deafening silence. We have no expectations that CUNY or President Raab will condemn islamophobia, or retract their statements condemning the rally on unfounded accusations.
CUNY has made it clear which side it is on.
All around the United States, Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have been facing repression and accusations of anti-Semitism for integrating the Palestinian cause into the general student movement against tuition hikes, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and fighting against the systematic locking out of oppressed nationalities and the working class from accessing education. For example, Loyola Black Voices held a protest in solidarity with the University of Missouri students and added the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the state of Israel to their list of demands. Organizers from the Palestine Solidarity Committee at University of Texas – Austin were physically threatened and held by the police for daring to criticize an event glorifying the Israeli Defense Forces. Students at Loyola, UT Austin, CUNY and more have been labeled anti-Semites for their participation in an internationalist student movement that takes up the fight against structural racism and privatization of education at the same time that it stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The coordinated repression directed towards Palestine solidarity organizations by university administrations serves to distract from the rest of the demands, which include implementing open admissions, abolishing tuition, reintroducing remedial classes, and stopping the militarization of our campuses.
We call on the Hunter College Undergraduate Student Government to retract their signature from the unfactual statement, based only on the accounts of the Zionist counter protestors, and to immediately draft and release a statement condemning the CUNY administration for its repression of student organizers, and its blatant facilitation of structural racism.
New York City Students for Justice in Palestine
BMCC Students Without Borders
Bronx United in Struggle Organization
Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine
City College Students Without Borders
College of Staten Island Students for Justice in Palestine
Hunter College Students for Justice in Palestine
Hunter College Students Without Borders
John Jay College Students for Justice in Palestine
Pace University NYC Students for Justice in Palestine
St. Joseph’s College Students for Justice in Palestine
Pakistan Solidarity Network
Queens College Students Without Borders
Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee
Samidoun Palestinian Political Prisoner Network
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (solidarity statement here)
Bronx United in Struggle Organization
International Action Center
Workers World Party
UMass Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine
National Lawyers Guild
Fight Imperialism Stand Together
Labor for Palestine
SOAS Palestine Society
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
NYU Students for Justice in Palestine
WI Bail Out The People Movement
California Teachers Association
Solidarity with Ukraine Antifascists Committee
People’s Power Assemblies
Palestine Solidarity Collective (Syracuse)
OEA Peace and Justice Caucus
NYC International Socialist Organization
Adalah NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine
Middle East Crisis Response
Santa Clara Students for Justice in Palestine
UC Riverside Students for Justice in Palestine