NY’s Hunter College investigates after protesters demand Jews on campus ‘pick a side’

Hillel decries ‘hateful slogans’ at Wednesday rally condemned by institution, part of City University of New York

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators at a rally in Times Square, October 13, 2023. (Luke Tress / JTA)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators at a rally in Times Square, October 13, 2023. (Luke Tress / JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Hunter College’s Hillel condemned the targeting of Jewish students, and the school has conducted an investigation, after demonstrators demanded Jews “pick a side” at a protest on campus.

The Hillel at Hunter, which is part of the City University of New York, said that protesters at a Wednesday rally at an entrance to campus chanted a series of “deeply hateful slogans,” charging the Jewish campus group with complicity in war crimes.

The Hillel statement added that the charge “plays on age-old antisemitic tropes.”

“These protests reached a new level of aggression by targeting Hillel as a Jewish on-campus organization,” Hillel said in a statement posted on Instagram on Thursday.

A group calling itself Not In Our Name CUNY Jewish Antizionist Collective had invited Jewish activists to a protest at the location. A social media post advertising the protest called on “NYC Jewish students, alumni, staff, and faculty” to “raise your voices.”

The flier also said, “Zionist donors and financiers out of Jewish campus life,” echoing previous protests that have charged that pro-Israel donors wield power over educational institutions. Critics of those claims say they echo age-old antisemitic stereotypes about money and control.

The post advertising the protest targeted Hillel, saying the Jewish campus group “has played a critical role in indoctrinating Jewish youths into Zionism and distorting values of Jewish community.” Without citing evidence, it said Hillel recruited students to “act as surveillance agents.”

A video circulating on social media of a demonstration at Hunter on Wednesday shows a protest leader chanting, “We say no to genocide, Jews on campus pick a side.” The protest appeared to be the one advertised on social media.

Hunter College condemned the protest and the video of it on social media.

“Hunter College is committed to a campus environment that encourages dialogue that is grounded in civility,” the college said in a statement to the New York Jewish Week. “This week, a student group exercising their right to protest engaged in speech that was neither constructive nor civil and directly targeted members of Hunter’s Jewish community. Hunter condemns this type of language, which has no place in an educational setting. We investigated the incident immediately and will take appropriate action promptly.”

The rally was co-sponsored by other anti-Zionist groups from other New York City universities, including Columbia University’s Jewish Voice for Peace, which is banned from organizing on its own campus, and the CUNY Jewish Law Students Association, which endorsed Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel days after the incursion that saw thousands of Palestinian terrorists rampage through southern Israeli communities, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages.

The rally’s organizers did not respond to a request for comment, but in the advertisement for the event, said they targeted Hillel due to a trip led by the Hillel of another CUNY college to Israel last month. In posts earlier this month, Hillel at Baruch said on social media that students had packed food for Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza. It wasn’t clear if Hunter College’s Hillel had participated in the program. The two Hillel branches did not respond to requests for comment.

The protest’s organizers mocked Hillel for calling the protest antisemitic, claiming that the protesters themselves were Jewish and posting a pro-Zionist statement from Hillel International alongside clown emojis.

Baruch and Hunter are both part of the massive CUNY public university system that has been mired in accusations of antisemitism in recent years. Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed a former chief judge of New York, Jonathan Lippman, to conduct an independent review of antisemitism at CUNY.

In response to the alleged antisemitism, last year CUNY set up an Advisory Council on Jewish Life that includes Jewish community leaders and CUNY administrators. Two members have told the New York Jewish Week that the council has been holding meetings every four to five weeks since October 7, including a discussion on Monday, and that the administration was attentive to community concerns.

A CUNY spokesperson told the New York Jewish Week earlier this month that CUNY has distributed $1.3 million in funding from the state and City Council to colleges for training, events and activities to combat bigotry.

CUNY has also partnered with Hillel’s International Campus Climate Initiative and the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism to raise awareness about anti-Jewish discrimination.

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