Azriel Genack
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CUNY activists add ‘dehumanization’ to Sharansky’s ‘3 Ds of antisemitism’

A faculty-and-staff union dubbed CUNY's critique of a commencement hate speech betrayal; now our faculty group is speaking truth to power
Fatima Mohammed speaks at the CUNY School of Law, on May 12, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Fatima Mohammed speaks at the CUNY School of Law, on May 12, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Many faculty and student groups on American campuses prove their commitment to social justice, anti-racism, and international solidarity by their hostility towards Israel and the singular call for its boycott. Traditional liberal norms of respect for the truth, the free exchange of ideas, academic freedom, civility, and empathy are casualties of this effort. Those with the most credibility within the present moment’s most radical movements are those most committed to Israel’s destruction. For these activists, the trashing of liberal values is not collateral damage, but the very purpose of their activism, which aims to take down civil society.

This is demonstrated over and over again at the City University of New York (CUNY), where I am employed. Activists are able to leverage deeply rooted notions of a struggle for salvation against an ostracized, but still powerful, grasping demonic force. Historically, it was various aspects of Judaism or the role of Jews in the world that were the rallying point for justice and salvation. This call for uprooting primal evil is now directed at isolating Israel. But anti-Israel activists are caught in a web of contradictions by simultaneously professing the goal of radically transforming society to achieve social justice and their uncritical support for conservative autocratic regimes bent on eradicating Israel. Tragically, this support only entrenches forces that will not accept any agreement that leaves Israel standing. Peace can only be achieved in any conflict once the two sides believe it is possible. But this requires that people engage and see that there are people of good will on the other side.

A faculty group at CUNY, the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI), has taken up the challenge by presenting the facts about Israel and its conflicts in seminars and on its website, and in responses to distortions and subterfuge by opponents of Israel. The response below to the PSC’s protest to the Board of CUNY for its statement distancing CUNY from the remarks of the student representative at the commencement of the CUNY School of Law, which it called “hate-speech,” exposes the fractured logic of the union and its misunderstanding of the guarantee of free speech in the First Amendment. The union argues that any criticism of the student is a violation of the First Amendment.

The union and the student speaker present the perfect storm embodying what former Soviet dissident, Israeli politician, and human rights activist Natan Sharansky’s coined as the “three D’s of antisemitism”: Demonization, Double standards, and Delegitimization. The response below suggests that the work of the 3Ds over time has been so successful that a fourth dimension of antisemitism, the fourth D, comes to the fore — Dehumanization. Dehumanization of Israelis by denying them the right to self-defense, and of victims of oppression around the world, whose suffering must be ignored so as not to blur the focus on Israel. Shakespeare used the three Ds to set up Shylock as a villain, but he did not deprive Shylock of his humanity. As Shylock exclaims, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Granting humanity to Israelis is beyond the grasp of those attempting to demonize Israel.

* * *

The statement from the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI)

CUNY’s Self-Proclaimed Social-Justice Faculty and Staff Union

Condemns Itself

By its silence on Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the bombardment of Syria.

By giving China a pass on its enabling North Korea’s crushing, despotic regime, for its program to eradicate the cultures and religions of Muslim Uyghurs and Tibetan Buddhists, and for the suppression of democracy throughout China.

By its disinterest in Iran’s suppression of democracy and violence against LGBTQ people and women, and its proxy wars throughout the Middle East that devastate people on all sides of these conflicts, and for their drive to produce nuclear weapons and the means to deploy them to wipe out Israel.

By its unwavering support of Palestinian authoritarian leadership, which holds onto power by rejecting every offer of peace with Israel with waves of terror, as they instill lethal hatred of Jews in their people. This does immeasurable harm to the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, the power of anti-Jewish and antisemitic indoctrination by Palestinian leadership is regularly on display in addresses by class representatives and faculty favorites at commencement ceremonies at the CUNY School of Law.

By its unhinged condemnation of Israel for defending itself from those who proclaim their aim is to kill every Jew in Israel.

By its insensitivity in giving public expression to the dream of returning to the time before the establishment of Israel, when Jews could not defend themselves or find refuge anywhere in the world. Succumbing to Palestinian Arab pressure, the British Mandate of Palestine closed off the escape of Jews from Nazi-controlled Europe when it was desperately needed.

By the message it sends, as received by many Jewish students: Your faculty is pledged to continue the timeless assault on the good name of the Jewish people.

So deep into the ideological antipathy to Israel is the PSC-CUNY that the union does not see that Jews and Israelis are part of humanity.** The union’s demonization of the Jewish people is rooted in the appropriation of Islamic annihilationism and fealty to the legacy of Soviet hegemonic opportunism in the Middle East, and in the union’s resolve to believe and promulgate every lie about Israel. In order not to be distracted from demonizing Israel, the union defers to the gentleman’s agreement, followed by the UN, of criticizing only Israel and forgoing censure of actual tyrannies around the world.

So blind is the union that, as it works relentlessly to lay the foundation for an academic boycott of Israel, that it protests to the CUNY Board of Trustees that:

The Board’s overbroad description of hate speech undermines CUNY’s character as a university where free speech and open dialogue can flourish. Mischaracterizing expression protected by the First Amendment as hate speech has a chilling effect in the context of public higher education, whose bedrock must be free speech and academic freedom.

But in fact, it is the union which seeks to undermine free speech by telling faculty with whom they may engage, as it pushes for an academic boycott of Israel. The union distorts the concept of free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment. The Amendment is not a shield against having one’s words being characterized as hate speech, even if that person shares the union’s singular focus of demonizing Israel. This is still a free country. We oppose the union’s disdain for free speech which seeks to deprive students of exposure to diverse ideas and the tools for critical thinking that are essential for sustaining liberal democracy and personal growth.

**As per Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

About the Author
Azriel Genack is a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the City University of New York (CUNY). He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America and was a Fulbright Fellow. At CUNY, he has written and found support for petitions opposing the boycott and demonization of Israel, and organized symposia and developed the web site for CUNY Alliance for Inclusion providing a broad perspective on Israel. He also co-chaired the US/Middle East Conference on Photonics. Dr. Genack and his wife live in Manhattan.
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