CUNY must reject attack on antisemitism definition

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is notorious for their hatred of Israel. Now, at the City University of New York (CUNY), the group has put forward a resolution to the systemwide University Student Senate (USS) that not only rejects the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, but proposes a new definition, on their own terms. The alternate definition excludes anti-Zionism and disregards victims of modern antisemitism. This is an outrageous act of hubris and discrimination and deserves to be condemned to the highest degree.

CUNY has long been a hub for antisemitic attacks. Recently, Brooklyn College’s Holocaust Remembrance event on April 8th, was “zoombombed” while a holocaust survivor was speaking. Revoltingly, the perpetrators played obscene pornography to disrupt the presentation. According to the FBI, antisemitism is on the rise, with hate crimes against Jews going up by over 15%, and hate against Jewish people now makes up 62% of all hate religious hate crimes. Antisemitic incidents in the United States hit an all-time high last year with the majority of those cases in New York City. Proposing a new definition for antisemitism is an attempt to control the narrative against Jews and Israel and allow for SJP’s own antisemitism to go unchecked. Additionally, by proposing this new definition, SJP is asserting that they know better than the over 30 nations and numerous nongovernmental organizations that have already adopted the IHRA – a laughable notion.

The only people who have the right to define antisemitism are those who experience the vile hatred, violence, and persecution that it brings. Imagine if any other minority group proposed their own definition of discrimination against their community and then other groups tried to invalidate that definition. That would be immediately condemned and the false definition would never have even been allowed on the USS agenda for consideration. The Jewish community deserves this same kind of outrage in our defense.

No one else besides Jews has the right to define what antisemitism means to us, and even comparing the IHRA definition to another written only a week ago without the majority of Jewish students’ participation is outrageous. Any observer who cares about protecting Jews would know which definition is more likely to accomplish that imperative goal of protecting Jewish students from discrimination.

Those in the SJP have not had to deal with the threats and stifling nature of this form of discrimination and have no right to define how it works. In fact, the student leading the charge on this resolution, SJP President Nardeen Kiswanee, is known for being condemned by the University for his violent rhetoric – including threatening to burn a man’s Israel Defense forces T-shirt.

The only definition that can outline the pain and lived experience of Jews is the one written by the community itself. That is why the IHRA definition of antisemitism is so important. It represents Jewish lives and the discrimination that we have had to face for decades. This definition provides a guideline for what antisemitism looks like today.

Here’s the thing, if anyone can redefine antisemitism at any point, particularly people who have been accused of antisemitism, than the word loses its meaning altogether. That endangers Jews.

Especially on college campuses, the experiences of the volatile discrimination against Jews is not up for debate. CUNY must do more to protect their Jewish students who are continuously dealing with attacks from all sides. With antisemitism on the rise on college campuses and across the country, CUNY cannot continue to be a part of the problem. They MUST condemn these acts and attempts to redefine what antisemitism looks like. Those who object the IHRA definition of antisemitism are looking to redefine antisemitism just so they could get away with it. It’s pretty simple.

CUNY must reject SJP’s corrupted definition and affirm the only definition of antisemitism that represents the lived experience of Jews – the IHRA definition.

About the Author
Hen Mazzig is a Senior Fellow at The Tel Aviv Institute (TLVi). He is a writer, digital communications expert, international speaker and LGBTQ+ advocate. His work focuses, among other topics, on the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
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