On March 22nd, Distinguished Professor Sarah Schulman was summoned to testify before a Commission on Anti-Semitism at the City University of New York (CUNY). The Commission was hastily set up after the Zionist Organization of America submitted a letter containing a series of allegations of anti-Semitism at various CUNY campuses. Newspapers such as the New York Post and The Observer made no attempt to investigate the allegations, covering the story as if they were fact. As Professor Schulman makes clear in her account of her testimony, the charges of anti-Semitism at the College of Staten Island were totally baseless.
As Palestine Legal has documented in their report The Palestine Exception To Free Speech, the events at CUNY are part of a national pattern in which activists either critical of Israeli state policy or supportive of Palestinian civil rights are routinely maligned as uncivil, divisive, anti-Semitic, or supportive of terrorism.
These accusations have increasingly destructive impact. In addition to smearing and threatening courageous scholars such as Bill Mullen, Jasbir Puar, Steven Salaita, and Sarah Schulman, the charge of anti-Semitism has recently been used by members of the New York State Senate to legitimate passage of a bill cutting nearly half a billion dollars from the budget of the City University of New York. Bills to punish or suppress boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns for Palestinian freedom have been introduced in states around the country.
We stand against all such efforts to silence dissent and clamp down on freedom of speech, academic freedom, support for Palestinian liberation, or the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel. Even as we are confident that investigations of allegations such as those at CUNY can only reveal the falseness of charges of racist or discriminatory behavior, we note that such investigations are forms of intimidation that contribute to the criminalizing of dissent on campuses. We also note the double standards at work: there have, for instance, been no commissions on Islamophobia at CUNY and other institutions. Instead, there is abundant evidence that student organizations that take up concerns with Islamophobia have been infiltrated by the police, and their members prevented from holding meetings under various pretexts. We therefore call on all members of campus communities across the country to stand firmly for academic freedom and the right to dissent at a time of increasing persecution.
Prof. Sarah Schulman’s statement follows:
Today I testified before the CUNY Task Force on Anti-Semitism.
One member of the Task Force, Paul Shechtman, was not present. He is an attorney who—in addition to being on this Task Force—represents the New York Police Department officer who killed Akai Gurley, and his firm has also represented Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In his absence, I was interviewed by Judge Barbara Jones.
Upon arrival at their Park Avenue Office, I was presented with a fourteen-page list of accusations filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Once a mainstream Jewish organization, it is now a small extremist right-wing group. Even though ZOA has been running a press campaign calling me “Anti-Semitic” in the New York Postand Daily News, actually I was not named anywhere in their letter.
Instead they went after the student group to which I am the faculty advisor, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the College of Staten Island (CSI). We systematically went through all of the accusations, ALL of which were fabricated or absurd. For example, SJP was accused of drawing swastikas on the walls of our college. However, there is no record of such an incident ever taking place. There is no incident report of anyone ever doing such a thing at CSI; even the president of the college does not recall this ever happening.
The letter was really a list of slanders against Muslim students. Over and over there were vague charges that “a Muslim student” said something unpleasant to a Jewish student. But never was there any evidence that this composite Muslim student had anything to do with SJP. These students were never identified, and there were no details like dates.
I also spoke about the students themselves: how much I respect our students, and how much I have been enriched by working with them. How many of our SJP students are Palestinian. Their families have been displaced. Their relatives have been held in illegal detention. They have been denied entry to Israel/Palestine because of their political activism. I told the Task Force that I have come to know the students, and some of their family members. That they have NEVER been Anti-Semitic or homophobic or done anything that justified any kind of negative institutional response.
One of the accusations was that a “Jewish student” hid her Star of David when she saw Muslim students. Besides the fact that this has nothing to do with SJP, I explained to the Task Force that there are Jews who have dehumanizing views of Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, and project enormous anxiety onto to them. But that this has nothing to do with Muslim students themselves. And certainly is not their fault.
Then we discussed the relationship between Zionism and Judaism. I testified that since the onset of Zionism, since Theodore Hertzl published his book The Jewish State in 1896, there has been disagreement among Jews regarding Zionism. That for its entire history, for 5,700 years, Judaism has been a dialogic religion rooted in commentary and inquiry. And that this current moment is the only time that Jews have been told to be homogenous in thought. That in fact, this impulse to force all Jews into one opinion is ahistorical and not Judaic.
Finally we got to the question of the inquiry itself. I detailed for the Task Force how the Zionist Organization of America has been harassing me on Twitter, sending ten to forty tweets a day to my publisher, reviewers, friends, and colleagues calling me a “terrorist”; how they sabotaged my Wikipedia page, inserting a false claim that I went to Gaza as a “guest of Hamas” (I have never been to Gaza and I have no contact with Hamas); and that they have been using the media to harass me because we hold different values.
I then raised the troubling question of Abe Foxman (head of the right-wing Anti-Defamation League) being quoted in the Daily News saying that he approved of how CUNY was handling me. “How does Abe Foxman even know HOW CUNY is handling me?” I asked. “How does a group of bullies, who are not even reputable, get to file a list of absurd accusations and get CUNY to go to the trouble and expense of creating a task force?” And I said that I see an “inappropriate relationship between ZOA and CUNY.” Finally I asked, “Why are we even here?”
At the end of the meeting, I was asked what I thought The Task Force should include in their final report. My suggestion: “That Students for Justice in Palestine should be treated like every other student group.”
We shall see.