CUNY Student Senate Opposes IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, CUNY Chancellor Still Plans to Adopt

CUNY Chancellor Fèlix V. Matos Rodriguez plans to adopt IHRA’s definition of antisemitism despite USS opposition, upsetting pro-Palestinian clubs and students.

By Asma Toum

Photo Credit: Asma Toum

“I’m hoping that SJP can grow,” said Dina Mohsen, president of Students for Justice in Palestine. “There are many ways to become educated on the oppression in Palestine and we want to be one of them.” 

CUNY Chancellor Fèlix V. Matos Rodríguez plans to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism, which has upset pro-Palestinian students, who believe the definition harms Palestinians’ rights on campus. 

The definition was created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and Matos Rodriguez hopes to incorporate the new definition in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) university-wide and campus-based trainings that don’t currently include it, according to a CUNY press release. 

The definition states that antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities, according to the IHRA. 

The definition also states claiming that Israel is a racist project, comparing Israel to the Nazis, and “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism” to attack Israel, is anti-Semitic, according to the StandWithUs organization. 

CUNY Student Senate voted down on the definition being used because of its harm to Palestinian students and organizers on CUNY campuses, back in April 2021. 

The IHRA definition and its harm to the Palestinian community was brought to light by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) secretary, Petra Gregory, during a friendly game of Kahoot on the history of Palestine at SJP’s orientation on November 1. 

“The Student Senate voted against the use of the definition being incorporated into CUNY last year,” said Gregory. “But the Chancellor chose to ignore it and is going to use it, anyway.” 

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine feel that the definition is used to confuse antisemitism with anti-Zionism. President of SJP at CSI, Dina Mohsen, expressed that the definition labels Palestinians and pro-Palestinian organizations as antisemitic. 

The group argues that conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism sheds a negative light on Palestinians and invalidates their rights as Palestinians and students of CUNY. 

“To be an anti-Zionist is to be against the horrible genocide against Palestinians,” said Mohsen. “It has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic and it’s hurtful to Palestinians to let this definition be used.” 

The adoption of the definition is supported by Hillel International and its seven clubs across CUNY campuses. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has partnered with Hillel to improve the Jewish experience on campuses, and he believes using IHRA’s definition of antisemitism will do so. 

Pro-Palestinian organizations at CUNY continue to fight against this definition being implemented into CUNY. 

The Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA) condemns the IHRA definition of antisemitism and feel that equating Anti-Zionism with antisemitism is holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel, according to the JLSA and SJP resolution on the vote.

This issue between anti-Zionist organizations and Jewish organizations is one of many problems throughout the history of CUNY. NYC councilwoman, Inna Vernikov, a supporter of Hillel and adopting the IHRA definition, was set to pull $50,000 worth of funding from CUNY Law due to the faculty’s support of a Boycott, Sanction and Divestment (BDS) Israel movement resolution, according to the New York Post. 

While Matos Rodríguez moves to implement the definition as a learning tool, pro-Palestinian groups continue to petition and work against the implementation. 

“We ask for people to keep themselves informed on what it really means to be an anti-Zionist,” said Mohsen. “So much misinformation is spread, and we just want to tell the truth on the matter.” 

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