More than 125 faculty and staff members at the City University of New York signed onto a statement released Tuesday that objects to Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez’s efforts to distance the university system from any student group demonstrations endorsing the Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel.
In the statement, the CUNY faculty and staff said they “strongly object” to Rodríguez’s attempts to “censure expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people” in the wake of pro-Palestinian campus organizations participating in protests celebrating Hamas’ surprise attack.
More than 4,200 people have been killed in Gaza and Israel since Hamas terrorists launched their attack against the Jewish State on October 7, leading to retaliatory action from Israeli forces. Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been taken hostage by Hamas and raped, tortured and murdered.
The statement comes after Rodríguez said in a letter on October 9 “unequivocally” condemning Hamas’ acts of terrorism that the CUNY community “wholeheartedly reject the participation of organizations affiliated with CUNY in demonstrations that glorify Saturday’s violence and celebrate the killings, injuries and capture of innocent people.” The chancellor added, “We respect their right to free speech but condemn their support of these crimes against humanity.”
In addition to the protests at CUNY, at least several dozen pro-Palestinian student groups at various colleges and universities across the country have released statements and organized demonstrations supporting the Hamas’ attack against Israel, even as many of the universities themselves condemned the acts of terrorism.
The CUNY faculty and staff described the chancellor’s letter as a “baseless, prejudicial statement” that “reproduces the racist, Islamophobic rhetoric that has accompanied the drumbeat for war.”
“In preemptively withdrawing support from a whole subset of students, staff and faculty, he has sought to suppress dissent at a time when the university – a public university and the largest urban university system in the nation – should be fostering open, critical discussion,” their statement reads.
In alleging that Hamas’ largest attack on Israel in decades is a “military operation,” the faculty and staff purported that there is “no equivalence” between Hamas terrorists’ attack on Israel and the subsequent retaliatory strikes by the Israeli forces.
“And there is also no equivalence between the October 7 military operation by Hamas [and] subsequent military attack by the Israeli state, and certainly no equivalence to the systemic and the violence of Israeli settler colonialism,” the statement reads. “Israeli state violence has defined Palestinian life in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip since 1948. The dispossession of Palestinian land by ever-expanding settlements, the construction of Israeli educational institutions on settlement land, the routine incarceration and killing of Palestinian protestors, the eviction of Palestinians and destruction of their homes, and the gunning down of Palestinian and Palestinian-American journalists are but a few examples.”
“The Gaza Strip, described by Human Rights Watch as the world’s largest open-air prison, has been under Israeli blockade since 2007,” it continued. “Everyday life for the over 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza, 55% of whom are children and more than 70% of whom are refugees, is crippled by restrictions on access to food, water, medical aid, electricity, and basic life necessities. Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2014, 2021, and 2022 have resulted in the killing of almost 4,000 Palestinians.”
The statement also points to another instance in which it claims the chancellor and other CUNY administrators have “scapegoated Palestine solidarity activism.” The statement said Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson “capitulated” to New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov’s demand last week to ban from campus a rally organized by the college’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter when Anderson informed the campus community of increased campus security, urged peaceful activities on campus and told students they would not be penalized for not coming to campus on October 12, the day many Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at schools across the U.S. and Canada were holding rallies.
Vernikov was arrested at an off-campus pro-Palestinian rally for open carrying.
“In rejecting all criticism of Israel, CUNY administrators are not only at odds with Palestine solidarity activists,” the statement from CUNY faculty and staff says. “They are also against the consensus opinion of regional and international human rights organizations that Israel is an apartheid state and a state that systematically violates international law. This is in no way to condone the death toll of the last ten days – there is no justification for the targeting of civilians in any context.”
Many Students for Justice in Palestine chapters and other pro-Palestinian student groups at colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard University, George Washington University, the University of Virginia and the University of California, Berkley, released statements shortly after Hamas’ October 7 attack defending the assault against Israel.
Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups released a statement signed by about 30 student organizations that read, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
The statement by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups was later deleted after student organizations began removing their signatures amid bipartisan backlash and some CEOs demanding the names of the students who signed it.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R. Ark., has urged the Department of Homeland Security to deport foreign nationals, including those on student visas, who have expressed support for Hamas.
“As CUNY staff and faculty, we applaud all those in our community who refuse to remain silent in the face of an impending genocide,” the statement from the CUNY staff and faculty reads. “We stand with them in opposition to Israeli occupation, apartheid, and war crimes, and in support of Palestinian liberation. We bear witness as CUNY administrators have caused students, staff, and faculty to be silenced, vilified and even criminalized when they speak or act in support of Palestinian struggles.”
“We pledge to stand up to CUNY management’s attempts to censor dissent,” the statement continues. “We demand that the Chancellor, campus presidents, and all those in leadership positions end the repression and intimidation of Palestine solidarity activists and fulfill our responsibility to equally protect the rights of all members of CUNY.”
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