At Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the CUNY network, Avraham Goldstein has been teaching math for the past six years after receiving his doctorate from the City University of New York in 2003. A “Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People” was passed in June by the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress. Despite the fact that Goldstein had decided to leave the union because he did not agree with the resolution, the union can still compel him to pay union dues even though he has left.
That’s why on January the 12th, Goldstein and five other university faculty members filed an injunction against the union. There are allegations of anti-Semitism in the lawsuit and a focus on the Professional Staff Congress’ resolution from June. The resolution calls for chapter meetings to discuss the document and whether or not to support “the 2005 call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” which was made in 2005. Fran Clark, a union spokeswoman, made it clear that her organization does not endorse BDS.
Clark said in a statement, “Antisemitism is on the rise and it must be confronted,” after four union leaders said they did not vote for the resolution as written. Anti-Semitism is explicitly addressed in the resolution. In July, the New York Post said that as a result of the resolution, about 50 CUNY faculty members had given their resignations to the union.
In response to Israel’s involvement in the Palestinian conflict, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement calls for economic sanctions against Israel. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were denied entry to Israel in 2019 because of their support for the boycott of Israel. Even though at least 26 states have passed laws against BDS, the American political establishment is split on the issue.
University campuses, however, may be more welcoming to the movement, even though it has struggled to gain traction in American politics. There were 17 measures to support BDS in the 2020–2021 school year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Heritage Foundation found that university officials in charge of ensuring equal access to education were overwhelmingly anti-Israel in their personal social media posts.
An academic boycott of Israel was approved by the CUNY Doctoral Students’ Council in 2016. Students for Justice in Palestine and the Jewish Law Students Association wrote a pro-BDS resolution for the CUNY Law Student Government, which was passed in December.
According to the legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, William Creeley, Israeli and Palestinian issues may be the most divisive among the issues his group deals with. “The boycott part is very difficult to reconcile with academic freedom,” he says of FIRE’s views on BDS, despite the fact that the organization has represented people on both sides of the debate.
As a result of this, Creeley cautions against limiting anti-Israel speech or broadening anti-Semitism definitions. According to Creeley, the First Amendment protects even “harsh” anti-Semitic speech. In addition, we fundamentally believe that the answer to speech that you don’t like, including anti-Semitic speech, is more speech. “
The CUNY Alliance for Inclusion executive member, Azriel Genack, a Queens College professor and CUNY Alliance for Inclusion board member, disagrees. “One-sided” and “bizarre,” he said of the CUNY union’s resolution, which does not acknowledge the violence of the Islamic militant group Hamas. He was perplexed as to why other countries weren’t treated the same way.
He described it as “something unique to Israel.” “It’s important to be aware of the darker forces at work, to know the basics of history, and to look into the strange nature of anti-Israel feelings.”
Genack says that more than 200 CUNY faculty members have signed a pledge to leave the union. However, some have chosen to stay in order to have a say in how the union makes decisions.
Despite Goldstein’s involvement in the union, he says he has not personally encountered anti-Semitic sentiment on his college campus before the resolution was passed. Vandalism, including deflated tires and anti-Semitic messages scrawled over a photo depicting Avraham Goldstein’s father, the former president of the college, has been reported by fellow plaintiffs Jeffrey Lax and Michael Goldstein (no relation to Avraham Goldstein). Hundreds of flyers with images of Michael Goldstein’s social media postings calling for his dismissal were handed out around campus (including a photo of his underage daughter).
Avraham Goldstein has no plans to leave his alma mater now that he has been granted tenure. After all, it’s like a “second home” for him at the University of New York at Albany. What’s the point in hiding from them?You know, because there’s some weird private organization out there? If they want this private organization to leave me alone and CUNY alone, why not just demand it?