Politically progressive faculty at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, have begun organizing more actively at their workplace. Most recently, a number of them have come together to run a slate in the upcoming campus union chapter elections, setting forth a vision of building a vibrant chapter grounded in rank-and-file activism.
As these faculty have organized, they have faced increasingly aggressive push-back from conservatives on campus. Kingsborough administrator Michael Goldstein, in particular, has accused progressive faculty at the college of orchestrating a “systematic and pernicious campaign” of anti-Semitic hate against him. “The reason for their attack?” he writes. “I’m Jewish, politically conservative and I believe in Zionism, the civil rights movement of the Jewish people.” These accusations have been picked up and amplified by the Jerusalem Post and Tablet magazine.
These accusations are irresponsible and unsubstantiated. In making them, Goldstein is adopting a dangerous, increasingly common tactic of the right: cynically deploying anti-Semitism—a very real problem—as a weapon to intimidate political opponents.
Progressive faculty have been subject to a number of different forms of harassment. More than a dozen, for example, have received letters from the Lawfare Project threatening a lawsuit. Some of the progressive faculty accused by Goldstein in the press of inciting anti-Semitic hatred have also received threatening emails and letters.
Kingsborough English Professor Anthony Alessandrini, who is also on the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center’s MA Program in Middle Eastern Studies, is one of those Goldstein publicly accuses in a recent article of being a “puppet-master” of his fellow progressive faculty, and of inciting anti-Semitic hatred at the college. The article specifically cites Alessandrini’s scholarly and political involvement with Palestine solidarity work, and make the case that an article he wrote about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is evidence of his anti-Jewish views. That Goldstein and the journalistic outlets reporting his story are conflating critique of Israel with anti-Semitism threatens to squash discussion of an issue that faculty KCC have the right to study, write about, and discuss freely, as they do regarding all important political and intellectual matters.
It is telling that Goldstein has called on the support of the Lawfare Project, whose mission involves using lawsuits alleging anti-Semitism as a means to harass faculty and educational institutions, perhaps most notably San Francisco State University, in a case recently dismissed by a federal judge. (A separate, related case in state court is still pending.)
The Lawfare Project has already been involved for several years in legal action regarding accusations of anti-Semitism at Kingsborough. Like Goldstein, Kingsborough Business Professor Jeffrey Lax, has also turned to the Lawfare Project to bring a case alleging employment discrimination against the college. (The case argues, among other things, that the fact that Kingsborough’s faculty has a lower percentage of Jews than the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhood of Manhattan Beach is evidence of employment discrimination against Jews.) The director of the Lawfare Project, Brooke Goldstein, takes extreme stands on a number of issues, speaking on outlets such as Fox News. She has denied the existence of Palestinans and critiqued the institution of birthright citizenship, for example.
Kingsborough’s Progressive Faculty Caucus (many of whom themselves are Jews) has not been involved in any harassment of colleagues. The Caucus came together in the wake of the election of President Trump 2016, as a loose collective. Faculty associated with the Caucus shared a stated commitment, as they informed their colleagues in an open email, to:
- strengthening existing institutional structures of shared governance; making sure the interests of part-time faculty are more equitably recognized;
- fostering a stronger sense of intellectual community through a shared commitment to the broad and progressive cause of public education; and
- addressing questions of structural oppression–including, but not limited to, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, and oppression along the lines of gender identity–as they affect all of us who teach, study, and work at KCC.
Upon reading reports that a photograph of Goldstein’s father had apparently been vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti last spring, thirty-seven faculty members, many affiliated with the Caucus, signed to a letter condemning such acts. Goldstein, however, has insisted, including in this video he posted last year, that the “highly organized” progressive faculty, who he describes as socialist and communist “fringe of the far left,” have created a climate of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate on campus in general and incited that act of vandalism in particular.
Other CUNY faculty have come out in support of their Kingsborough colleagues targeted by these accusations. “We stand against attempts to silence members of our faculty who are exercising their right to organize, research, and write about the compelling issues of our times,” they wrote in an open letter.
Kingsborough Community College and CUNY have been conducting investigations into the accusations, but have yet to issue a statement beyond this recent letter from Kingsborough President Claudia Schrader to the New York Daily News, noting that “recent reports” of anti-Semitism on at the college had “inflamed the acrimony” on campus.
These false accusations of anti-Semitism at CUNY-Kingsborough mask a concerted assault on progressive faculty organizing.
[This article was published by the Academe Blog on 19 March 2019 in response to the recent accusations levied against CUNY faculty.]