We Must Stop the Spread of Antisemitism in Our Schools | Congressman Lee Zeldin

We Must Stop the Spread of Antisemitism in Our Schools

September 25, 2021
Press Release
Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin

From American streets and businesses, to classrooms, political activism and media, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate, violence and discrimination come in many different forms and are displayed through a wide array of platforms. One of the few constants with antisemitism is that it must always be identified, called out and crushed in all forms and at all levels of our society. Antisemitism is an issue that has unfortunately been prevalent in our society for far too long. According to the FBI’s 2020 hate crime statistics, nearly 60 percent of all anti-religious hate crimes targeted Jewish Americans. Perhaps even more disturbing is the lack of progress over the years. Prominent antisemitic activists and ideologies have become accepted in certain groups within the United States. Sadly, their reach has grown in recent years, making its way to Congress and gaining influence in academic circles and in our classrooms, especially in New York. 

In the aftermath of the terrorist organization Hamas launching more than 4,300 rockets into Israel a few months ago, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 75 percent increase of antisemitic instances in the United States. A particularly horrifying scene in Manhattan unfolded, where Hamas sympathizers resorted to violence, burned Israeli flags, displayed blatant antisemitism and threw fireworks into crowds of protesters. Jewish diners at a Los Angeles restaurant were also sought out and attacked by a pro-Palestinian caravan that same week, and in July, a Jewish man was robbed in Brooklyn on his way to synagogue. Sadly, these are not rare occurrences lately.

Several American companies and institutions have recently embraced antisemitic and anti-Israel ideologies. One of the more notable instances came less than two months ago when Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, made the decision to embrace the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and target thousands of Jewish customers abroad. However, some of the most alarming embraces of antisemitism are happening in our public schools and universities.

Along with a whistleblower in June, I helped expose an anti-Israel, pro-BDS resolution that was adopted by the City University of New York Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY). I am also hearing from Jewish professors at CUNY who are experiencing discrimination and are suffering from a hostile work environment. Jewish professors and students alike are under attack. Last year, New York University (NYU) was forced to settle a lawsuit alleging that the school failed to prevent a hostile environment for Jewish students.

That lawsuit, filed in 2019 by a then student, details “two years of extreme anti-Semitism on the NYU campus which has created an intolerable and unlawful hostile atmosphere for Jewish students.” The student’s complaint cites a group known as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) attempting to shut down a 70th birthday celebration of Israel in Washington Square Park. When the group was unsuccessful in stopping the demonstration, it resorted to stomping on and burning an Israeli flag and forcibly interrupted the singing of the Israeli national anthem by grabbing the microphone and yelling “Free Palestine, end the occupation.” Instead of receiving the widespread condemnation the group deserved for its despicable behavior and attempts to undermine a peaceful demonstration, SJP was bestowed with one of NYU’s President's Service Awards.

In July, a video surfaced of Mohammad Abbasi, an adjunct professor at CUNY School of Professional Studies, delivering a vile antisemitic sermon before the Islamic Center of Union City, New Jersey. Abbasi called for violence against Israel and ended his speech by stating, “With the help of Allah they [the Muslims] will erase this filth called Israel.” This monster has absolutely no business teaching students at CUNY or anywhere else. 

These appalling promotions and endorsements of antisemitism are not limited to just higher education. In June, a group called New York City Educators for Palestine published a letter accusing Israel of “ethnically cleansing Palestinians” and ignoring Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel and its long history of calling for its destruction. 

These instances of antisemitic hate have absolutely no place in our education system, whether it be grade schools or universities. Students at all ages and grade levels should be receiving a quality education, not an indoctrination and attempted brainwashing by so-called “educators” pushing a disgraceful and hateful ideology.

Our leaders in the state and federal government need to take action to roll back this tide of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate that is becoming too common in certain circles of teachers. At the state level, behavior such as the CUNY faculty union’s embrace of the BDS movement needs to be addressed by enforcing the 2016 Executive Orderthat prohibits state agencies from conducting business with institutions or companies that promote BDS, and requires the Office of General Services (OGS) Commissioner to maintain and update a list of entities participating in BDS. By this standard, PSC-CUNY must be added to the OGS list and the state needs to sever any and all financial dealings and ties to the faculty union.

I have also called on the U.S. Department of Education, New York State Education Department and New York City Department of Education to launch an investigation, in accordance with Executive Order 13899, into the New York City public school teachers who have embraced antisemitism and are attempting to force their anti-Israel beliefs on their students.

Allowing these antisemitic views to be taught in classrooms at any level will destroy Jewish students’ ability to learn in a safe and productive environment and will only further embolden antisemitic rhetoric and hate throughout the country. Paying halfhearted lip service to these issues is not enough. Anti-Jewish hate needs to be unequivocally identified, called out and eradicated in all forms. For that to happen, administrators at all levels have an obligation to take aggressive action to stop any efforts to inject antisemitism into classrooms and create hostile environments for Jewish students, staff and faculty.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus.