When a once-hopeful applicant to CUNY’s Queens College was denied acceptance, he opted to stand outside of the campus’ main gate with a megaphone in hand to amplify his racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Islamic statements. “These statements are contrary to our shared ideals and cause damage to our community,” wrote Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Diversity Jerima DeWese in a campus email on 9/1 at 4:50 p.m., following an international media upheaval that began with a call for help.
On Wednesday evening, August 31, just before 6:00 p.m., Avi Conway, a Kew Gardens Hills resident and distributor of this publication, phoned me and shared disturbing video posted by Rachel Ashour from a family member, of the ongoing vulgarity being spewed at the neighborhood college from the window of a white Volkswagen near the Melbourne Avenue gate. As a member of the Queens Jewish Alliance, I shared the footage with our group in hopes of curtailing the atrocity. Chairperson Sorolle Idels wasted no time jumping to action and phoned State Senator Leroy Comrie, who had the 107th police precinct respond in mere minutes, leading to a summons being issued for making loud noise and the confiscation of the bullhorn. The individual soon vanished near the Long Island Expressway. Police were again summoned on Tuesday, September 6, when the youth again launched into his antics.
Queens College, in Kew Gardens Hills, is home to a thriving campus that boasts over 4,000 Jewish students, a quarter of whom are frum, and is the seventh largest Jewish campus community in the nation. CUNY has recently been under fire for failure to address campus anti-Semitism and is currently being sued by The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
Protected by free speech of the First Amendment, the shameful individual often spends an entire day (8 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to students) using public domain for his recurring tirade, meaning the hate is considered off-campus. Queens College’s Public Safety Office has been aware of the ongoing situation and has worked with other college officials, who collectively attempted to engage the individual. The case was referred to NYPD’s Division of Community Affairs to help assess, monitor, and de-escalate the situation.
“When hate speech occurs, it has effects and consequences on those who are exposed to it. We recognize the need to address these effects on an ongoing basis. As such, the Office of Compliance and Diversity and the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding at QC (CERRU) will be initiating a Campus Conversation and other community forums regarding the presence and impact of hate speech when it occurs in our community,” concluded the QC memo.
The vile rhetoric that included anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and blatant lies scared students who had never been exposed to such despicable hate. “I did not know if it would turn into something worse,” noted Elisheva, a KGH resident and second year college student who was exposed to the racist and anti-Semitic language. “Queens College is very accepting of their Jewish students, and I have never felt unsafe sharing my identity on campus.”
In her social media posting, Ashour explained that the ruckus spread intimidation and fear, as she told her audience that “they must use their ability to speak up, because the hate is getting closer and closer to home. “Anti-Semitism is alive and on the rise.” S.A.F.E. CUNY, an advocate for Zionist Jews against systematic discrimination, explained life for these Jewish college kids: “This is what happens when the PNS CUNY routinely spews venomous Jew-hate with impunity.” As the incident concluded, Council Member James Gennaro updated his constituents. “This type of hateful rhetoric has no place in Queens – and especially not in front of an academic institution where other students are subjected to these horrific ideologies.”
Kudos is extended to the nonprofit watchdog organization StopAntisemitism.org, and the impressive list of legislators who called out the incident. Dov Hikind of Americans Against Anti-Semitism (9/1 at 2:21 p.m.) addressed concerns at how “regularly and freely” the hatred was delivered. At the same time, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called the behavior “vile” and advised that “the Queens College community shouldn’t be subjected to these anti-Semitic and racist rants.” Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi (9/2 at 1:46 p.m.) labeled the anti-Semitic remarks as “abhorrent and dangerous,” noting that the college is supposed to welcome all.
Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of NY Government Relations at Agudah, wrote that Hevesi has committed to “advocate for additional security funding for vulnerable targets.”
Rep. Grace Meng expressed her disgust (9/2 at 12:49 p.m.), calling the exploits “repulsive,” and stating, “This kind of language and ideology has no place in Queens, nor the rest of our diverse nation.”
QC Hillel expressed deep pain over the incident and gave a broader reasoning as they assist college leadership in identifying and condemning anti-Semitism and bias. “Campuses have become increasingly hostile to Jewish life amid the national spike in anti-Semitism, and it is more critical than ever to ensure universities foster an inclusive environment where Jewish students can live and learn without fear.”
Additional statements were released by Council Members Linda Lee (9/1 at 8:48 p.m.), Lynn Schulman (9/2 at 9:22 a.m.), ADL of NY and NJ, American Jewish Committee (AJC), End Jew Hatred, and CUNY Professor Dr. Seo-Young Chu.
By Shabsie Saphirstein