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  November 2015

Would-Be Witch Hunters
Cannot Silence Protest at CUNY

On Thursday, November 12, a student rally was held at Hunter College as part of nationwide protests calling for free tuition at public colleges and the cancellation of student debt. That evening, an editorial in the rabid New York Post of deeply discredited gutter press baron Rupert Murdoch denounced the Hunter protest as a supposed rally of “hatemongers” and criticized the City University of New York for not taking action. The next day, the Hunter College administration issued a statement smearing the student protest as supposedly presenting “bigotry, harassment, intimidation, exclusion and intolerance.” (Shamefully but not surprisingly, the menacing administration declaration was also signed by heads of the Undergraduate Student Government and Hunter College Senate.)

The CUNY Internationalist Clubs, which had a contingent at Thursday’s protest, call on all defenders of basic democratic rights to oppose this latest effort to whip up a Joseph McCarthy-style witch hunt against campus protest and dissent. In particular, this most recent in an endless series of attempts to demonize and silence any and all defenders of the Palestinian people must and will be defeated.

Well before Thursday’s rally even occurred, a smear campaign was launched by rightist and pro-Israel groups and individuals, notably including former CUNY trustee and ex-FBI agent Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who has been a central figure in a long series of witch hunts against faculty and students at the City University. The Anti-Defamation league, which in recent decades has been notorious for leading witch hunts against all who would criticize Zionism (the ideology of the state of Israel, based on the oppression of the Palestinian people), sought to escalate the smear campaign against the student rally. The hue and cry was taken up by a series of pro-Israel newspapers. At the rally itself, a group showed up with a large Israeli flag, accompanied by videographers from StandWithUs, an organization which specializes in targeting pro-Palestinian student groups nationwide.

The pattern is all too familiar: the ultra-reactionary Post, ex-trustee Wiesenfeld and other professional witch hunters bay for blood, and CUNY administrators jump to attention. So it was in 2011 when CUNY’s Board of Trustees tried to stop the honorary degree awarded to prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, because he had “disparaged the state of Israel in past comments.” The attempt was made to fire a Brooklyn College poli sci adjunct for similar reasons the same year. In both cases the witch hunters had to back down in the face of public outcry. Amidst student protests against CUNY’s provocative political appointment of war criminal David Petraeus two years ago, the administration and trustees tried to ram through an “expressive conduct policy” aimed at banning demonstrations, only to retreat (for the time being) as this blatant violation of First Amendment rights was widely exposed.

The background to the latest flare-up of McCarthy-style witch hunting is a deep one. Amidst post-9/11 mass roundups of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in the New York area, the Post went into a frenzy against professors who spoke at an antiwar conference at CCNY, the CUNY administration hastened to smear them – and when a racist Queens politician demanded a crackdown against what he called “illegal aliens” at CUNY, the administration more than doubled tuition for undocumented students. The CUNY Internationalist Clubs were born out of the successful struggle against this “anti-immigrant war purge.” Defenders of the Palestinian people have repeatedly been targeted for intimidation, harassment, censorship and firing attempts, from professor Joseph Massad at Columbia to Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois and Moustafa Bayoumi at CUNY’s own Brooklyn College.

The pretense that the student rally held on November 12 in front of Hunter College was some kind of anti-Semitic event is a disgusting slander. It was a protest against the endless tuition hikes, skyrocketing student debt and low pay of campus workers at universities, which are making education increasingly difficult for large numbers of working-class and poor students, particularly those from doubly oppressed sectors of the population. While the Internationalist Clubs have significant disagreements with the strategy of the “Million Student March” organizers (as we consider pressuring the Democratic Party to be a dead end), we participated in Thursday’s rally with our own signs and slogans. At the rally, a range of other issues were raised by a range of groups that were part of the protest, exercising their democratic right to express their views. While upholding our own distinct views, from how to abolish tuition to how to defeat Zionist oppression and terror against the Palestinian people, we stand foursquare in defense of the rights of the Million Student March organizers, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and all others who participated in the protest.

The campaign to demonize the anti-tuition/student debt rally comes amidst the current wave of killings of Palestinians, both Israeli citizens and in the occupied West Bank, as well as the ominous scapegoating and targeting of Muslims in the wake of the horrendous events in Paris. It is part of a nationwide drive targeting SJP chapters and other critics of Israel, a drive blatantly funded with $150 million by the Israeli government itself and ultra-rightist backers in the U.S. such as a key figure in organizing prime minister Netanyahu’s recent provocative speech to the U.S. Congress.

An attempt was made by a right-winger to disrupt Thursday’s rally by loudly shouting racist slurs against Muslims; while some protesters responded by chanting against him, his attempt to break up the protest did not succeed (nor was he harmed in any way). As for the group with the Israeli flag, all they succeeded in causing at the time were some side-arguments, but the overall effort to create a pretext for an administration witch hunt has gone forward. In this context, let us make clear that while denouncing the politics of pro-Israel groups on campus – including the grotesque and deeply dishonest attempt to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism – Marxists oppose any and all calls on the administration to restrict or regulate political activities of campus groups. The defense of the Palestinian people, and the defense of the basic rights of all peoples and nations on the face of this planet, can only be carried through with the power of the multiracial, international working class, as part of the struggle for world socialist revolution.

As for the would-be witch hunters, we call on all supporters of the rights of us all to say loud and clear: Hands off student protest!

– CUNY Internationalist Clubs, 14 November 2015                              cunyinternationalists@gmail.com