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By Arno Rosenfeld

Friends of Nerdeen Kiswani, a law student at the City University of New York, started texting her with concern last week after an advertisement appeared on social media with a menacing photograph of her shouting into a microphone. “Nerdeen Kiswani attacked Jews,” the ad read.

“While they’re browsing their stories it just pops up: a darkened image of me with the contrast increased to play into some racist trope, like ‘dark angry Arab,” Kiswani recalled in an interview.

The advertisement, paid for by an anonymous organization called BDS Report, was released as the CUNY student government prepared to consider dueling resolutions addressing antisemitism at a meeting last weekend. It was only the most striking of what students on both sides said was a flurry of outside advocacy that poisoned an already deeply divisive debate.

Both of the resolutions, the latest in a spate of similar initiatives at campuses across the country, dealt with the very definition of antisemitism — a seemingly esoteric issue that has increasingly become a proxy for larger questions concerning the polarizing politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, identity and free speech. And, after the intervention of national pro-Israel groups, both resolutions failed to pass at a contentious, hours-long Zoom meeting of CUNY’s Student Senate on Sunday.

“It was a disaster,” said Aharon Grama, a member of the Senate’s steering committee.

One resolution would have had the entire CUNY system adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism; the other promoted a different definition backed by a group of anti-Zionist Jewish students and Students for Justice in Palestine. The conflagration at one of the nation’s most diverse and democratic institutions of higher education may preview the future of Israel debate on campus, as attention shifts away from the movement to boycott the Jewish state and toward policing pro-Palestinian activism.


At CUNY, IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice lined up to oppose the IHRA resolution. J Street U has come out against the definition’s adoption on college campuses generally.

Read the full piece at Forward