On October 14, 2020, a dramatic uproar rose from the QC Jewish community when students learned that social activist and notorious anti-Semite, Tamika Mallory, was a guest speaker at an event held by the Queens College Student Association (SA). The Knight News conducted a thorough investigation on the allegations at hand and spoke to local leaders in the QC Jewish community for their take on the matter.
According to the Washington Post, Mallory was asked to resign from the 2019 Women’s March over allegations of antisemitism, yet it is public speculation that her term had already expired prior to the request that she step down. Mallory’s controversy dates back to her involvement with the nation-wide Women’s March. She and three of her co-organizers, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland, were eventually fired from the Woman’s March over allegations of anti-Semitism. In 2018, Mallory angered and shocked the Jewish community for her public allegiance with and praise for the notorious Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. According to National Public Radio (NPR), Farrakhan has a long history of anti-Semitism, and has made comments ranging from denouncing the legitimacy of Judaism (calling it an ‘elaborate lie’ and a ‘theological error’) to conspiracy theories for many of the world’s problems.
Junior Jewish Studies major and undergraduate student senator Alexander Kestenbaum took to the student senate floor on November 5, 2020, to confront SA leadership over the situation and address Mallory’s alleged antisemitic past, after his initial comments were deleted during the livestream. When called upon by the Chair Pro Tempore of the student senate, Kestenbaum began his account of that night and the many emotions felt by the rest of the Jewish student community. His testimony, which can be found publicly available on the QC Student Senate resources page, centered around the lack of communication between SA and their constituents that led to this event occurring. His intent, as he said in the recording, was to receive an apology from the Student Association about their negligence and to start a collaboration between the SA and the Jewish organizations on campus. Hopefully speaking, this partnership and progressive dialogue would prevent this problem from occurring again.
SA President and junior sociology major Zaire Couloute responded to Kestenbaum, citing that while she condemns antisemitism, there is a larger dialogue to be had. Couloute argued that Mallory is not anti-Semitic, explaining that Mallory’s words were taken out of context. Dwayne D. Jones, Director for Student Development and Leadership at Queens College, defended the event hosting Mallory and his censorship of Kestenbaum, noting that, “I blocked your [Kestenbaum’s] comments because the conversation we were having at that time was about Black Lives Matter, it wasn’t a conversation about antisemitism,” further adding, “we [Student Life] can have a conversation [and event] about antisemitism [at another time].”
Couloute, concurring with Jones, explained that they had met with Chabad and Hillel, two of the main Jewish groups on campus, to address their concerns. Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer of Chabad confirmed that whereas the Student Association’s leadership did not reach out as of yet, Vice President of Student Affairs Adam Rockman and Assistant Vice President Jennifer Jarvis did. Kestenbaum pleaded for more transparency between the SA and the Senate going forward, in order to prevent a recurrence of this situation. After the debate shifted back and forth multiple times, both parties ended the Zoom call with no substantial agreement reached and much left to discuss.
Couloute responded to the situation days later via a public statement on Instagram. A brief excerpt from the statement says, “We at the Student Association strongly denounce Racism, Sexism, and Anti-Semitism, and will work to have more intersectional programming to highlight the struggles shared by our various marginalized groups [….] as a student body, we never want any students to feel left out and silenced.” The full statement is available on The Knight News website, as well as on the SA social media platforms.
This elongated, heated exchange goes to show how fragile race relations are in modern-day America, as the shackles of centuries-worth of racism and religious persecution slowly come off. While neither side has made any official statements as of now, the general consensus is that there will be some type of dialogue between groups sometime in the foreseeable future. Queens College has always been a place of comfort and inclusivity for all people, and hopefully events like this will serve as learning experiences for the future.