Forum addressing antisemitism on college campuses sparks backlash

Forum addressing antisemitism on college campuses sparks backlash
A forum taking about antisemitism on college campuses features a panel of local officials. (Photo courtesy of Fred Bassali)

A forum questioning whether Jewish students should pursue higher education amid the wave of antisemitism on campuses has sparked criticism claiming it will incite fear, but the organizer contends the discussion is intended to ease fears that already exist.

The forum panelists include local officials, all of whom are Republicans. This has also drawn criticism, with one resident questioning why no Democrats are involved and referring to it as a platform for Republicans to tout themselves.

“This has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats,” forum moderator and organizer Fred Bassali said.

The forum is to be held Thursday with attendees invited to join in person at Congregation Kol Israel Achim in Great Neck or virtually. Registration is required.

Bassali, a professor at The City University of New York with a doctoral degree in electrical engineering, will be moderating the forum. Attendees who register can submit questions for the panelists.

Panelists include Nassau County District 10 Legislator Mazi Pilip (NY-10), Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (NY-04), state Sen. Jack Martins, Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral, Stand With Us Northeast Director Avi Posnick and Yale student Sahar Tartak.

The flier asks: “Should Jewish students pursue higher education despite violence on campus?” and “Can enacting new laws help reduce these violent incidents?”

Antisemitism on college campuses has been a national focal point in recent months, with multiple university presidents testifying before Congress on the subject and a series of campus protests erupting against the war in Gaza across the country.

Great Neck resident Nina Gordon said the forum’s framing of the issue is “stoking fear” through the language used. She said it is coupling violence and antisemitism, which she said is not necessarily the case.

Gordon, who said she was the target of antisemitism while in college, called this an issue that has persisted for generations right up until today, but claimed the forum is not adequately addressing it.

“What’s new is that…things are amplified through social media and all of the world events are causing feelings to run high,” Gordon said. “But this event, I don’t see that this event will solve anything. I think that the only thing this event will do, like I said, is stoke fear among people.”

While she said nuanced discussions should be held on the extent of free speech related to current events, that is not what she perceives to be the focus of the forum. She said laws restricting free speech in response to antisemitism can be a slippery slope.

“Of course, we need to discuss what’s happening on campuses and, of course, kids need to be safe and the colleges need to do something to make them feel safe, but I don’t think bringing in the National Guard and legislating what people are allowed to say is the way to do it,” Gordon said.

She said resolving issues can only be achieved through thoughtful discussions.

Bassali said the fear of sending their children to higher education is something that he knows Jewish parents are experiencing – including his own family. This is what inspired him to host a panel.

He said the forum is not intended to fuel fearfulness, but rather ease the fears which already exist and call for stronger protections for Jewish students.

Bassali said he contacted Pilip with the idea of hosting such a panel because she is his legislator and he has had a longtime correspondence with her.

Gordon also questioned how panelists were chosen for the forum, with all the elected officials on the panel Republicans and no Democrats represented.

“It’s so brazenly obvious what this is,” Gordon said. “This event is an opportunity for Mazi Pilip and Jack Martins and…D’Esposito to get up there and ruffle their feathers and say ‘I’m going to do something about antisemitism.’”

Bassali said the selection of the panelists was not done to exclude Democratic politicians but was a selection of Pilip’s closer circle of local officials. He said she was responsible for inviting the panelists.

“The goal of holding this event is not to promote any political parties,” Bassali said. “The goal of this meeting is…to protect the future students of colleges that they don’t feel fear (when) they go to college.”

Bassali said invitations were not extended to Rep. Tom Suozzi and he did not know why. He said inviting him now would be too “offensive” due to such late notice, but an invitation would be extended to him for succeeding forums.

He theorized that Suozzi may not have been invited because he defeated Pilip earlier this year in a special election for the House after disgraced George Santos resigned his seat. He said the forum was being planned and panelists were chosen amid the election.

Bassali said he was unsure if other Democratic Long Island politicians were invited to participate.

Efforts to reach Pilip for comment were unavailing.

Bassali said he also sought a panelist involved in education to speak on educating students on antisemitism.

Great Neck Board of Education President Rebecca Sassouni was originally listed as one of the panelists but has since been removed. Sassouni said she was not available to join the forum and never confirmed whether or not she would join after being invited.

“As a Jewish mother of four, two of whom are in school, and as a lawyer, I am deeply concerned by the issue of antisemitism on campus,” Sassouni said. “However, I will be out of the country on May 30.”

Sassouni and Bassali both described her inclusion on the panel despite never officially committing to participate as a misunderstanding.

“Mr. Bassali is well-meaning and spoke to me months ago regarding the possibility of a panel,” Sassouni said. “However, he did not check with me on the use of my photo, the use of my Board of Eucation title or my availability on the date prior to publishing this flier. I am unavailable to be part of the panel and hope that the event goes well for all involved,” Sassouni said. “I will be unavailable.”

A new flier has since been made which omitted Sassouni.

Bassali said this event is just the beginning and that a wider field of politicians will be invited to future forums.

Gordon said the Great Neck community is already faced with divisions, and a forum like this one would not work toward unification.

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  1. Curious if Nina Gordon would say the same thing if an event to discuss Islamophobia was in the works!

    Congratulations Steve Blank and the entire Blank State Media team for publishing such garbage and proving yourselves to be the most unprofessional and lame journalists

  2. The fact that the author of this article speaks to Nina Gordon is absolutely laughable. Who the hell is she to decide what kind of forum should be held in a synagogue. The author of this article should go scour the “likes” on Gordon’s Twitter page. She is a defender of those who cheer on Hamas and their friends on college campuses. Yikes. I’m cringing for the author. Oh and for Steve Blank who is desperate for readership. Bro, nobody cares about Gordon or your “newspaper”.

    • To “Gina Nordon” – The fact that you hide your identity behind a silly pseudonym would be laughable if it wasn’t such a sad commentary on your own insecurity.

      No one asked me to “decide what kind of forum should be held in a synagogue.” I gave my honest opinion about a local event that I was invited to participate in, and I did so freely without hiding my identity. Perhaps you should direct your anger toward Mr Bassali, who called me personally to invite me to this event.

      As for my Twitter page – gee, I’m glad you’re a fan, but you’re misguided – I have never been “a defender of those who cheer on Hamas and their friends on college campuses.” I am, and have always been, a defender of free speech.

      Yikes indeed. I feel sorry for people who are afraid to speak their mind without hiding behind fake names.


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